Florence has over 80 museums. Here are just a few:
The Uffizi Gallery, housing one of the finest collections of art in the world today, is Florence’s most visited museum. It is housed in the Palazzo degli Uffizi and was commissioned by Cosimo I of Medici in the year 1560. The building, designed by the famous architect, Giorgio Vasari, was later added on to by Bernardo Buontalenti and Alfonso Parigi, with its construction finished in 1581.
The Palazzo degli Uffizi was initially built to be an office for the magistrates of Florence, but was turned into an art gallery by Francesco de Medici, Cosimo’s son, who set aside certain rooms on the upper floors of the building to be used as a museum where objects from his collection could be exhibited. Francesco’s collection, which he started in 1574, was eventually added to by succeeding Medicis, most notably Leopoldo de Medici, who is credited with owning almost half of the total number of paintings on display in the gallery today.
It was Leopoldo, who is also credited with having collected the vast number of artist’s self portraits in the museum and the gallery’s collection of miniatures, which is second only to the world’s largest collection of miniature paintings housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The history of the Uffizi gallery and its collection goes back, not just to the 16th century when the gallery was started, but to art created in the 13th century and displayed in the corridors of the gallery. The Medici princes and kings kept on contributing to the gallery from their personal collections until the 18th century and ended up creating a legacy of some of the finest and exceptional works of art that can see anywhere in the world, today.
After the house of Medici was extinguished, the art treasures remained in Florence by terms of the “Patto di famiglia” negotiated by Anna Maria Luisa, the last Medici heiress; it formed one of the first modern museums. The gallery had been open to visitors by request since the sixteenth century and in 1765 it was officially opened to the public.
Because of its huge collection, some of its works have in the past been transferred to other museums in Florence—for example, some of the classical statues went to the Bargello. A recent project expanded the museum’s exhibition space from 6,000 metres (64,000 ft) to almost 13,000 metres (139,000 ft), allowing public viewing of many artworks that had been in storage. Today, the Uffizi is one of the most popular tourist attractions of Florence. In high season (particularly in July), waiting times can be up to five hours. Visitors who reserve a ticket in advance have a shorter wait.
The Bargello Museum is a sculpture gallery for Renaissance art. Officially titled, the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, the museum contains priceless marble and bronze statues created by artists Donatello, Verrocchio and Michelangelo. Built in 1255, this turreted fortress is a recognizable structure in a city filled with memorable buildings. Throughout its existence, the Bargello has had many uses, including a mayor’s office, a prison and a courtroom. In 1574, the building earned the name that it is now known for because Florence’s chief of police (il Bargello) moved his headquarters there. The Bargello began its life as a museum in 1859 in order to accept the overflow of sculptural treasures from the Uffizi Gallery.
Laid out over three floors in beautifully decorated and vaulted loggias surrounded by an inner courtyard (which was used, during its prison days as the site of executions), the Bargello has a museum setting that is more manageable than the sprawling Uffizi. On the ground floor is the Michelangelo Room, that also houses art works by Cellini, Giambologna and a few other notable artists.
One flight up is the enormous Donatello Room, formerly the Salone del Consiglio Generale (the Great Council Chamber). It holds Donatello’s bronze sculpture of David, his marble sculpture of St. George and the original bronze door panels that Lorenzo Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi sculpted for the Baptistery doors competition. This floor contains several other rooms including the Mary Magdalene Chapel, which has frescoes attributed to the work of Giotto; a room of Islamic artworks; and other rooms displaying ivories, majolica work and sculptures and iconography from the 13th and 14th centuries.
On the top floor, visitors will find rooms dedicated to the artists Verrocchio, Andrea and Giovanni della Robbia; a collection of small bronze sculptures in the Sala dei Bronzetti; and a section consisting of sculptures from the Baroque period.
The Galleria dell’Accademia is one of Florence’s top museums, chiefly because it is home to Michelangelo’s, David, and the statue is the highlight of an extensive collection of Italian art. Michelangelo’s David was moved here in 1873 to protect it from the elements. The sculpture had once stood outside the Palazzo Vecchio and was “the” symbol of Florence. So it was imperative that the Accademia provide a gallery worthy of such an important piece of Florence’s heritage. Architect Emilio de Fabris was hired to design a special wing for the prized statue.
In 1784, Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo founded the Accademia di Belle Arti, Florence’s Fine Arts Academy and the adjoining Galleria dell’Accademia. For the gallery’s collection, the Grand Duke amassed Tuscan works to serve as examples for the student’s of the academy to study. Over the years, the Accademia acquired many drawings, painting and sculptures dating from the 13th to the 16th centuries, including works by Botticelli, Pontormo, Giambologna and Lorenzo Monaco. Over the years, the Accademia has grown to include a Department of Musical Instruments, which houses historic musical instruments from the adjacent Cherubini Conservatory.
On the banks of the Arno, close to the Ponte Vecchio, stands a small and often missed museum. Hidden from the crowds milling outside the nearby Uffizi, the Museo Galileo sits in the heart of Renaissance Florence. The museum’s origins are centuries old. It is housed in the 12th century Palazzo Castellani. In 1657, in memory of the recently deceased Galileo Galilei, the city of Florence founded the world’s first scientific institution, the Accademia del Cimento – the Academy for Experimentation, which was the start of a passion for the discovery of scientific knowledge and principles.
A part of the museum is dedicated to the life and works of Galileo, with many of his experiments faithfully reproduced. A display of his original instruments includes telescopes by which he revolutionised astronomy and validated the theories of Copernicus – which led to Galileo being summoned before the Inquisition. The objective lens Galileo used when discovering Jupiter’s four largest satellites, now named the Galilean moons, is also displayed, as are some of his notebooks.
The massive palace that was once home to the Medici Grand Dukes now houses six museums and the Boboli Gardens. The galleries contain works by late-Renaissance and baroque artists Caravaggio, Rubens, Perugino, Giorgione, Guido Reni, Fra Bartolomeo, Tintoretto, Botticelli, Filippo Lippi, Pontormo and Beccafumi.
The Giardini di Boboli (Boboli Gardens), one of the finest parks anywhere, was designed between 1549 and 1656. This statue-filled park features fountains, grottoes, a Kaffeehaus for refreshments in the summer, grassy meadows for relaxing and pleasant wooded areas.
It is also where the world’s first true opera premiered. In 1589, the Medici held a wedding reception in the Boboli Gardens and for the occasion commissioned musical entertainment from Jacopo Peri and Ottavio Rinuccini. The composers came up with the novel idea of setting a classical story (Dafne) to music and having actors sing the whole thing. Thus was the birth of opera. The team later collaborated on Euridice (1600), which also premiered here and whose score has survived as the oldest opera.
The rest of the Pitti Palace contains:
The Galleria d’Arte Moderna (Modern Art gallery) and The Galleria del Costume (Costume Gallery) with costumes dating back to the 1500s.The Museo degli Argenti (Silver Museum) contains a decorative arts collection, the Museo delle Porcellane (Museum of Porcelain) and the Museo delle Carrozze (Museum of Carriages).
The cuisine of the Middle Ages was more international with recipes, ingredients and flavors that were practically identical throughout Europe and unified by the social standards. On one hand, there was the nobility with its preferences for wild game and fish. These dishes were favored by the dignitaries that passed from one Court to the next and were characterized by an exaggerated use of spices, the real status symbol of the period. On the other hand, there were the common people, who were able to sustain themselves with what came from the land or the market, giving life to the “characterizations” that would later define separate national and regional cuisines, specific ingredients and local customs. For example, the well-recognized use of vegetable oils in the south of Italy versus animal fat (lard and butter) in the north.
The three main cookbooks from the period were Liber de coquina (a cookbook contained in a miscellaneous text dedicated to Charles II of Anjou at the beginning of the XIV century), the Libro della cocina bolognese (written in Tuscan dialect) and the Libro per cuoco (by an anonymous Venetian written at the end of the century). These books are actually real kitchen manuals, written and copied (before the printing press was invented) to be sold to professional chefs, who would be able follow the suggestions and recommendations. The chefs would have also been capable of estimating how much of an ingredient to use, as quantities were entirely missing from the books.
Here are details of a banquet given on January 23, 1529 by the son of the Duke of Ferrara for his father and various dignitaries. The total guest list numbered 104.
“The antipasto course consisted of cold dishes: a caper, truffle and raisin salad in pastry, another salad of greens with citron juice and anchovy salads. There were also radishes carved into shapes, little cream pies, prosciutto of pork tongue, boar pies, mortadella and liver pies, smoked mullet served several different ways and gilt-head bream. The first course had capon fritters sprinkled with sugar, quails, tomaselle (liver sausage), capon liver stuffed into a caul (netting of pork fat) and roasted pheasants, an onion dish, pigeons in puff pastry, tarts of fish ilt (spleen), fried trout tails and barbel (a fish), quails, meatballs, white cervelat sausage, veal, capon in sweet wine, pigeon pastries, carp, turbot, shrimp, trout roe pies, a yellow almond concoction and pastries. The next course had partridge, rabbit, turtle-dove, sausages, boned capon, pigeons and more fish. This proceeded on to a fourth course, again with birds, fish, a rice pie and other dishes. A fifth course followed with some suckling pig, veal and more birds and fish as well. A sixth course with more veal prepared a different way, peacock, goat, boar and also more fish was eaten. The seventh course finally sees some vegetables, fennel, olives, grapes, pears and other pastries; citron, lettuce, cucumbers and almonds in syrup and various fruits and confections.”
Baccala alla Vincentina (Stewed Codfish)
- 1 lb. dried codfish
- 1 1/3 cups thinly sliced onion
- 2/3 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- 4 anchovy fillets, chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 1/4 cups milk
Prepare the fish: skin and cut into thick slices. Saute the onion in the oil over a low heat until soft. Add the parsley, garlic and anchovies and stir until just coated. Remove from heat. Mix the flour, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Coat the fish with the mixture and place in a heavy metal or earthenware pan. Fish should fit snugly in a single layer. Sprinkle with cheese, add the anchovy and onion sauce and cover with milk. Bring slowly to boiling, cover and set over a very low heat until the liquid is absorbed, about 2 1/2 hours. Serves 4.
Medieval Rabbit or Chicken Stew With Herbs and Barley
- 2 ounces butter
- 2 -3 lbs rabbit joints or 2 -3 lbs chicken pieces
- 1 lb leek, washed and trimmed, sliced
- 4 garlic cloves, chopped finely
- 6 ounces barley
- 3 3/4 cups water
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 bay leaves
- 15 fresh sage leaves, roughly chopped
Melt the butter in a heavy pan and fry the meat with the leeks and garlic until the vegetables are slightly softened and the meat lightly browned. Add the barley, water, vinegar, bay leaves and seasoning.
Bring the pot to the boil.Cover it and simmer gently for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until the meat is really tender and ready to fall from the bone. Add the sage and continue to cook for several minutes. Adjust the seasoning to taste and serve in bowls.
Petonciane in Agrodolce (Sweet & Sour Eggplant)
- 1 medium eggplant, peeled and cut into large chunks
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoons raisins
- 1 small stalk celery, diced
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 tablespoon minced mint
Salt the eggplant chunks. Heat the oil in a skillet and fry the eggplant. Drain. Remove the oil, wipe the pan of any excess oil and add the remaining ingredients, along with the cooked eggplant. Cook over medium heat until tender. Add mint. Serve at room temperature.
June 6, 2014 at 9:46 am
I was lucky enough to visit all these museums when I was there 4 years ago. The breathtaking art, history, food, and people of Florence will always be a fond memory.
June 6, 2014 at 10:49 am
Thank you so much for sharing your memories.
June 6, 2014 at 11:25 am
June 6, 2014 at 11:30 am
and very old fashioned. Thanks Pam.
June 7, 2014 at 2:37 pm
I don’t essentially believe in having a “Bucket List” but if I did, a visit to Florence would be on it.
June 7, 2014 at 2:42 pm
I love your response Patty. Thanks for sharing.
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