I love arriving here and settling into the bench that faces Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, not only to admire the extraordinary painting, but to watch the flow of visitors from around the world as they enter and spot this well-known masterpiece. The model for Venus was Simonetta Vespucci. All over the room you can see how Botticelli was inspired by her—from Flora in Primavera to Mary in the Annunciation.
One of the great joys of Italian travel is emerging from the Florence train station and coming face to face with this dazzling basilica—a blend of green and ivory marble, done up in Gothic and Renaissance styles. Of the many masterpieces inside, my favorite is the Tornabuoni chapel, behind the main altar, which the Renaissance master Ghirlandaio frescoed floor to ceiling with scenes from the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As it was commissioned by Giovanni Tornabuoni, members of his family are depicted in the paintings, showing a deep humanity in every frame, along with beautiful details of Renaissance costumes.
The Annunciation, the scene in which the angel Gabriel comes to Mary and announces to her that she’ll give birth to the Savior, was a popular theme for Renaissance masters, and Florence is full of varied interpretations of the action-packed story in paintings and sculpture. The most famous Annunciation is found in Museo San Marco. The building was a 15th-century Dominican monastery, where a talented monk, Fra Angelico, spent years with his assistants covering the walls with frescos to support them in their meditation and prayer. The Annunciation, found on a stairway landing, is powerful, simple, luminous—from the angel’s jewel-toned wings to Mary, with hands crossed over her heart in humble acceptance of destiny.
Entering the "Museum of the Old Florentine House" is stepping back in time to 14th-century Florence. It’s a four-story family home complete with intriguing details—including kitchen gadgets, bedrooms with toilets and trap doors where hot oil was poured through to defend against attackers. The furnishings are prized antiques, and walls are painted to resemble medieval tapestries—from family crests to patterns with colorful peacocks and parrots.
It’s refreshing to have a change of scene from paintings and sculptures to enjoy these glamorous rooms , where a rotating display of costumes from the vast Pitti Palace collection fills what was once the Palazzina alla Meridiana wing of this amazing place. Exhibits change every few years, with varying themes. I was thrilled to be there recently to see “Women in the Spotlight,” which featured 20th-century designers, including fabulous ball gowns and wedding dresses.
Susan Van Allen's newest book is 50 Places in Rome, Florence, and Venice Every Woman Should Go. Click here for more information on her "Golden Week in Florence: For Women Only" tour in October.
Dianne Hales is the author of MONA LISA: A Life Discovered and LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language.
I'm honored that "Becoming Italian Word by Word" has again been nominated as "Best Arts & Culture Blog" by ITALY Magazine. Click here to vote! Grazie tanto!