Michelangelo in Florence: discovering Buonarroti’s works in the city

Michelangelo in Florence: discovering Buonarroti’s works in the city

michelangelo firenze
michelangelo firenze

Painter, sculptor, architect, and poet: it is rare to find in history an artist of Michelangelo‘s caliber.
A prodigious talent that he expressed from a young age, when he began his apprenticeship in the workshop of Ghirlandaio, directed by his father. Luckily for us, Michelangelo was long-lived (he died just before his ninetieth birthday) and productive to the end of his days, and his extraordinary works were made for the most important patrons of his time, including the Medici family and no fewer than five popes.
Michelangelo grew up and lived for long periods in Florence, at different times in his career: our 6-stop itinerary will guide the reader to visit the main works still preserved and visible in the Tuscan capital.

1. Casa Buonarroti

We begin at Casa Buonarroti, the ancient family home. Set up in the 17th century by Michelangelo’s great-nephew, who was also named after him, Casa Buonarroti houses a considerable number of autograph drawings by the great Tuscan master, which escaped destruction (by the artist himself, who intended to burn them) and dispersion.
Here it is also possible to admire two marble reliefs from Michelangelo’s youth: the Madonna della scala (circa 1490) and the Battaglia dei centauri (1490-1492).

madonna della scala michelangelo
Madonna della Scala, Michelangelo

The former reveals with utmost clarity the artist’s debt to Donatello, not only for the use of the stiacciato technique but also for the composition. In the bottom left corner of the slab depicting the Madonna col Bambino, there is indeed a staircase from which a putto leans out. An iconographic motif already used by the illustrious predecessor in his Banchetto di Erode (Lille, Musée des Beaux-Arts), where the staircase occupies much of the right side.
The secular subject of the Battaglia dei centauri, however, seems to have been suggested to Michelangelo by Agnolo Poliziano, a famous intellectual close to the Medici. Perhaps the first among his non-finiti works, the high relief contains inventions and innovations that the artist would revisit throughout his life: twists, movements, postures, and plasticity that would become characteristics of his unmistakable style.

battaglia dei centauri michelangelo
Battaglia dei Centauri, Michelangelo

2. Museo Nazionale del Bargello

Walking all the way down Via Ghibellina, you reach the Museo Nazionale del Bargello. Among the must-see works, the Bacco should also be counted. Created between 1496 and 1497, the sculpture depicts a young, naked Bacco raising a cup of wine while, inebriated, he staggers along. Behind him, a satyr bites into the bunch of grapes that the god holds in his left hand. Besides its imposing size – 207 centimeters in height – the work is striking for the skilled work done on the shapes and the material: smoother in the representation of the god’s skin, rougher for the lower parts of the satyr.

bacco michelangelo
Bacco, Michelangelo

At the Bargello, the Tondo Pitti (circa 1503) is also kept, depicting the Madonna col Bambino e San Giovannino in the typical format of Florentine Renaissance art, an expression of Michelangelo’s non-finito style.

tondo pitti michelangelo
Tondo Pitti, Michelangelo

3. Galleria degli Uffizi

A 4-minute walk through the streets of the historic center takes you to the Galleria degli Uffizi, a crucial stop for any art enthusiast. Let’s leave sculpture aside for a moment and admire another tondo, but this time pictorial: the Tondo Doni (1505-1506). The Sacra Famiglia was commissioned from the artist by the wealthy Florentine merchant Agnolo Doni (portrayed, along with his wife Maddalena Strozzi, by Raffaello as can be seen in the same room of the museum). Unusual and enigmatic, the iconography of the panel is still today a subject of admiration and study: the Vergine appears engaged in welcoming (or passing?) the Bambino by lifting him high, while San Giuseppe seated behind her hands him over (or takes him back?). And what do the young nudes in the background symbolize?
We do not know for certain, but we can still appreciate the definition of the almost sculptural volumes and the choice of bright, clear, and iridescent colors that anticipate those of the Cappella Sistina.

tondo doni michelangelo
Tondo Doni, Michelangelo

4. Museo dell’Opera del Duomo

Let’s continue our route and head to Piazza del Duomo to visit the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. Here is housed the Pietà Bandini, made by Michelangelo between 1547 and 1555 approximately. The marble group represents the Deposizione di Cristo and is one of the last works of Buonarroti, who had imagined it for his tomb. In fact, it was never used for that purpose and, indeed, was mutilated by Michelangelo himself who removed the left arm of the Salvatore with a chisel. Sold for two hundred scudi to the Florentine sculptor and architect Francesco Bandini – from whom it takes its name – it was then purchased in 1671 by Grand Duke Cosimo III de’ Medici. Although non-finita, it has been possible to recognize in the aged face of Nicodemo supporting Cristo a self-portrait of Michelangelo himself, who died almost ten years later – in 1564 – in Rome. The body was stolen overnight by the Florentines, who could not accept a Roman burial and who honored the value of their immense compatriot with state funerals in San Lorenzo in Florence. And it is precisely here that we head now.

pietà bandini michelangelo
Pietà Bandini, Michelangelo

5. Museo delle Cappelle Medicee

Part of the Museo del Bargello complex, the Cappelle Medicee are located inside the Basilica di San Lorenzo. The Sagrestia Nuova, designed by Michelangelo, houses the splendid sepulchers of Giuliano and Lorenzo de’ Medici.
The sculptural apparatus decorating them (work of Buonarroti) represents the liberation of the soul from the body after death through the allegorical figures of Notte, Giorno, Aurora, and Crepuscolo. These, along with the missing statues of the Fiumi that were to decorate the base of the sarcophagi, symbolize human fate.
The Notte is one of the most admirable examples of torsion and chiasmus: the woman is caught in the moment of turning her body tense in a pose that is both contracted and stretched at the same time.
Around her lie scattered her iconographic attributes: the poppies, the owl, the mask.

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6.Galleria dell’Accademia

Staying on theme, we close our journey among Michelangelo’s works with a visit to the home of his most famous sculptural work: the David (1501-1504).
The Arte della Lana and the Opera del Duomo of Florence commissioned Buonarroti to create the biblical hero from the block of marble previously worked on and abandoned by two other artists. Michelangelo took three years to complete it and astonish the world.
A commission composed of the most renowned artists of the time (including Leonardo da Vinci, Sandro Botticelli, Filippino Lippi, and Perugino) deemed the initial location, a spur of the Cattedrale, inadequate for such a work and decided to place it in Piazza della Signoria in front of the Palazzo Vecchio so that the whole city could appreciate this marvelous symbol of civic pride and power.
At the end of the 19th century, the giant was moved inside the Galleria dell’Accademia, in a hall specially built by the architect Emilio De Fabris to host it.
Also in the same museum are the Prigioni, unfinished sculptures initially intended for the funerary monument of Pope Giulio II and later placed inside the Grotta del Buontalenti in the Giardino di Boboli.

These are among the main masterpieces of Michelangelo that you can discover in Florence, undeniable proof of the greatness and versatility of the Renaissance master.

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