Revisiting the renaissance

god in details Close up of the fresco on the Duomo ceiling.

 Until then, most art was commissioned by the church, and the artist was a nameless, skilled artisan who illustrated religious texts or painted biblical scenes on murals and church panels. It was in Florence that a cultural shift in this practice originated and the social status of artists was elevated, primarily due to the patronage of the affluent merchant families in the city. Famous artists like Botticeli, Titian, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael worked in the city at some point in their careers and the mark they have left is indelible.

As I got off the train at the station, a beautiful church in the square outside offered my first glimpse of the Renaissance architecture in Florence. The Santa Maria Novella, a Gothic church, has a white and black marble-inlaid façade resembling an ancient Roman temple, which was designed by the early Renaissance architect, Alberti, in 1470.  
A large dome played hide and seek along the way to my B&B, peering over the tops of the buildings as I turned the corners. This was the Duomo of the Basilica of Santa Maria del Fiore — a symbol of Florence — designed by Brunelleschi in 1419 and completed in 1436. At conception, it was meant to be the largest dome in the world, larger than the Pantheon in Rome that held top position at the time. An amazing fact was that the 114.5-metre dome was constructed without any scaffolding, using instead machines that Brunelleschi had specially designed.

The climb up to the top of the Duomo was arduous with 463 uneven steps running through a narrow, dark, and poorly ventilated passageway. Once at the top, the reward far outweighed the effort, as the view of the city over the rooftops stretched for miles and the rolling green hills of the Tuscan countryside stood prettily in the background. While descending, the close-up view of the frescoes on the interior of the dome was breathtaking.

Strolling along the embankment of River Arno, I reached Ponte Vecchio — the arched bridge, another of Florence’s symbols. This bridge too had a brush with the Renaissance when an elevated corridor was built over the bridge in 1564 to link the Palazzo Vecchio (the town hall) to Palazzo Pitti (the palace of the ruling family) on the opposite bank. To improve the air along the royal passageway, the butcher shops on the bridge were relocated and replaced by jewellers.

Close to the bridge was the Uffizi gallery, housing one of the greatest art collections in the world. Renaissance works by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Caravaggio, Titian, and Uccello were on display, among many others. However, it was Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, which left a lasting impression, as it seemed to portray not just the birth of the Goddess of beauty, but also the birth of beauty in art, with life like forms, perspective, and colours.

From the Uffizi, it was a 10-minute walk to the Galleria Accademia, home to the famous sculpture of ‘David’ by Michelangelo — the perfect specimen of the human male body — carved from a single block of marble. It was the most life like statue I had ever seen, with well-defined muscle tone and veins that almost seemed to pulse beneath the marble surface. In a room nearby was Leonardo’s ‘Vitruvian Man’, a pen-and-ink sketch of the ideal proportions of the human body — a familiar sight as it is embossed on the reverse of every one Euro coin.

After seeing a fair amount of Renaissance art and architecture, I took a bus to the Oltarno district in the suburbs where atop a hill was Piazza Michelangelo, a square dedicated to Michelangelo.
A bronze cast replica of ‘David’ stood at the centre of the square looking out over a panoramic view of the city. As I followed his gaze, I noticed prominent landmarks — the Duomo rising over the tiled rooftops, the bell tower of Palazzo Vecchio, and the arches of Ponte Vecchio over the river. I realised that in just 36 hours, I had gained more insights into the Renaissance than from any history lesson.

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