Archive | April 2019

The Palace of the Masters of Florence

1280px-Palazzo_Medici_Riccardi_by_night_01One of the little-known museums in Florence is that of the Palazzo Riccardi Medici, and yet it contains one of the most interesting and renown frescoes in Italy. The 10-euro entry fee was well worth an early evening spent touring this Renaissance-era palace and a special exhibition.

Completed in 1484 at the behest of Cosimo Medici (he was head of the banking family by this time) and designed by Michelozzo di Bartolomeo, the palace was known for its stone masonry, which includes the architectural elements of ashlar and rustication. The picture above shows how each story of the building decreases in height while a horizontal stringcourse clearly divides them. The cornice, common in Roman buildings of the time, is unique in design. The modest exterior design is intentional; sumptuary laws prevented one from openly displaying their wealth. Cosimo instead spent some of his wealth decorating the inside. The details in the interior rooms is amazing.

Completed in the 1680s, the Hall of Luca Giordano is a masterpiece of Florentine Baroque art and features panel after panel of painted mirrors topped with a frescoed ceiling, Apotheosis of the Medici Dynasty, done by Giordoano. (This space can now be rented for conferences!)

Fillipo Lippi and Botticelli both enjoyed Cosimo’s patronage. The Madonna of Palazzo Medici by Lippi enjoys a place above a huge console at the end of one hall.



Throughout the part of the palace that is open to the public, furnishings, statuary, and paintings of Medici family members are on display.

The heart of the palace is the Magi Chapel. Covering the walls are frescoes done by Benozzo Gozzoli. The scenes portray the best known personalities of his time playing the parts of the procession of the magi. Each generation of Medici partiarch features in a different panel. As with any chapel in Italy, you have to be sure to look up!

Once we almost completed our tour (almost, because it was closing time, and we were the last ones inside, and we really wanted to take just one last look around), we found ourselves locked in the palazzo’s main atrium! The entrance gates at both ends of the Courtyard of Michelozzo were closed and padlocked. A police station is located just off the atrium, though, and the officer on duty let us out by way of his office.

Being stuck inside this particular courtyard would not have been a hardship, but it is better viewed in the daylight. At one time it was completely open and colonnaded at the far corner of the palace but was walled in during the 16th century. Three-hundred pieces of ancient art have been placed on the walls of the courtyard. Potted orange trees, statuary and a fountain make this an oasis right in the middle of the city.

courtyard fountain w mosaicsmedici courtyard statue

We made a quick trip to the hotel before meeting with the others at the Cosimo statue in Palazzo della Signoria. Then we headed to a local restaurant for a traditional Italian dinner. Later that night, the rest of the tour group finally arrived in Florence. We could hardly admit to all the sights we’d been able to enjoy when there would be no opportunity for them to do so. Out of thirty, we were the only one to visit the Uffizi.

And if you’ve ever wondered how Italian women keep their figures, we know the secret. According to our iPhone, we walked 8.6 miles on this day. Time for a glass of prosecco.

Next up on our itinerary—a walking tour of Florence.


An Afternoon at the Office

uffuzi ext

One of the great things about Florence on a Sunday is that the museums are free. However, you have to have a ticket to get in, and tickets for the Galleria degli Uffizi (which is “office” in Italian) sell out quickly. Not knowing all this turned out to be a good thing. When we finished taking pictures of several of the statues that decorate the exterior of the building—a series of famous Italians are mounted at the second story level, including DaVinci, Michelangelo, Galileo and Amerigo Vespucci—we approached a ticket-taker asking where tickets might be obtained. We were told they were out. “How many are in your party?” the agent asked in broken English.


Being alone for the afternoon proved fortuitous. He gave us a ticket!

One of the world’s top museums, the Uffizi features art from the Italian Renaissance. The building didn’t start out as an art gallery, though, but was commissioned by Cosimo Medici in 1560 as offices for the magistrates of Florence. As with any Italian building, it’s important to look up. The ceilings are works of art.

The top floor originally featured Roman sculptures and was a gallery for family and guests of the Medici. Now the entire floor, which forms the shape of a U, is lined with statuary. Those shown here are Venus, Leda, ApolloNeriad on a Seahorse, Centaur and Pan, and Amore and Psyche.

Cosimo’s son, Grand Duke Francesco I, commissioned the architect Buontalenti to design the Tribuna deli Uffizi, an octagonal room to display series of masterpieces in one room, including jewels. Completed in 1584, it became a highly influential attraction of a Grand Tour. Although you can look into the room, you cannot go in as the entrances are cordoned off.

When the house of Medici died out, their art collections, including these two works by Botticelli (Birth of Venus and Primevera), were gifted to Florence by Anna Maria Luisa, the last Medici heiress. In 1765, the Uffizi was officially opened for the public to tour, although visitors could request entry as early as the sixteenth century.

Renovations in modern times increased the number of rooms and the space for displays, most of it payed for by the Ferragamo family. (Shoes are their works of art.)

Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo has its own alcove.

doni tondo


Virtues by Botticelli and Antonio del Pollaiolo takes up an entire wall in one of the galleries. Pollaiolo’s La Carita is shown in close-up.

And what’s a gallery without a bunch of busts? Shown here are Constantine, Nero, Agrippa, Augustus, Titus, and Tiberius.

When we finally finished this masterpiece of a museum, we treated ourselves to a gelato. The museum’s restaurant is located on the roof of the Loggia della Signoria and has the most interesting view. We were told the man on the ledge is a temporary installation as he’s not real popular with the locals.

man on ledge

Although the light was starting to fade, we still had one more museum to visit before we were to join our tour guide for dinner. Next up: Palazzo Riccardi Medici.

A Trip for Education Rather Than Vacation

Two years ago, we flew to England to spend twenty-four days in pursuit of more information about the time in which our books take place. To visit the places we had already used as settings and to research new ones for future books. And to take photographs. Lots of photographs. (That trip is detailed on this blog in posts dated April 2017 and May 2017.)

Since then, we’ve finished six Regency-era books and one based in ancient Greece and Rome. We were in the midst of deciding where (and when) to place the rest of the books in the Stella of Akrotiri series—stories about an Immortal couple who first meet on a Greek Island—when the opportunity to tour with a local college group came up. We signed on for EF Tour’s “Intercultural Studies in Italy and Greece” the day after we learned of it. Since EF allows travelers to delay their return, we arranged our own travel plans to add that Greek island to the itinerary. By doing so, our flights to the first stop on our multi-city tour were different from the rest of the group.

We wouldn’t discover just how fortuitous that arrangement was until we reached Florence.

Although twenty-one of us flew on the same plane from Billings, Montana to Denver, the rest of the group were scheduled to fly to Florence by way of Frankfort while we were routed through Munich. Scheduled departure times out of Denver were about the same, although our flight left first.

By over eight hours.

We reached Munich on a Sunday morning and met up with the eight students and a  faculty advisor from the University of North Carolina’s School of Arts who made up the rest of our tour group. Our flight to Florence was quick—too quick for our luggage to make the plane, but with an overnight bag, we were set for a full day in Florence.

Our EF tour director, Katia, met us at the airport, informed us of the delay for the rest of my group, but assured us they would arrive later that night. After a short bus ride to Hotel Athenaueum, we checked into what had to be the largest room in the hotel and had a few minutes to freshen up before we hit the ground running.

studentshotel room

Or walking, rather. The 1.4 kilometers from the hotel to the Piazza della Signoria takes only 17 minutes. On the way, we stopped at the Duomo, also known as the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore or the Florence Cathedral. Begun in 1296, it wasn’t completed until 1436, when the dome was finally erected. The exterior of the basilica is a masterpiece of detailed artwork, faced with polychrome marble panels in various shades of green and pink and bordered in white.

For a dramatization of what it took to finish the dome, check out the first season of Netflix’s Medici: Masters of Florence TV show starring Dustin Hoffman and Richard Madden.

The Baptistery of St. John is opposite the Duomo. Constructed between 1059 and 1128, it is one of the oldest buildings in the city. This octagonal minor basilica boasts three sets of bronze doors. The east doors shown here were designed by Lorenzo Ghilberti and were dubbed the Gates of Paradise by Michelangelo.

Then we were off to the Piazza della Signoria, where statues of David, Hercules and Cacus, and Cosimo Medici share the backdrop of Palazzo Vecchio, the townhall of Florence.

The Loggia della Signoria, also known as the Loggia dei Lanzi, can be seen in the far corner of the Piazza della Signoria beneath part of the Uffuzi Gallery. The open-air Loggia houses an impressive array of statues, including Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabines (1579-1583). Installed in 1583 at the behest of the son of Cosimo I, Francesco I, this statue
is over 4 metres high and was made from the largest block of marble (and an imperfect one at that) ever transported to Florence. It’s the first group statue representing more than a single figure in European sculptural history to be conceived without a dominant viewpoint, meaning it can be viewed from all sides equally.

The other statue shown here is Menelaus supporting the body of Patroclus, originally discovered in Rome. From the Flavian era, it was copied from a Hellenistic Pergamene original of the mid-third century BC.

When our tour of the piazza was complete, our guide released us with instructions to take in as much as we could on our own and meet at the Cosimo statue later that evening to head to dinner.

Next up: Free time means an afternoon at the Uffuzi.