Florence's Hidden Art Treasures, Florence

Florence's Hidden Art Treasures (Self Guided), Florence

The “Cradle of the Renaissance,” Florence is one of Europe’s most beautiful and busiest destinations, home to some of the world's greatest pieces of art and architecture. The iconic masters like Giotto, Botticelli, Raphael and Michelangelo, as well as their somewhat less-known but equally talented counterparts, such as Ghirlandaio, Sangallo and Castagno, have blessed this city with their creations, leaving behind a wealth of spectacular artistic treasures – chiseled, painted, or erected in stone.

With more than 4 million visitors lured to Florence each year, it’s no surprise that on a repeat trip to the Renaissance capital you may want to avoid this seemingly ever-present tourist siege. Luckily, there's much more in this cultural mecca than meets the eye. In fact, some of the city's most impressive works are tucked away in the off-center locations and thus don’t get that many viewers. What's also important is that much of this beauty can be seen without payment whilst wandering the squares, entering the churches graced by the talent of renowned painters and sculptors, observing the adornments on buildings and opting for free museums.

Rounded up here are some off-the-beaten-path locations in Florence where you can admire a groundbreaking painting, sculpture, or fresco without having to endure long lines and perpetual crowds:

Chiostro della Scalzo – one of Florence’s most intimate and beautiful spaces, featuring a combination of Sangallo’s architecture and Andrea del Sarto’s frescoes;

The Last Supper of Sant'Apollonia Museum – Andrea del Castagno’s name has, over time, been eclipsed by his more famous Renaissance contemporaries, yet his works, such as the powerful, timeless Cenacolo di Sant’Apollonia fresco, reveal extraordinary draftsmanship and audacious style;

The Last Supper of Ognissanti Church and Museum – far enough from the city center, this church is an important destination for exploring the work of the grands like Giotto, Botticelli and Ghirlandaio, whose wonderful paintings form a key conceptual link to understanding the changes introduced by successive generations of Renaissance artists.

If you're a discerning Florence tourist, repeat visitor, or an art critic eager to get to know Florence deeper and from a different angle, take this self-guided walking tour.
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Florence's Hidden Art Treasures Map

Guide Name: Florence's Hidden Art Treasures
Guide Location: Italy » Florence (See other walking tours in Florence)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 7
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.2 Km or 2 Miles
Author: greghasleft
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Basilica of the Most Holy Annunciation
  • Chiostro della Scalzo (The Barefoot Brothers Cloister)
  • The Last Supper of Sant'Apollonia Museum
  • The Last Supper of Fuligno Museum
  • Casa Martelli (Martelli House)
  • Santa Trinita. Sassetti Chapel
  • The Last Supper of Ognissanti Church and Museum
Basilica of the Most Holy Annunciation

1) Basilica of the Most Holy Annunciation

The Basilica della Santissima Annunziata (Basilica of the Most Holy Annunciation) is a Renaissance-style, Catholic minor basilica and the mother church of the Servite Order in Florence.

The church was founded in 1250. In 1252, friar Bartolomeo started painting here the Annunciation fresco. Legend has it that, despaired about not being able to make the face of a Virgin beautiful enough, he fell asleep and when he woke up, the painting had already been finished. This miracle the friar attributed to an angel.

The painting itself later enjoyed great veneration, including a special tribune designed by architect Leon Battista Alberti, completed in 1481. Although refurbished in Baroque style in the 17th century, the basic scheme of the structure's domed circular space, flanked by altar niches, is still evident.

The church's façade, by architect Giovanni Battista Caccini, imitating the Renaissance style of Brunelleschi's façade of the Foundling Hospital, which defines the eastern side of Piazza Santissima Annunziata on which it stands, dates back to 1601.

The interior Baroque decoration was begun in 1644 with Pietro Giambelli's ceiling fresco of the Assumption, as a centerpiece based on the designs by Baldassare Franceschini.

The first chapel to the right contains a Madonna in Glory, by Jacopo da Empoli, with the walls frescoed by Matteo Rosselli. Notable among the chapels is the fifth (aligned to nave axis), which has a Crucifix (1594–8) by Giambologna, with the statues of the "Active and Contemplative Lives" created by his pupil Francavilla, saints and angels by Pietro Tacca, and murals by Bernardino Poccetti. The next chapel has a Resurrection (1548–52) by Bronzino, with a statue of St Roch attributed to Veit Stoss.

In the sixth chapel, to the left of the nave, is a SS Ignatius, Erasmus and Blaise by Raffaellino del Garbo; the chapel next to it contains one of the panels of Annunziata Altarpiece (1507) by Pietro Perugino, aka Pietro Vannucci, the teacher of Raphael.

The organ built by Domenico Di Lorenzo da Lucca, in 1509–1521, is the oldest in Florence and the third oldest in Italy. The church also contains the tomb of the Italian writer Maria Valtorta, and a memorial to the painter Giovanna Tacconi Messini.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Chiostro della Scalzo (The Barefoot Brothers Cloister)

2) Chiostro della Scalzo (The Barefoot Brothers Cloister)

The Chiostro della Scalzo is a cloister in Florence that originally led to a chapel once belonging to the brotherhood of secular Catholics, known as the Compagnia del diciplinati di San Giovanni Battista or della Passione di Cristo. The term "scalzo" makes reference to the barefoot brother who carried the Cross during their processions.

The “company”, established in 1376, used this church for their meetings from as early as 1390. The brothers wore black hoods with holes to see through and a heavy, black over garment tied around the waist with a white cord; such apparel is documented in the polychrome glazed terra-cotta relief depicting St. John the Baptist and Two Brothers (1510 c.) over the entrance to the cloister from via Cavour.

The church's main artist, Andrea del Sarto (1486-1530), also member of the Scalzo, was one of the greatest painters of his time, known as an outstanding fresco decorator, painter of altar-pieces, portraitist, draughtsman, and colorist. Though highly regarded during his lifetime as an artist senza errori ("without errors"), his renown was eclipsed after his death by that of his contemporaries Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael.

Here, del Sarto painted a series of murals in grisaille, tones of grey, depicting scenes from the life of St. John the Baptist. He completed the cycle in 1526, partially assisted by Francesco di Cristofano, who painted two of the scenes, in 1518-1519.

The murals comprise twelve scenes and form a narrative that begins to the right of the entrance. The first scene is the Annunciation to Zachary (1523), followed by The Visitation (1524), then The Birth of the Baptist (1526), The Blessing of the Young St. John (1519), Meeting of Jesus and the Young St. John the Baptist in the Desert (1518), The Baptism of the Christ (ca. 1509-1510), The Baptist Preaching to the Crowds (1515), The Baptism of the Crowds (1517), St. John's Capture (1517), The Dance of Salome (1522), The Beheading of St. John the Baptist (1523), and The Presentation of the Head of St. John the Baptist (1523). The date of each scene does not follow the narrative sequence.

The cycle also includes four figures representing Christian virtues into tromp l'oeil niches to look like sculptures: Faith (ca. 1523) and Hope (1523) flank the entrance and carry the Latin inscription "Laudate Dominum in trio sancto eius" ("Praise the Lord in His holy place"), while Charity (ca. 1513) and Justice (1515) flank the former passage way into the chapel with another Latin phrase, "Introbibo in Domum Tuam" ("I shall enter your household").

The plaster bust of Andrea del Sarto himself, by Domenico Geri (1724), can be seen over the entrance.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
The Last Supper of Sant'Apollonia Museum

3) The Last Supper of Sant'Apollonia Museum

The Cenacolo di Sant'Apollonia is a museum in Florence and a former Benedictine convent, founded in 1339.

Its best known component is the former refectory (dining hall), the Cenacolo of Sant'Apollonia, with an entrance through a nondescript door near the corner of Via Ventisette Aprile and Reparata. Inside the refectory is a well-preserved “The Last Supper” fresco by Andrea del Castagno, the local Renaissance artist whose works were largely influenced by Masaccio and Giotto – the latter being “the most sovereign master of painting in his time”(late 13th-early 14th centuries).

The fresco, painted around 1447, has its central part occupy the entire length of the west wall, while the upper part, featuring (from the left) the scenes of Resurrection, Crucifixion and Deposition, is interspersed by two windows. At the time of their discovery in 1861, the latter frescoes were covered in white plaster and hence badly preserved. In 1953 it was decided to remove the upper part, affected by humidity, on which occasion the significant sinopias had been found; detached in 1961, they were replaced on the opposite wall.

The Last Supper is depicted as if held in a small building, an imperial triclinium in the style evoked in the writings of Leon Battista Alberti, with the front wall absent, so as to allow the viewer to see the interior.

The dinner takes place in an old-fashioned room, decorated with luxurious and refined elegance: Jesus and the apostles are seated on a high bench around a long table covered with a white tablecloth, while Judas is seated opposite to them, on a stool. The separation of Judas is typical for iconography (although he is usually featured to the right, rather than the left, of Jesus) and his bearded figure in profile resembles that of a satyr in Roman mythology, from the which the Christians borrowed many of the physical characteristics of the devil. Another traditional element in the Florentine context is the sleeping Saint John, next to Christ.

The museum also displays other frescoes and works by Castagno, Neri di Bicci, Paolo Schiavo, and Raffaello da Montelupo (aka Raffaele Sinibaldi, the sculptor and architect of the Italian Renaissance, apprentice of Michelangelo).
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
The Last Supper of Fuligno Museum

4) The Last Supper of Fuligno Museum

The Last Supper fresco by Pietro Perugino, located in the refectory of the former nunnery of Sant'Onofrio in Florence, is the centerpiece of the eponymous Cenacolo di Foligno (Last Supper of Fuligno) museum which is solely dedicated to preserving this masterpiece.

The convent was named after the Franciscan nuns from Umbria who had lived here since 1419. At the end of the 15th century, Perugino, who took up residence in Florence in 1493, worked here as a decorator. His fresco, dated between 1493 and 1496, was re-discovered and opened to the public in 1800. Upon the discovery, it was initially erroneously attributed to Raphael.

The remarkable piece depicts Jesus and the apostles at a horseshoe-shaped table, seated on a continuous bench with the back upholstered in green. The exception, as usual, is Judas Iscariot, who is on the other side of the table, painted (from behind) semi-turned towards the viewer. The inscriptions on the wooden step, at the base of the table, indicate those present (from the left), namely: James the Lesser; Philip; James the Greater; Andrew; Peter; Jesus; John; Bartholomew; Matthew; Thomas; Simon the Canaanite; and Judas Thaddeus (aka Judas of James or Judas Lebbeo, not to be confused with Judas Iscariot).

The floor has a geometric squared design in white and pink marble taken from the tablets of San Bernardino, also an early work by Perugino. The scheme recalls Ghirlandaio's Last Supper of San Marco (1486), with the scene set around a U-shaped table and the landscape opening of the room beyond the back. The upper part of the painting features a vast loggia resembling real architecture of the refectory, as if breaking through the wall, where you can see three spans of round arches supported by pillars with grotesques; while in the background there is a vast natural landscape, in which the scene of the prayer takes place, in the garden of Gethsemane. Typical of the artist are the slender little trees dotting the hills and the landscape fading towards the horizon in blue tones, due to the haze.

Great harmony transpires from the relationships between figures and setting, and each element here attracts the viewer towards the escape of the landscape opening in the center. In the frame, which imitates an ancient marble motif, also in keeping with the Florentine tradition, are some tondi with portraits of saints.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Casa Martelli (Martelli House)

5) Casa Martelli (Martelli House)

The Palazzo or Casa Martelli is a former residence of the influential Martelli family in Florence. As of 2009, it has been a public museum displaying in situ the remains of the valuable art collection of the ex-owner, set in the frescoed interior.

Previously, from as early as the 1520s, the site of the palace had been occupied by the family's separate properties. In 1627, the area was aggregated following the marriage of Senator Marco Martelli to his cousin. The senator then acquired more buildings. Some of the frescoes on the main floor date back to that period.

In 1738, Giuseppe Maria Martelli, Archbishop of Florence, and Niccolo Martelli, Bailiff of Florence, united their real estate under the designs of the architect Bernardino Ciurini. The piano nobile (bel étage) of the palace was frescoed by Vincenzo Meucci, Ferdinando Melani, Niccolò Connestabile, and Bernardo Minozzi, as well as decorated with stuccowork by Giovanni Martino Portogalli.

At the end of the 18th century, more frescoes, depicting mythological as well as historic episodes from the family's history, were added by Tommaso Gherardini, while Luigi Sabatelli decorated the vault of the staircase, previously adorned with a statue of David and the Martelli coat of arms by Donatello (Donato di Niccolò di Betto Bardi, a Florentine sculptor of the Renaissance period). The marble David statue, believed to be a copy of yet another marble David by Donatello in the Bargello, Florence, is now displayed at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

Over the past two centuries, large number of the family's artworks had been sold. In 1986, the house's last resident, Francesca Martelli, willed the property to the Curia of Florence. In 1998, the Curia sold the complex to the Italian state, upon which it was opened to the public, as a museum, in 2006.

Even in its severely reduced form, the collection is quite impressive and includes, among others, the works by the likes of Piero di Cosimo, Francesco Francia, Francesco Morandini, Salvator Rosa, Giordano, Beccafumi, Sustermans, Michael Sweerts, Pieter Brueghel the Younger, Orazio Borgianni, and Francesco Curradi. Of particular note is the collection of small bronzes, featuring creations by Soldani Benzi (aka Massimiliano Soldani or Massimiliano Soldani Benzi, an Italian baroque sculptor, employed throughout his entire career by the Medici royal family). The ground floor also has a room frescoed with an illusionistic pergola by Connestabile.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
Santa Trinita. Sassetti Chapel

6) Santa Trinita. Sassetti Chapel

The Santa Trinita ("Holy Trinity") church in central Florence is the mother church of the Vallumbrosan Order of monks, founded in 1092 by a local nobleman. It was constructed on the site of a pre-existing 11th-century temple, in 1258–1280, with multiple reconstructions followed later on.

The Mannerist façade (1593–1594) was designed by Bernardo Buontalenti (Italian architect, military engineer and artist, who was also, remarkably, the inventor of Italian ice cream!). The relief over the central door was sculpted by Pietro Bernini (father of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, one of the most famous Baroque artists) and Giovanni Battista Caccini. The 17th-century wooden doors were carved to recall saints of the Vallumbrosan order.

The Column of Justice in the outside piazza originates from the Baths of Caracalla and was a gift to Cosimo I de' Medici by Pope Pius IV. It was erected in 1565 to commemorate the Battle of Montemurlo.

The church is particularly famous for its Sassetti Chapel, a landmark in its own right, containing 15th-century frescoes by Domenico Ghirlandaio (a Florence-born painter of the so-called "third generation" of the Florentine Renaissance, along with Verrocchio and Sandro Botticelli, among whose apprentices was none other than Michelangelo himself!), and the Bartolini Salimbeni Chapel frescoed by Lorenzo Monaco.

The Sassetti Chapel notable frescoes by Ghirlandaio include those of the Life of St Francis and Prophecies of Christ’s Birth (1482–1485), as well as an altarpiece of Adoration of the Magi (1485). Over the entrance is a scene of the Sybil informing emperor Augustus of the coming of Christ. One panel depicts the Miracle of St Francis in resuscitating a boy who had fallen from Palazzo Spini, which occurred just across the street.

The fresco cycle covers three walls framed by trompe-l'œil architectural elements. The altarpiece is also framed by a painted marble decoration. At the side of the altar there are kneeling portraits of the church's two patrons, Medici banker Francesco Sassetti, on the right, and his wife Nera Corsi, on the left, directing their prayers towards the central altarpiece of the Adoration of the Shepherds, also by Ghirlandaio.

Ghirlandaio's frescoes can also be seen in the upper transept wall, outside the chapel. This area was plastered in the 18th century, the paintings being rediscovered only in 1895, which accounts for their poorer state of conservation. The work outside the chapel is attributed to Ghirlandaio's three brothers (Domenico, David and Benedetto) and assistants. Its perspective was devised to offer a perfect view from below.

Opening Hours:
Weekdays: 8am-12pm / 4pm-6pm
Holidays: 4pm-6pm
Free entry
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
The Last Supper of Ognissanti Church and Museum

7) The Last Supper of Ognissanti Church and Museum

The Chiesa di San Salvatore di Ognissanti, or more simply the Chiesa di Ognissanti, was founded by the Order of the Umiliati and was originally built in the 1250s. Around 1310, Giotto painted here, for the high altar, his celebrated Madonna and Child with angels. Recent cleaning of the Crucifix painting, in the left transept, also led this work to be attributed to Giotto.

During the 16th century, the Umiliati declined in power and, in 1571, the Franciscan order assumed control of the building, subsequently bringing in some precious relics, such as a robe of St Francis of Assisi. The church was almost completely remodeled, between 1620 and 1630, in Baroque style by the architect Bartolomeo Pettirossi, thus becoming one of the first Baroque temples in Florence, previously dominated by Renaissance-style architecture.

The Chiesa di Ognissanti is also famous as the burial place of the Early Renaissance painter, Sandro Botticelli.

The façade was designed by Matteo Nigetti, one of the most cherished Baroque architects. The interiors are equally stunning, with the ornate Baroque detailing, the wooden crucifix by Veit Stross, the hidden symbolism of the church and the elaborate frescoes that don the wall. Among them is a large (400x810 cm) fresco of The Last Supper by Dominico Ghirlandaio, dated 1480, which has garnered a lot of attention and admiration over the years.

The fresco consists of two lunettes separated by a peduccio that supports the vault, with a wide smooth strip of wall below, and is located on the wall opposite the refectory entrance. It is now part of the small Cenacolo di Ognissanti museum found in the refectory, between the two cloisters of the Ognissanti convent.

The sinopia of the fresco, presently exhibited on the left wall, was discovered during restoration work. Compared to the final version, it features some differences in the mimicry of the apostles, especially in the left half, delivering greater expressiveness.

Domenico Ghirlandaio had painted two more Last Supper (Cenacle) frescoes in Florence, namely: the Cenacle of the Badia di Passignano, the oldest work created in collaboration with his brothers (1476); and the Cenacle of San Marco, quite similar to that of Ognissanti, albeit smaller in size (1486). The third one was the Cenacle of San Donato in Polverosa, intermediate between that of Passignano and Ognissanti, but unfortunately it has been lost.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.

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