Florence: A visit with Michelangelo
Michelangelo Buonarroti was born outside of Florence in 1475. Though he spent much of his life working in Rome, he loved Florence and considered it his home. Many of his greatest works still reside in Florence, and Florentines are exceedingly proud of their native son.
Although visiting the city can get pricey, many of Michelangelo’s treasures can be experienced cheaply, or for free! Angela K. Nickerson, author of A Journey into Michelangelo’s Rome, takes us on a budget-friendly tour of Michelangelo’s Florence.
Michelangelo in the Museums
The Bargello: Via del Proconsolo, 4
Perhaps the best bargain in Florence, the Bargello is a small museum with an amazing collection of sculpture, all for one of the lowest museum prices in Florence (€4). Here Michelangelo’s Bacchus holds court alongside his Brutus. Bacchus was Michelangelo’s first commission in Rome, and it failed to meet his patron’s approval because he depicted the god of wine as a drunk. However, his Brutus—a piece done in his later years—was well-loved, though it served as a scathing commentary on Florence’s political situation. Donatello’s David is another gem on view at the museum.
The Academy: Via Ricasoli, 60
Home to Michelangelo’s David as well as some of the Captives (originally designed for Pope Julius II’s tomb in Rome), The Academy (in Italian-Accademia), is home to one of the most famous sculptures in the world. The David cemented Michelangelo’s reputation as the greatest sculptor in Italy and won him a lifetime of work. While the David is a gorgeous example of finished work, the Captives show how Michelangelo could take one unspectacular and enormous block of marble and create art.
Opera del Duomo: Piazza del Duomo, 9
Never crowded, the Opera del Duomo is a less expensive museum option (€6). Michelangelo’s Florentine Pieta occupies a well-lit alcove in this lovely gallery. Intended as his own tomb marker, the Florentine Pieta (1548-55) was abandoned, but the figure of Nicodemus still stands as a self-portrait.
Casa Buonarroti: Via Ghibellina, 70
Also off the beaten path, Casa Buonarroti offers a chance to see the work of a young Michelangelo for a small fee (€6.50). Scholars can access a large collection of his papers, drawings, and correspondence too. But the casual visitor shouldn’t miss “Battle of the Centaurs” and “Madonna of the Steps”, both sculpted whose sanctuary itself is free to visit—had only been finished for about 30 years when Michelangelo was born, and it was hailed as one of the world’s architectural wonders because Brunelleschi was the first architect to successfully build a dome after the fall of the Roman Empire. Having grown up in the dome’s shadow, Michelangelo sent for its dimensions when he set out to design the dome over St. Peter’s in Rome. (Bonus tip: Remember, while you’re there, you can visit the Church of San Benedetto for free as well.)
Santa Croce: Piazza Santa Croce, 16
Michelangelo was buried in his home church of Santa Croce, and he is in good company alongside Dante, Galileo, and Rossini among others. The church, however, charges €4 admission to see the tombs as well as the beautiful architecture.
Michelangelo for Free
Piazzale Michelangelo: Viale Michelangelo
Built to honor the great artist, the Piazzale Michelangelo is the best place to take a panoramic photo of Florence and the Arno River. Take a picnic or just hang out for a free hours and enjoy the people-watching.
Loggia della Signoria: Piazza della Signoria
According to legend the face carved into the doorframe of the Signoria was created by a blindfolded Michelangelo on a dare. During the Renaissance, the Piazza della Signoria was the site of Michelangelo’s David and remained as such until the late 1800s. A replica stands there today amid other notable pieces of art including Giambologna’s “Rape of the Sabine Women” and Cellini’s “Perseus”.