Florence's Cultural Charms Close Up

photo by Freeimages.com/Sharon McKee

by Claire Wrathall, The Daily Telegraph, December 10, 2015

With a new documentary casting fresh light on the artistic wonders of Florence and the Uffizi, now's the time to revisit the city's cultural attractions.

Anyone in search of inspiration for a weekend city break this winter could do worse that make their way to their nearest Picturehouse on the evening of December 14, when this small independent chain of plush cinemas (there are nine across London and a further 14 outside the capital from Exeter to Edinburgh, by way of Liverpool, Bradford and York), will be screening the self-explanatory documentary Florence and the Uffizi Gallery . Shot in 3D, it feels like a very exclusive tour of the city’s key cultural attractions, guided by Antonio Natali, the director of the Uffizi and Arturo Glansino, the new director of Palazzo Strozzi.

The focal point of the film is the unveiling of Leonardo da Vinci’s Adoration of the Magi after a three-year restoration. Hung in the Optificio delle Pietre Dure, it is huge – more than 67 sq ft – and extraordinarily beautiful, painted in tempera on 10 wood panels. The artist began the work in 1481, before he was 30, but later abandoned it, unfinished.

But almost more compelling than the artwork is the way the camera takes you into places such as the Brancacci chapel of Santa Maria di Carmine, home of Massaccio’s frescos of the expulsion from the Garden of Eden. It continues right up into Brunelleschi’s masterpiece, the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore, as Florence's cathedral is properly known, in order to scrutinise up close Vasari’s fresco of The Last Judgment; then into the Baptistry; and then into several of the city’s greatest palazzi and galleries. (Visitors to the city can give even more consideration to the cathedral by visiting Florence's recently reopened Duomo Museum .)

However well you know Florence, however familiar its great Renaissance masterpieces – by Leonardo, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Caravaggio e tutti gli altri – it’s unlikely you’ll have seen them so closely or in such depth, not least because the lighting when you see them for real is rarely ideal. So although the film is not in any way a substitute for a trip to Florence, it is superb preparation for one. No surprise that it was produced with support from Florence City Council and Italy’s Ministry of Heritage, Culture and Tourism, which possibly accounts for the sometimes intrusive voiceover and the decision to have an actor play Lorenzo the Magnificent. Matteo Curallo’s booming score won’t find favour with everyone either. Visually, however, it’s a feast.

The camera does not linger in the chapel of San Giuseppe in Duomo because, in the scheme of things, Domenico Ferrett’s frescos here are not among its greatest treasures. A painting by the artist is quite a thing to find in a hotel, though. Enter the Four Seasons Florence, converted from the Palazzo della Gherardesca, which was commissioned in 1490 by Bartolomeo Scala, chancellor to the Medici family, and subsequently home to Cardinal Alessandro dei Medici who became Pope Leo XI. Here you’ll find an arcaded courtyard, the walls decorated with 16th-century polychrome frescos by the Flemish mannerist Jan van der Straet aka Lo Strandano, who also decorated the domed palazzo chapel, now a reading room, and the staircase that ascends to the piano nobile, where the grandest suites are found.

Of these, none is more splendid than the Della Gheradesca Suite (number 120), which has rococo frescos by Baldassare Franceschini, aka Il Volterrano, whose work can be found in the church of Santa Croce. I have only been shown it, though I have stayed in the neighbouring Nobel Suite Cancelliere (from €4,400 a night), an immense 969 sq ft, sumptuously tricked out in silks and velvets with a renaissance fresco of a cardinal on its vaulted ceiling. Its Renaissance Suite, with fresco and immense bathroom, is also impressive, and I’ve also spent a couple of nights in a Deluxe (from €400) in the hotel’s adjoining modern annexe, a compact 463 sq ft, though like the grandest apartments, these rooms also have views of the garden, one of the oldest and most beautiful in the city. And I cannot deny I slept better here and felt altogether happier. There’s no disputing the splendour of the hotel’s historic suites, but lying in the darkness, speculating on the events its walls must have witnessed over a half a millennium, one can feel a little spooked.


This article was written by Claire Wrathall from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.