This morning, after waking up to a croissant breakfast, we donned colorful rain jackets and headed outside. As we were descending our hotel steps, Ms. Schultz joked that the Etruscan king of Rome Tarquinius Superbus must be angry with us and must be expressing his rage through the inclement weather. (Note: we are now in Tuscany, the third and final region that we will visit on our trip, which the Etruscans used to inhabit.) Huddled together, we then made our way to the Duomo museum, Il Grande Museo Del Duomo, where our tour guide Francesco was waiting for us.
We were initially excited to be at the museum because it was a dry place to seek refuge from the rain, but soon another, even greater discovery prompted our excitement: that of the baptistry doors. The museum has two sets of the large, bronze doors on display, sculpted by Lorenzo Ghiberti and originally attached to the baptistery of St. John (who is the patron saint of Florence). The first set is the East doors, dubbed the Gates of Paradise after Michelangelo remarked on their divine beauty, which have 28 panels encased in quatrefoil frames. The second is the North doors, which are composed of ten, larger, square panels instead. Each set of doors took Ghiberti more than 20 years to complete and magnificently displays stories from the Old Testament. However, as we learned from our tour guide, Ghiberti was not the only Early Renaissance artist vying for the honor of sculpting the doors; six other artists, including Brunelleschi, challenged him in a famous competition run by the Florentine merchant guild in 1401. 35 judges of the contest reviewed the required submission from every artist, a panel depicting the sacrifice of Isaac, and they chose Ghiberti as the victor. Ghiberti’s victory catalyzed his life’s work, and we enjoyed admiring the beautiful scenes on the doors, over which he labored.
Also in the museum was the old facade of the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral designed by the architect Arnolfo and removed from the cathedral in the 1500s. There were many sculptures of biblical figures contained in the decorative facade by illustrious artists, such as Donatello. In the next room we saw Donatello’s Mary Magdalen from the 1450s. This work stood out to us because of Mary’s very expressive face, the unidealized depiction of her after her long journey in the desert, and the fact that it is made form wood. After Mary Magdalen was Michelangelo’s Pietà that he made in his 70s, and it is one of three other Pietàs attributed to him–including the one we saw in Rome. We were informed that the topmost figure in the sculpture, Nicodemus, is actually a portrait of Michelangelo himself, and this Pietà constitutes one of only two self portraits made by the artist. Next, we ventured to the upper floor of the museum, which houses more panels and sculptures that previously adorned the cathedral’s exterior.
Our final stop in the museum was to a viewing platform where we caught an incredible, panoramic view of the Duomo! We marveled at Brunelleschi’s creation, and our tour guide shared information about the creation of his dome. We could not believe that it was made without wooden support during the building process and were also extremely impressed that the nearly 142-foot tall dome has been standing tall without collapse since the end of the 14th century.
We then exited the museum and headed towards the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral. Our day brightened–both literally and figuratively!–as the sun came out and brought into view the illuminated marble exterior of the cathedral. As we entered, we realized that the inside was fairly plain compared to the lavish decoration outside. Except for several stunning stained glass windows, paintings, and an old fashioned giant clock, the cathedral was adorned only with simple stone. Also, because it was Holy Week, some areas were blocked off, and we could only get a glimpse of the inner, painted dome and the depictions of hell on its surface. (However, this was probably for the best because Renaissance portrayals of hell tend to be particularly jarring.)
After the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral, we journeyed to another cathedral, the Basilica de Santa Croce. There we saw funerary monuments funded by the Medici family for the likes of Galileo, Michelangelo, Rossini, and Machiavelli. Many of us thought about leaving some kind of tribute to these famous thinkers, artists, and musicians, whom we so admire. Also in the Basilica de Santa Croce are family chapels, and in the Refractory of the Basilica is a wall painting of the Last Supper. Our tour guide told us that it was the “first Last Supper,” at which point we replied in unison, “what?,” and he went on to explain that it was, in fact, the first painting of the Last Supper to alleviate our confusion.
At this point, we were all getting slightly hungry and sleepy from the day’s many adventures, so we started walking back to the main square, the Piazza della Signoria, to get lunch. On our walk, we stopped for a moment outside the Orsanmichele cathedral of the Florentine guilds, who, in modern day terms, are essentially unions for each profession. Statues represented each guild, including those dedicated to banking and sculpting, and one sculpture was the first larger-than-life sculpture made in the West after Roman times!
Upon arriving in the square, which displays, among many other sculptures, a replica of Michelangelo’s David in its original location, we broke for lunch. In addition to eating real food, some of us sought out pastries and hot chocolate at a place highly recommended by Buzzfeed. The treats were delicious!
Following our busy morning, we had the option of a quiet afternoon. Many of us either explored, shopped, or napped. A particularly energetic group went back to the center of Florence and climbed 463 steps to the top of the Duomo! We split for dinner and then returned altogether to the hotel for a celebration of Ms. Schultz on her last Winsor Italy trip! It was bittersweet, as we fondly reminisced about some of our favorite class memories with her and teared up when realizing how much we will all miss seeing her every day at Winsor. Finally, we had a celebratory dessert and headed to bed.