After having had the experience of two wonderful Context Travel walking tours in Athens and London, my husband and I could hardly wait for our two tours in Florence (Firenze), Italy. Selecting our tours wasn’t easy because there was such a wide range of possibilities. Given our available time, we narrowed our choices. We felt fortunate that these were excellent choices - the tours offered us the essence of Florence, and we were enriched by the experiences.
On our last two days in Italy, my husband and I learned about what Florence offers in “context”, bringing order to the overwhelming sensory input of Florence. We also increased our knowledge of many aspects of the Renaissance.The city abounds with tourists and artwork, also uneven streets and crowds, everywhere we were. Restaurants are side by side, one gorgeous building after another, and museums in every direction, history surrounding us. Sorting out what is important and why, how to spend time and where to go is a daunting task. Context Travel, where are you?
I love the way Context Travel docents bring in a blend of history, art, architecture, culture, psychology and more, offering an experience filled with information and anecdotes that has take the docents many years of study across many topics. The docents distill the information with love for their topic, are charming and the groups are small and compatible. Selected tours are wide ranging covering many interests.
Our Arte Firenze tour with Elizabeth as our docent got us in and through the Uffizi Gallery. Built as additional government offices, it now houses an array of paintings and artifacts related to the Renaissance that are unmatched. After we were awed by the ceiling frescoes and the techniques used to accomplish them, we explored ten significant works. These were samples of the development of painting during the Renaissance, the way perspective changed, how stories came into the paintings and the differences in the way materials were used. We learned that Leonardo Da Vinci was a free spirit who could not meet the requirements of the strict contracts that involved the amount of paint and other materials used. Michelangelo worked continually, always aiming for perfection. On the other hand, Raphael was the most secure of the “big three” growing up in the court and there is a gentler quality in his paintings.
I honestly don't believe that I could have negotiated the Uffizi Gallery in any way other than being part of the Context TravelTour. It brought an overwhelming array of crowds and art into an organized, focused and meaningful, let alone educational experience. Elizabeth helped our group wind its way through huge crowds and countless works of art. The frescoes overhead were explained, techniques of painting were shared as well as materials used. Historic significance of the painting style, perspective, and the stories in the paintings brought meaning to works that are generally not my favorite style. This was a "delicious" experience, satisfying and enriching.
While our first tour was about painting, Michelangelo in Florence with our docent Molly was about sculpture. Though Michelangelo was the focus, the development of sculpture in general was addressed. From the view of the first Michelangelo work in his great nephew's home, Casa Buonarroti, and seeing his work in context to his time and his legacy brought depth and meaning to what we saw. It was also interesting to learn that he lived to be 89 working to the end.
In addition, I found this museum to be a "hidden treasure", small, welcoming and not crowded. This home had once served as a dwelling and an academy where many artistic skills were developed. There were frescoes that placed all of the famous people of the day who were divided into different groups, such as politicians, astronomers, natural science, etc. in groups regardless of when they lived. There were other rooms filled with painting and ceiling frescoes in addition to sculpture and sketches, along with significant early works by Michelangelo, the elder. We also learned about Michelangelo as a poet whose poetry dealt with sculpting.
Our next stop was down the block at The Bargello, which was once a government building and then a jail and is a great example of medieval architecture that houses fantastic sculpture. We began to learn what significant features to look for as we compared and contrasted works of several masters. In this museum there were a few works of the maturing Michelangelo, such as Bacchus/ Dionysius.
Walking to our final stop we learned that Leonardo Da Vinci (26 years older than Michelangelo) was one of the judges whose opinion determined the placement of David on its completion. Although, when it was commissioned, it was to be placed high on the Duomo, Da Vinci was influential in having David originally placed near the Ufizzi along with other sculptures. It was moved to its current home that was designed especially to house this sculpture in the 1700s.
Seeing the location of the workshop where a discarded piece of marble lay for 50 years, looking at the sculptures of slaves and prisoners as the lead up to the fantastic David placed everything in “Context”. I know we would not have made it to the Accademia if not for this tour. As for seeing David, it is an experience that I can't describe and that you should see for yourself!
The two tours gave us a sense of what it was like to be a part of the Renaissance while living in Florence and it was an experience we will never forget.
Photos: Leon Keer