Michelangelo Buonarroti was one of the greatest artists in history. Masterpieces the likes of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, the Pietà or the perfect beauty of the David of Michelangelo, are famous throughout the globe and part of the immense artistic heritage of Italy. If you wish to know more about the Genius, go deeper into his life and history, there is no better way than taking part in a Michelangelo Tour in Florence.
Michelangelo Tour in Florence: the experience with Context
Usually, I am not a fan of guided tours, but I have to admit that visiting a city of art like Florence with an expert guide on your side is a completely different and full experience.
After more than thirty years, I had the desire to see Michelangelo’s David again. So, instead of going straight to the Galleria dell’Accademia, where the original statue is located, I booked a guided tour dedicated to the entire life of Michelangelo. I chose the proposal made by Context Tour and Travel.
Their tour lasts approx. 4 hours leading us through the historical center of Florence to three important places in Michelangelo legacy: Casa Buonarroti, Bargello Museum and obviously the Galleria dell’Accademia.
Helene was our tour guide. She is a great connoisseur of the beauties of Florence. With enthusiasm and competence, she led our group of five including me and two nice couples from the US. The small number of participants is, with no doubt, one of the strong points of Context tours. It was easier both for us and the tour leader to find the good feeling and to enjoy the visit at its best.
Michelangelo the Genius and its troubled life deserves to be told and listened with the greatest care and attention.
If you decide to book with them, please note that the price of the tour does not include the ticket access to Casa Buonarroti and Bargello Museum. Being two unmissable steps of the tour, it would be easier to make an all-inclusive price. However, the tour was excellent and I highly recommend it.
The Casa Buonarroti
The first stop is at the Casa Buonarroti. The house that Michelangelo bought in 1508, has been turned into a museum with interesting sketches and sculptures made by the artist. Despite an unfortunate childhood Michelangelo always took care of his family. Especially of his nephew Leonardo, son of his younger brother Buonarroto, considered as the only hope of the continuation of the lineage of the Buonarroti’s.
Michelangelo was born on the 4th March 1475 in the small village of Caprese, in the area of Arezzo in Tuscany. A few days after, he was entrusted to nursemaids, daughter, and wife of stonecutters, in the village of Settignano close to Florence. Here, he grew up in a house where marble dust was everywhere. He enjoyed saying that being fed milk and marble since he was a child, gave his immense talent.
Visiting Casa Buonarroti you have the chance to see the first two masterpieces made by a young Michelangelo. At that time, 1491 and 1492, he was a student at the Academy of Art of Lorenzo Il Magnifico. He was only 16 when he made the Madonna of the Stairs and 17 when he designed the Battle of Centaurs.
You will be bewitched facing the artworks. Even more, listening to the stories of the tour guide behind every little detail: the perfect perspective, the sweet waves of the vest of the Madonna, the sinuous shape of the human bodies in the battle of the centaurs. All those elements made us breathless. Michelangelo shows for the first time his special gift to the world. A talent that, through his masterpieces, will last forever.
Other few things grabbed my attention during the visit. One of the rooms hosts the original wooden model of the façade of San Lorenzo church in Florence. The work, commissioned by Pope Leone X, unfortunately, was never completed.
Admiring some frescoes on the ceiling of the museum, we also discovered that Michelangelo used to mark with three interlaced rings the marble blocks chosen for the sculpt. The rings were the symbol of his three fav arts: sculpture, painting, and architecture.
Casa Buonarroti is definitely an “off the beaten path” place in Florence. To know other unusual things to do in Florence, click here.
More curiosities about Michelangelo
In the past, artisans used to ask for money to aspiring artists to learn the tricks of the trade. Instead, thanks to his immense skills, Michelangelo was the first young artist to be paid during his early experience in the Bottega of his master Ghirlandaio.
Michelangelo was a capricious and overbearing Tuscan, aware of his artistic greatness. Such a rude personality that he used to make fun of the less talented classmates. At least since the day that a muscle adolescent called Torrigiano dei Torregiani lost his patience and punched him breaking his nose.
Michelangelo went to Rome for the first time because of a scam. Through a Milanese intermediary, he sold Cardinal Riario one of his sculptures as a classic original at a very high price. The Cardinal discovered the scam. Instead of denouncing him, he wanted to meet him and a fruitful collaboration was born.
As a profoundly religious man, his presumed homosexuality was faced with great difficulty. During the Renaissance, although widely tolerated, homosexuality was punished by the stake, and Michelangelo was tormented by guilt for his sexuality. He never got married but he had two platonic loves, one with Tommaso Cavaliere, the other with the poetess Vittoria Colonna.
He died in Rome on the 18th of February 1564 in good shape at the age of 88, but he is buried in Florence in the Basilica of Santa Croce.
Michelangelo Tour in Florence: The Bargello Museum
After a short break in the lovely Pasticceria of Finisterrae in Piazza Santa Croce, we kept walking up to the next step of the Michelangelo Tour in Florence, the Bargello Museum.
As soon as you enter the courtyard of the Bargello you will be amazed by the beauty that surrounds you. During 1300 and 1400 this place was the court of law and prison. A creepy Medieval-era building where criminals were judged and executed, starting from 1865 has been turned into a museum with one the biggest collection of Renaissance statues.
Under the arcades, dozens of coats of arm cover the walls. They were the symbols of the old Podestà, a kind of major of the Italian cities during the Middle Age, and of the Bargello, the police chief. A big gothic stair made in stone brings you on the upper floor where elegant rooms full of Renaissance treasures took the place of the old jail cells.
The visit at the Bargello was dedicated also to other famous artists of the Renaissance as Verrocchio and Donatello which influenced Michelangelo’s creativity.
The guide showed us a collection of marble half busts of the members of the Medici family before heading to the magnificent Donatello Hall. Here, between the many Renaissance statues including different versions of David, stands in all its perfection the bronze statue of the well-known Donatello’s David. The statue has the characters of the biblical hero, as the head of Goliath at his feet and the sword. Those features represent the civic virtues and the triumph of the intellect against the strength and irrationality. The young and proud David is naked, apart from the unusual pointed hat and the winged shoes representing God Mercury, the god of commerce who is the main activity of the Medici family that commissioned the statue.
Only in the last room, dedicated to Michelangelo and to the sculpture of 1500, we go back to the Buonarroti. As soon as we get in, I immediately recognized the inebriated face of the Bacchus. We sat on the bench next to the young God to observe and listen to what Helen had to tell about him.
As its name says, the statue evokes the pagan myth of Bacchus and was commissioned by that Cardinal Riario, the one who was scammed by Michelangelo a few years ago.
The drunken God holds a goblet of wine in his right hand. With the left hand, he holds grapes that a little satyr next to him is trying to taste. The details of the satyr were so realistic that the artwork was widely appreciated by all the artists of that time. With the same left hand, he also carries a skin of tiger (or leopard), Bacchus’s favorite animals, to symbolize the liberation of the soul from the human earthly condition.
The David of Michelangelo and the Galleria dell’ Accademia
The last stage of the tour was the most anticipated. At the end of the corridor of the Galleria dell’ Accademia I would have seen David again.
There are long lines outside the Academy to get in. Thousands of people, every day, eagerly await the moment when they will finally be in front of the magnum opus. While David awaits the clash with Goliath with a proud gaze and a stone in his hand, bewitched visitors stare at its endless beauty.
A skip the line ticket was included in the tour. But we still had to wait approximately thirty minutes before getting it. For our group, it was not a waste of time but a nice moment to socialize and get to know each other better. The opportunity to know new people is another advantage of taking a guided tour.
So, even if you visit the Academy independently, I recommend buying a skip the line ticket to reduce waiting times. You will have more time to spend with David.
Michelangelo’s masterpiece is not only one of the most famous sculptures of the world, made by one of the greatest artists of history. David has a deeper meaning for the Florentines.
The Republic of Florence commissioned the creation of Michelangelo’s David in 1501. The realization lasted 3 years starting from a block of precious Carrara marble that nobody wanted to use because it was damaged.
Originally the David of Michelangelo should have been placed along the roofline of the east wings of the Cathedral. However, Florentines immediately realized that David was a chef-d’oeuvre of unique beauty. That’s why they decided to place it just outside the Palazzo Vecchio, the seat of the government of the city.
There was only one person in Florence adverse to show Michelangelo’s David to the people in the Piazza della Signoria. He was another great artist of the Tuscan Renaissance: Leonardo da Vinci. Probably you did not know that between Leonardo and Michelangelo there was no love lost!
Over the years the masterpiece has undergone several restorations but its original matrix is still intact. The visual experience is extraordinary. It immediately recalls the role of David as the brave leader and the defender of his people. This is the reason why the handsome hero became the symbol of Firenze. And by the time, an endless icon of beauty and perfection.
Where to eat in Florence after having seen the David of Michelangelo
I am sure that at the end of this interesting tour you will be starving. You can try to get one of the famous panini at the Antico Vinaio in Via dei Neri, a few steps from the Piazza della Signoria. Consider that there is always to wait in line for a while.
If you don’t want to wait for so long, I suggest you the Schiacciavino, just outside Piazza Santa Croce. When I go to Florence and I wish to get a Schiacciata with cold cuts and cheese and a glass of red wine, I choose this place.
A good alternative, especially if you want to take a seat, is one of the small restaurants in the Piazza Santo Spirito in the Oltrarno area. This is definitely one of my fav places, out of the big crowd but still in the heart of the town.
When in Florence, if you plan to see David in real, consider the opportunity to take a guided tour dedicated to the entire life of the Michelangelo. It will be more interesting than a simple visit to the Accademia and you will learn more about Divine One and his immense talent.