FLORENCE, ITALY: With a native son the magnitude of Michelangelo, Florence, Italy’s artistic legacy has never been questioned.
But in the city of The David, the Uffizi Gallery, the Ponte Vecchio and Santa Croce which are so familiar to us all, there are other magnificent treasures that are frequently overlooked by many travelers.
Two not-to-be-missed examples are the Vasari Corridor and the Brancacci Chapel in the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine.
Since 2016, the Vasari Corridor has been closed to the public for safety reasons. Now the rare art collection dating to the 16th century is being renovated and will reopen with greater opportunities for more visitors to view its extraordinary assemblage of masterpieces.
One reason the Vasari Corridor was overlooked in the past is because it was only available through private tour companies. Now, according to Uffizi director Eike Schmidt, “We wanted everyone to be able to enjoy this extraordinary heritage in total safety, offering visitors the opportunity to walk through the heart of Florence’s art, history and memory.”
Over the next year and a half, the gallery will undergo $11.3 million in renovations that include the addition of emergency exits, video surveillance, air conditioning, and new lighting.
In addition. the corridor itself will have reinforced walls with antique terracotta flooring, and the Uffizi Gallery will add an entranceway where guests can purchase tickets.
Connecting the south side of the Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace) with the Palazzo Pitti. (Pitti Palace), the corridor joins the Uffizi before going from its south side to cross the Lungarno dei Archibusieri. From there it follows the north bank of the Arno until it crosses the river at Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge).
Even the most cynical of museum haters will be intrigued by the Vasari Corridor because it’s an attraction in its own right. Commissioned by Cosimo I de’ Medici to mark the wedding of his son Francesco I to Joanna of Austria, the corridor was constructed in just sixth months in 1565.
The primary purpose of the corridor however, was to allow royalty to walk in secret from the Uffizi to the Pitti Palace.
To prevent the smell of the meat market on the bridge above from reaching into the passage, goldsmith shops, which still occupy the bridge today, replaced the butchers.
The corridor features a series of panoramic windows facing the Arno that are situated in the middle of Ponte Vecchio.
In 1939, by order of Benito Mussolini, the smaller windows were replaced for an official visit to Florence by Adolf Hitler to give him a panoramic view of the river.
It has been said that the Ponte Vecchio was Hitler’s favorite bridge which was the reason it was not destroyed during World War II.
When the Vasari Corridor reopens in 2021, only 125 visitors may visit at any one time. Thus this particular attraction will continue to be missed by the masses compared to other more familiar sites in the city.
Art lovers need not despair about the wait for the Vasari Corridor to reopen however, because the Brancacci Chapel in the Church of Santa Maria del Carmen is more than enough to compensate.
Sometimes referred to as the “Sistine Chapel of the early Renaissance,” the patron of the pictorial decoration was Felice Brancacci who served as the Florentine ambassador to Cairo until 1423.
It was here that a young Michelangelo formulated many of his ideas about perspective.
In the chapel itself, there are paintings which were started by Masolino da Panicale . When Panicale was commissioned as the painter to the king of Hungary, his 21-year-old assistant Masaccio took over until he was called to Rome where he died at the tender age of 27.
With much of the work unfinished, Filippino Lippi later completed several portions of the chapel.
Masaccio’s frescos made a radical break from medieval pictorial traditions by adhering to new Renaissance perspectives of space. Thus, perspective and light create deep spaces where figures move in strongly individualized human dimensions.
Masaccio’s masterpiece Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, the first fresco on the upper part of the chapel, contrasts dramatically with Masolino’s delicate and decorative image of Adam and Eve before the fall, painted on the opposite wall. It is this difference in style and technique, that created such powerful concepts for Michelangelo.
Depicted above is Masaccio’s fresco before and after restoration. The fig leaves were added three centuries after the original was painted, probably at the request of Cosimo III de Medici in the late 17th century, who saw nudity as “disgusting”.
During restoration in the 1980s the fig leaves were removed along with centuries of grime to restore the fresco to its original condition.’
Until that time, art was basically a two-dimensional format. However, the innovations of Masaccio and the interpretations of Michelangelo changed the world of art to reflect a three-dimensional process, and the significance of the little known Brancacci Chapel is the ability to view this dramatic metamorphosis in a single venue.
If you don’t see The David because of the crowds, check out the Brancacci Chapel. You may even have it all to yourself.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
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