Florence Art Checklist: 8 Must-See Works of Art in Florence, Italy

Florence Art Checklist: 8 Must-See Works of Art in Florence, Italy

There is so much art in Florence, it’s hard to know where to begin. Your itinerary should undoubtedly include an evening at the opera, but prioritizing which museums to see is a difficult task, especially considering that the crowds in Florence make any experience at least an hour longer than anticipated and advanced reservations are not just recommended, but realistically required.

You need to go in with a plan, so to help you stay organized I’m putting together the ultimate Florence art checklist. These are the most famous and influential pieces in the city, so don’t leave Firenze without taking the time to visit these masterpieces!

Note: Should you get a Firenze card in Florence?

The best way to see everything in Florence during a short period of time is to invest in the Firenze Card. It’s 72 Euro for 72 hours and gets you into most museums in the city, and you get to skip the line. This is well worth it if you’re in a hurry or traveling to Florence in the summer, and you actually pay less for the card than you would for admission outright if you go to the museums listed below and the city’s main churches.

You can only get a Firenze card from authorized vendors at specific locations, and hours vary by location. Only a few offices are open on weekends, something to keep in mind if you’re arrive on a Saturday or Sunday. The office at Santa Maria Novella is one of the main offices and might be your best bet.

1) The Statue of David

Florence Art Checklist

The first stop on any trip to Florence should be the Accademia Gallery, where Michelangelo’s legendary Statute of David is found. It was originally displayed in the Piazza della Signoria but had to be moved indoors in 1873 to protect it from weather damage. A replica now stands in the Piazza.

Unfortunately, David hasn’t been completely free from harm in his new home. In 1991, a deranged man with a hammer broke part of David’s toe. There is now a 5-foot high glass barrier surrounding the work of art, but you can still get a 360 degree view. Go early in the morning for your best bet of a clear shot. Firenze cards aren’t sold here so if you’re opting to go with the 3 day, 72 Euro pass you have to make sure to pick it up before heading to the museum. Firenze card holders and advanced ticket holders both enter the same line here.

Opt to use the free Rick Steves audio guide here, which you can download straight to your phone through the app. It saves you 6 Euro on the museum guide and is much more entertaining.

2) Michelangelo’s Prisoners

Michelangelo's Prisoners Slaves

Michelangelo’s Prisoner’s is a series of 4 sculptures depicting human forms breaking out of the marble. Pictured from the top left are The Awakening Slave, The Bearded Slave, The Atlas and The Young Slave. Some speculate that Michelangelo purposefully left the statutes unfinished to represent humans trying to break free of their material trappings.

More likely, these statues are a result of failed commissions and were kept in their unfinished state due to fiscal constraints. It’s much more poetic to think about all the statues represent, however, regarding entrapment, freedom and pent-up energy. They also are the perfect embodiment of Michelangelo’s famous quote, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”

3) Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise

Florence Art Checklist

Lorenzo Ghiberti created the Gates of Paradise in the mid-15th century to decorate the east entrance to the Duomo Baptistery. Today, replicas stand in its place at the Baptistery and the originals are in the Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo, located just down the block. The gates are made of bronze, stand at 16.6 feet tall and weight approximately 3 tons.

There 10 panels, each displaying a different scene from the Bible. In Ghiberti’s age, sculptures and artwork were a way of education the illiterate and sharing the Bible’s stories.

When Michelangelo first laid his eyes on these doors, he said they were fit to adorn the gates of heaven itself, and Ghiberti’s masterpiece has been regarded that way ever since. Art lovers who see it for the first time are sure to agree.

4) Boticelli’s Birth of Venus

Birth of Venus Florence Art

Sandro Boticelli’s Birth of Venus is one of the best known paintings in the world. According to myth, Venus was born from the foam of a wave. She floats ashore on a clamshell where her maid waits to dress her, as Mr. and Mrs. Wind intertwined next to her blow her hair to the side. Her body is not sensual, but innocent because Boticelli thought the bare form was a way of appreciating God. Boticelli’s use of pastels in this piece is meant to evoke a feeling of springtime and renewal.

The face of Venus in this painting has been replicated countless times. On a stroll back to my AirBnB in the Duomo area, I came across this incredible piece on the street, created with chalk that very same day! The level of talent in Florence is off the charts.

Florence Art

The Birth of Venus is one of the most visited works of art on the second floor of the Uffizi, rivaled mainly by the Venus de’ Medici housed just down the hall. You’ll have to battle dozens of people and tour groups just to get a full view so it’s better to go later in the day, right before closing. Make sure you download the Rick Steves free audio guide for the Uffizi. Again, it’s much better than the 6 Euro option offered by the museum, and you can’t beat the price!

5) Donatello’s David

Donatello's David

There are many statues of David throughout Florence. The character is significant to the city as he symbolizes liberty and the freedom of Republican ideas. Florence was not always a Goliath on the world scene and had to fight valiantly to preserve its standing as the birthplace of the modern Renaissance. Donatello’s David, carved before Michelangelo’s, is made of Bronze and can be found at the Bargello Museum.

One interpretation of the statue, and the reason for it’s risqué label, is the feather from the slain Goliath’s helmet. Look closely and you’ll see reaching up David’s right leg, towards his groin. It has been said that the statute symbolizes and secretly condones homosexuality, a sin of the highest level at that time. For those reasons, I love this statue and am actually hoping Donatello was gay and left secret hints all over artwork commissioned by those with homophobia.

6) Fountain of Neptune

Florence Art Neptune Fountain

Commissioned by the Medici family and built by sculptor Bartolomeo Ammannati, the massive Fountain of Neptune stands in the middle of the Piazza della Signoria, in the center of the city. The face of Neptune in the center is modeled after Cosimo I de’Medici to allude to Florence’s dominion over the sea.

Like Michelangelo’s David, the fountain has not been free from harm. One satyr was stolen in the 1800s and recently, in 2005, vandals climbed the statute of Neptune and cut off his hand. Since then, security in the area has increased significantly and guests have to take pictures from beyond a barrier to the fountain.

7) Medici Chapels

While it’s a little creepy to walk into the Mausoleum of the Medici family, this is the best place to find Michelangelo pieces, so I sucked it up. Also, when I went there was free admission. In fact, every February 18th admission is free to commemorate Anna Maria’s birthday, the last member of the medico family. Typically celebrations include a morning procession in her honor.

There are two tombs of interest here–those of Giuliano and Lorenzo de’ Medici. The tomb of Lorenzo (pictured above) shows him in the middle in a pensive position. He is meant to represent the contemplative life, and Michelangelo took great pains to sculpt a face that would always remain in shadow. To his left lies dawn, as if awaking from her slumber, and to his right lies dusk, dawn’s masculine counterpart.

Florence Art Medici

Compare this with the tomb of Lorenzo’s cousin Giuliano, which features night and day as figures on either side of the Medici prince. They are contorted in impossible positions. Giuliano himself is meant to look like the standard of beauty, with an exaggerated long neck and stance that symbolizes an active lifestyle.

Night and day, dawn and dusk–those are the ways we mark the passing of time. They are the very forces that erode our lives and yet they look melancholy themselves, as if almost unable to bear the weight of their burden.

The mausoleum is unfinished, but it’s said that architecture itself is meant to evoke a feeling of purgatory, with blind windows and more perfect shapes and concentric circles approaching the top. Apparently, with regards to the Medici, Michelangelo felt they may get out or they may not.

8) Buontalenti Grotto

Fans of Dan Brown’s Inferno will recognize this grotto, found in the Boboli Gardens behind the Pitti Palace. The gardens itself are stunning to tour and have endless delights for photographers and art fanatics. But the Bountalenti Grotto, which opens to the public only once per day at 3:30pm, is a truly impressive sight.

There are three chambers. The first, and the one most readily visible while you’re trying to take pictures from outside the gate, consists of wall and ceiling frescoes by Bernardino Poccetti. It’s meant to create the illusion of a natural grotto, a refuge for shepherds to protect themselves from wild animals. It originally housed Michelangelo’s prisoner’s before they were moved to the Accademia.

The second chamber contains a statue of Paris and Helen by Vincenzo de’ Rossi. The third and furthest chamber in the grotto houses Giambologna’s famous Bathing Venus. There are rumors of romantic rendezvous here between Medici members and their secret lovers. Also, if Dan Brown is correct, there is an entrance to the Vasari corridor hidden at the end of the third chamber.

These are some of the most famous works of art in Florence, Italy, but this is by no means an exhaustive list. Get your fill of art in the city that gave birth to beauty. Until next time, safe travels!

Liked this post? Pin me below!

The best works of art in Florence, Italy, by artists like Michelangelo and Donatello!

All the best artwork that you can't miss while visiting Florence, Italy

33 Comments

  1. June 10, 2017 / 6:47 pm

    LOVE this list! I haven’t been to Florence in a LONG time, but I agree that these are must see art for the first timers in that city!

    • June 12, 2017 / 2:03 am

      Thanks Jin! I tried to piece together a comprehensive checklist for myself before going, didn’t want to miss any biggies 🙂

  2. June 10, 2017 / 6:54 pm

    Niiiice. I can’t wait to return to Italy and explore more! Rome was my first trip there and I know only just gave me a taste for the potential amazingness to be found there. Definitely hope Florence will be one of my destinations in the near future.

    • June 12, 2017 / 2:02 am

      Rome is amazing for sure and was my first trip to Italy as well. I was nervous about returning and was foolishly worried about counting countries for a second, but I decided to go because I love art and Italian food. I quickly realized Florence is always a good idea 😉

  3. June 10, 2017 / 7:35 pm

    Oh wow! I missed out on Florence when I was in Italy (and stupidly stick to just Rome and Milan). Wished I went because the Medici family fascinates me! Did you find the Firenze pass worth it though? Was there a big line in all the museums? I never bought one of those passes, not even in Rome because I thought you can do most things for a little cheaper.

    • June 12, 2017 / 2:00 am

      I get a weird kick out of doing things myself cheaper, like a couponing addict lol and I tried my hardest to get all the sites in for cheaper than the Firenze card. With advanced bookings and the online reservation fees, it came out more expensive to do it on my own every time by at least 30 Euro, and that’s taking into account free admission days and discounts. Definitely get it if you’re going to all the sites I listed! Plus you skip the line, so worth it. And the Medici presence is strong in Florence, you’ll love it!

  4. June 10, 2017 / 8:05 pm

    That street art near your Airbnb is so cool! Loving the tips, thanks for a great post. This place has just been added to my must visit places list!

    • June 12, 2017 / 1:57 am

      Thanks Nerissa! And that’s just one of many that pop up every day, I was amazed. Florence is great!

  5. June 10, 2017 / 10:02 pm

    What a great list! I think I saw like, 2 of these last time I was in Florence. Clearly I need to bring your list with me next time!

  6. Karen
    June 11, 2017 / 12:44 am

    I have seen most of these! I’d love to go back to Florence again just to revisit the art. 🙂

    • June 12, 2017 / 1:56 am

      Awesome Karen! I would go back too, there’s still so much more to see!

  7. June 11, 2017 / 1:16 am

    That’s super random for that man to just go off breaking David’s toe lol! Did you enjoy your visit though? I’ve been wanting to check out Florence and obviously its museums too but I remember my visit to Louvre being very… suffocating (?). There were just way too many (rude) tourists and everyone was lining up to taking pictures with the art not to actually enjoy it. I’m worried with these pieces being so famous, I’d end up experiencing the same thing as I did in Louvre.

    • June 12, 2017 / 1:56 am

      Haha I suspect he might have had a bigger master plan but was foiled before he could carry it out! I loved my visit <3 I also went in February which helped. Still crowded but walkable, especially if you hit your musts early in the morning or later in the evening. Do go! So worth it. Definitely do NOT go in the summer though 🙂

  8. June 11, 2017 / 5:55 pm

    I did a couple art history courses and ancient Greek and Roman art courses at school!! So this post is totally cool to me 🙂

    • June 12, 2017 / 1:50 am

      Thank you Eryn! I feel the same way, part of the reason I love Europe is because it brings textbooks to life 🙂

  9. June 11, 2017 / 11:18 pm

    Cool! Italy is really great place! and cool Photography! Thanks for this beautiful article!

  10. June 16, 2017 / 12:51 pm

    OMG.. Birth of Venus is absolutely fantastic!! I never knew it was in Florence!! xx

  11. June 16, 2017 / 1:24 pm

    For me, Italy is the most beautiful country in Europe (maybe in the world). I remember perfectly my sunny holiday in Naples, Venice, Rome…

    • July 19, 2017 / 11:12 pm

      I feel the same way! It’s not hard to see why tourists flock there, it’s just such a wonderful place to visit <3

  12. June 16, 2017 / 2:08 pm

    I haven’t been to Florence , but all the pictures are great 🙂

  13. June 16, 2017 / 2:45 pm

    Hey,this is one dope thing I got to watch about Italy today. Great work ?

  14. June 16, 2017 / 3:47 pm

    Sounds like there’s a lot to see in Florence. I’ve been to Italy but really just in Rome so I would love to see Florence one day. That Firenze card sounds like a fab idea. Such a great deal and to skip the lines is priceless. Great pictures.

  15. June 16, 2017 / 4:18 pm

    These are all incredible. There are so many places I need to get to thanks to Dan Brown lol.

  16. June 16, 2017 / 4:51 pm

    Wow! You managed to see some great art pieces and sites! How much time were you there to fit it all in?

  17. June 16, 2017 / 4:51 pm

    Love the art work and all the useful information which I will bookmark 🙂 and the Gates of paradise looks magnificent.

  18. June 17, 2017 / 3:15 am

    Oh my word to go to Florence and see all these works of art would be amazing.

  19. Tahna de Veyra
    June 18, 2017 / 10:52 am

    Orchestra and art. Oh god I’m so jelly right now. hahah! This is awesome. 🙂

  20. June 19, 2017 / 6:34 am

    So close to art and the work of some great people who lived in this world. History is important and exciting, one can spend a good amount of time looking at these wonderful creations.

  21. June 19, 2017 / 8:25 am

    Florence is next on my travel plans ! I’ll definitely check this article again when I go !

  22. June 20, 2017 / 12:16 am

    Florence is so beautiful. Surprised no one attacked you for taking a photo of the statue haha

  23. June 26, 2017 / 6:29 pm

    Florence is on my bucket list of places to visit and seeing the art is one of the biggest highlights for me. Thanks for all the tips!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *