If you can’t move here and spend the rest of your life seeing it all, take it from me – based on where I’ve had some of my best experiences, this is my list of six works worth traveling for.
Giotto’s Bardi Chapel in Santa Croce
If you want to understand where the Renaissance started, Giotto is the best candidate. In the Bardi Chapel, with its paintings about the life of Saint Francis dating to 1325, Giotto divided up the wall into large spaces and painted his narratives using just a few figures who communicate with clear gestures. With their natural facial expressions and sense of mass, these frescoes are some of the first truly modern works of art. It would take other artists almost 100 years to catch on.
Masaccio’s Brancacci Chapel
An heir to Giotto about 100 years later, Masaccio is credited with painting the first shadow in Italian Renaissance art, and we can see that shadow, and more, at the Brancacci Chapel. The frescoes about the life of St. Peter were commissioned to a slightly older artist, Masolino, who worked on them with Masaccio, and then left Masaccio to finish up. Located in a side chapel of a lager church, Santa Maria del Carmine, the chapel was damaged by fire, so the ceiling is of a later date – what interests us is the walls. As entry is timed to limit the number of people inside, you should find the necessary quiet time to appreciate the work in all its impressive details.
Located in the city’s sculpture museum, the Bargello, the Bacchus was sculpted by Michelangelo when he was only 21 years old. The god of wine is pictured standing – barely – and totally drunk. He was commissioned to fit in with a collection of Classical sculptures, and is very similar to Ancient Roman works. What’s fascinating is the way Michelangelo manages to make marble look soft –hard sculpted muscle would not be appropriate to the subject matter.
Brunelleschi’s Dome (from the inside)
Although lines get long during high season, if you have the time and energy, I highly recommend walking up Florence’s Duomo. There are over 400 steps, and you wind your way up through special maintenance passageways that the brilliant architect planned because he anticipated future maintenance needs. He probably didn’t count on the millions of tourists who come for the view from the top, but trust me, it’s worth the hike.
The mosaics in the Baptistery
With the glorious Duomo right in front of it, the Florence Baptistery sometimes gets short shrift. Currently undergoing a complete restoration of its exterior, the interior is unlike anything else in the city! Its octagonal dome is entirely covered in mosaics, glass tesserae that envelop color and reflect light. The intricately laid tesserae form biblical scenes, some of which date to the 13th century. Mosaics are not common in Tuscany – if you love them, I suggest heading to the Adriatic town of Ravenna.
The Spanish Chapel at Santa Maria Novella
I love the church of Santa Maria Novella, which is large and contains so many interesting works that you could easily spend hours here. I like to focus on the friars’ cloister, called the ChiostroVerde. Head into this space and marvel for a moment at how quiet it is, when just outside lies the buzzing city. From here, you access the so-called Spanish Chapel, which was the friars’ meeting room and where the patron was buried. A fascinating space, there’s hardly ever anyone here, especially first thing in the morning, when I enjoy sitting and reflecting on the paintings and on life.
About this Art Aficionado
Alexandra Korey puts her PhD in Renaissance art history to good use at work, where she specializes in digital communication of the arts, and in her free time blogging about art, travel and life in Italy at www.arttrav.com. Canadian-born, she lives in Florence and travels as much as she can.
Similar to its neighbor to the west, Williamsburg, Bushwick is going through a renaissance of sorts. Although there were many days when the loud, rickety overhead subway trains did remind me of the post-apocalyptic world depicted in Veronica Roth’s “Divergent” series, the quirkiness more than made up for the lack of outdoor green spaces.
I think what inspired me most about my new home was that everything, from the cafes and restaurants lining the streets to outdoor graffiti adorning both old and new buildings, was in constant flux. Change doesn’t always excite me, but with Bushwick it almost felt like I was part of the neighborhood’s evolution, and because of that, I felt like I could make a difference.
During the year that I lived there, I witnessed new restaurants and coffee shops pop up and explored stores that exclusively sold local designers’ wares, as well as a particularly unique venue that doubled as a café/bar and yoga studio. Bushwick is fairly spread out, but all these community-focused initiatives made it feel like I was in a small town rather than a big borough.
By far my favorite thing about Bushwick is the street art scene, and luckily some of the best murals are located within a three-block radius. The main hub is right near the Jefferson stop on the L train, at Troutman Street and St. Nicholas Avenue. If you’re worried about getting lost, don’t be. Mural upon mural of every shape and size appear almost at once, making it nearly impossible to miss.
The first thing that struck me was the wide variety of styles and aesthetics demonstrated in each piece. After a bit of research, the stark contrasts made perfect sense. Artists from all over the world—from Australia to Italy—have traveled to Bushwick just to contribute to the outdoor gallery. Of course, the initiative started off small, as most things do, but as popularity grew, so did the number of urban artists eager to get in on the action.
The Bushwick Collective
Another thing I noticed fairly quickly is that many of the murals are tagged with “The Bushwick Collective,” and as a result, this area is often referred to by the same name. The collective had humble beginnings, with mainly local artists covering the building facades. As word got out, the number of artists increased. There’s definitely an international aspect to the work. A mural by a Brooklyn-based artist might be next to one from an artist hailing from halfway across the world.
After my initial visit to the open-air gallery, I started wondering how all this was even possible. I decided to do a bit of research and learned that a man named Joe Ficalora, a born-and-raised Bushwick resident, started the initiative and curates the work, which rotates every few months. He also deals with all the logistics like building permits and such. He’s watched his home go from a crime-ridden neighborhood to a place where travelers from near and far come for an artistic dose of inspiration.
Location-wise, the gallery couldn’t be in a better spot. There are a slew of cafes, restaurants, bars, and lounges along Troutman Street and also along the surrounding streets. Whether stopping through the area for a lunch meeting or for a happy hour cocktail, the art helps give a sense of place to both locals and tourists. During the spring and summer, many of these spots offer outdoor seating and the murals serve as a fantastic backdrop. Looking for more Bushwick street art? Head to Moore Street at Bogart Street in East Williamsburg (although many refer to this area as within Bushwick limits). Either way, it's about a ten-minute walk from the Bushwick Collective. Similar to the work along Troutman Street, the graffiti along Moore Street, between White and Bogart streets, rotates every few months.
About this Art Aficionado
Megan Eileen McDonough has a love for off the beaten path destinations, and finds beauty in untraditional people, places and things. Follow Megan’s adventures on Bohemian Trails.