On the mas­ter’s trail in Florence

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & IN­DUL­GENCE - NANCY DUR­RANT

THE UF­FIZI: There’s only one place to go in Florence to get to grips with Bot­ti­celli as an artist and that’s the Uf­fizi Gallery. Al­though the Sala Bot­ti­celli is un­der ren­o­va­tion, the sig­nif­i­cant pic­tures vis­i­tors want to see — The Birth of Venus and Pri­mav­era — are on dis­play in room 41, along­side the Porti­nari Al­tar­piece, a vast work by Flem­ish pain­ter Hugo van der Goes that had a huge im­pact on Bot­ti­celli and other Re­nais­sance painters when it was in­stalled in the Porti­nari fam­ily chapel in Florence in 1483. Bot­ti­celli de­vel­oped his style with these mytho­log­i­cal pic­tures, both of which were al­most cer­tainly com­mis­sioned by the im­por­tant Medici pa­tron Lorenzo di Pier­francesco. Look at the face of Venus and com­pare it with that of the Vir­gin hang­ing nearby; that sort of ro­man­tic, in­wardly re­flec­tive ex­pres­sion is what made Bot­ti­celli such a suc­cess­ful brand that his women are still found on tea tow­els across the globe. Most of the time, vis­it­ing the Uf­fizi can be a trial, but the early morn­ing (it opens at 8.15am ev­ery day ex­cept Mon­day, when it’s closed) and just be­fore clos­ing (the ticket of­fice shuts at 6.05pm, which gives you up to 40 min­utes to charge around it) are usu­ally quiet. More: uf­fizi.org. For in­for­ma­tion on pri­vate guided tours and “skip the line” on­line tick­ets, from €8: mu­se­ums­flo­rence.com.

SAN FE­LICE, PI­AZZA SAN FE­LICE: This lit­tle-known church is home to a won­der­ful trip­tych painted by Bot­ti­celli and mem­bers of his bot­tega, or work­shop. De­pict­ing St An­thony Abbot and St Rocco (both plague saints, of­ten found in hos­pi­tals), as well as Saint Cather­ine, it is a lovely ex­am­ple to see in situ. It must once have been big­ger — if you look at ei­ther side you can see where a cou­ple of swaths of drap­ery have been lopped off.

SANTA MARIA NOVELLA, PI­AZZA DI SANTA MARIA NOVELLA: Only one of two Bot­ti­celli pieces that used to re­side here sur­vives — a na­tiv­ity in a lunette that once sat above an Ado­ra­tion of the Magi has been de­stroyed. The Magi would have been mostly au­to­graph (painted by Bot­ti­celli him­self) but the re­main­ing work, dat­ing from 1476, is mostly bot­tega. The at­trac­tion of this mag­nif­i­cent church is the fa­cade, de­signed by Leon Bat­tista Al­berti (an­other in­flu­ence on Bot­ti­celli), and the Filippo Strozzi chapel be­hind the main al­tar, painted by Bot­ti­celli’s friend and col­lab­o­ra­tor Filip­pino Lippi in 1482.

DIS­COV­ERY WALK: Hav­ing taken in the trea­sures of Santa Maria Novella, take a quick trot up Via della Scala to the Far­ma­ceu­tica di Santa Maria Novella, a Florence land­mark and one of the world’s old­est phar­ma­cies, where ex­quis­ite soaps, bath goods, scented can­dles and herbs are sold in church-quiet, fra­grant and ab­surdly or­nate sur­round­ings, with fres­coes and gilt ga­lore. From there tuck down Via dei Canacci, then turn left down Via Palaz­zuolo, un­til you reach Via del Por­cel­lana. It was near this cor­ner, on Por­cel­lana, that Bot­ti­celli lived, in his brother’s house, and had his work­shop. As well as hous­ing all of Bot­ti­celli’s sib­lings (he was the youngest of four) and their fam­i­lies, the 15th-cen­tury Via del Por­cel­lana (at the time Via Nuova) was full of ar­ti­san work­shops. There

STAY AND PLAY:

Santa Maria Novella, fa­mous for its or­nate fa­cade, houses a work by Bot­ti­celli dat­ing from 1476

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