On the master’s trail in Florence
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