More than Michelangelo

Exploring Florence’s art scene beyond the familiar

Mina Riazi
May 5, 2011

The standard tourist itinerary often features the familiar triumvirate: the Uffizi, the Accademia and the Duomo. Slim-hipped and lean, Michelangelo's David spearheads the movement to overshadow quieter and less well-known artistic destinations.


The Museo di Casa Martelli is one such destination. Once property of the Martelli family, it became a state museum in 1999. As demonstrated by the extensive collection, the Martelli family was an important patron of the arts. Perhaps what allowed them to amass the collection was the substantial wealth the family acquired as bankers. Roberto Martelli even commissioned many works from Renaissance artist and sculptor Donatello, who received his education at the Martelli house.


More than reasonable, the five-euro entrance fee includes the option of having a tour guide lead the way.  It is the only museum-house that escaped refurbishment in a subsequent stage by a later collector. For this reason, the Martelli museum offers a curious juxtaposition of domestic life with the lush splendor of several dozen art pieces. Amongst these are the paintings Magdalene, by Sebastiano Conca, and Cerealia, by Domenico Beccafumi. Nevertheless, even if emptied of all their art, each room might still promise a rich spectacle. The walls of the Martelli living room are painted golden-yellow while a voluptuous chandelier glitters above a cluster of chairs. One of the most intriguing features of the museum-house is the frescoed winter garden, where painted vines forever uncoil and cats are frozen mid-dip into fountains. Together, these images recall the splendidly warm and pink summer months.


The Ospedale degli Innocenti provides another refreshing deviation from the usual crowd-tempting locations. Designed by Filippo Brunelleschi in 1419, this museum once functioned as a children's orphanage. In this way-along with Museo di Casa Martelli- it carries the peculiar intimacy of a place where lives long-ago unfolded and developed. For instance, one room is noticeably longer and narrower than the other rooms. Quite quickly, one understands that it was the children's sleeping quarters. Aside from the delicate sentimentality of the small, hidden rooms and the imaginings that their history inspires, there are several paintings so richly detailed that they leave nothing to be imagined, the most striking of these being Domenico Ghirlandaio's Adoration of the Magi.


At the Horne Museum, domestic life also finds a place amongst precious art pieces. The museum acquired its name from British architect Herbert Percy Horne, who purchased the building and later bequeathed the palace and his treasured collection to the Italian state. Horne's interest in Renaissance art is also captured by Botticelli: Painter of Florence, the book he later wrote about the Renaissance artist and sculptor. In 1904, Horne moved permanently to Italy. Soon afterward, he bought the Palazzo Corsi and converted the fifteenth-century building into a living museum. Therefore, the Horne Museum not only includes sculptures and paintings, but also embraces everything from exquisite furniture pieces to seals and fabrics. Open every day except for Sundays, the Horne Museum's five-euro entrance fee covers unlimited ogling at Giotto's St. Stephen, Bernini's Angels in Glory, as well as works by Desiderio da Settignano and Giambologna.


From sprawling libraries to cutlery pieces, most everything that one discovers at these three museums not only separates them from the more recognizable trinity, but also contributes to their delicate sentimentality.



Museo di Casa Martelli

Via Ferdinando Zannetti, 8

Tel. 055/216725


Ospedale degli Innocenti della Santissima Annunziata, 12

Tel. 055/264406


Horne Museum

Via dei Benci, 6

Tel. 055/244661



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