As we walk down the street, whether we’re in Florence or Fort Worth, we tend to look straight ahead. Of course we do this because it’s the most comfortable way of moving, but we also know that a darting gaze can distract us from the wonders right in front of us. What we see—and what we then surmise from that—changes depending on where we’re standing. Taking something in from the garden-variety Florentine ground won’t be the same as observing it from a bridge; neither of these will feel quite like looking down at something from the steps of San Miniato al Monte or the piazzale Michelangelo. But really, what’s so bad about distractions, anyway? What if, moving our gazes to new heights and perspectives, the different “distractions” that we catch sight of help us find new things of interest to us? New colors? New (to us) paintings, plaques, peculiarities?
Once upon a time, Tommaso di Ser Giovanni di Simone—later known as one Masaccio—was born in San Giovanni Valdarno, near Florence. He would go on to propel the art world forward by refining linear perspective and using vanishing points to achieve imagery that was more true-to-life than what dominate. One key example of this can be seen in his striking “Holy Trinity” fresco, located in Santa Maria Novella in Florence.
Masaccio’s Holy Trinity, Santa Maria Novella, Florence | Wikimedia images
All experiences are colored by our own vantage points, of course, but the fact that perspective, as a technique, was honed here in Florence prompts extra reflection on our own ways of seeing and being. Perspective, when employed properly in painting, makes people feel almost as if they’re inside the artwork they’re looking at. Perspective, when employed properly on the street in Florence, will allow you to recognize that your particular way of being inside the city is different from everyone else’s. Recognizing this should paradoxically make you a bit more empathetic, a bit more aware of how everyone’s “Florentine routine” is their own. A fast walking preteen’s perspective, after all, will be quite different from that of a nonna moving intently through the street.
As a young student I have learned that the beauty and magic of the city can be appreciated from different perspectives: not just in the tourist spaces where people go to amuse themselves and feel obliged to appreciate something. Not just the most popular vantage points that most visitors feel should color how they see the city. Directing your gaze upward, downward, or just a little to the left, or deciding one day to move through the city like you imagine someone from a different walk of life would—this can all help you discover new faces and facets of Florence. And make no mistake: you can always find a new, mysterious window; a previously unnoticed shade of sunlight hitting the upper part of the Duomo just so; or plants snaking their way up a stony wall.
Sunlight hitting the Duomo | Ph. Mariana Afanador
Of course all of our perspectives come colored with limitations, and in Florence, one of the best ways to stretch these is simply to play with them. Once you’ve mastered your Renaissance city route and you start to feel a sense of sameness, spend the next outing scouting for shades of purple, or spotting plants, dogs, doors, paper signs. You’ll be amazed at what you see.
Article in partnership with IED Firenze
Written by Mariana Afanador