Friday 1 May 2015

The Michelangelo Trail by Mary Hoffman

The History Girls blog began nearly four years ago, on 1st July 2011, and had its origin in a desire on my part to let the world know I had written a novel about Michelangelo's sculpture of David. The sitehas grown to be so much more than that but it is quite satisfying to come full circle and write about the new suite of educational materials, based on that novel, that I am going to write for an innovative new company called Time Traveler Tours & Tales.

Photo credit: Jorg Bittner Unner, Creative Commons

The book was a historical novelist's joy to write because it offered the perfect opportunity for fiction. So much was known about this famous figure: we have the contract the sculptor was given, the date he made the first chisel cut, the minutes of the committee meeting to decide where the sculpture was to be displayed (where Leonardo da Vinci was present).

And in the middle a great big hole. Who was the model for this, probably the most famous sculpture in the world? Or was there even a model at all? Maybe this David sprang from the imagination of the sculptor, who, it is worth remembering, was twenty-six years old when he asked the Operai del Duomo for the old block of Carrara marble that two previous artists had abandoned and which just lay about for forty years  in a building behind the Duomo in Florence for people to trip over.

My first visit to Florence was at the end of my first year at university, when I spent a month there. It was probably the most influential four weeks of my life, directing my interests and enthusiasms from then on. I already knew I preferred Michelangelo to Leonardo but this sojourn, in a pensione overlooking Piazza San Lorenzo, confirmed it.

In my new project I'll be devising an app to take readers on a tour of the city visiting "hotspots" connected with the sculpture and the sculptor. And it occurred to me that readers of the History Girls blog might like an expanded version of my list - a sort of "print out and keep" guide to which works of art by Michelangelo you can see in the city I have now visited so many times I have  lost count.

Bronze of Michelangelo's head by Daniele di Volterra

Casa Buonarroti Michelangelo never lived here but it houses two early works: the bas reliefs of The Madonna of the Stairs and The Battle of the Centaurs and Lapiths.

• The area behind Brunelleschi’s Dome on the Duomo (now the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo). This is where the workshop was where Michelangelo made the David statue. On the day it was moved from there to the Piazza della Signoria the doorway had to be broken down to allow the giant statue to be trundled out. It took three days to move it to its final position.

Santa Croce church. Michelangelo is buried there (under a hideous tomb by Vasari) and lived near there. His mother is also buried there.

Brancacci Chapel in Santa Maria del Carmine (Oltr’arno). The frescoes by Masaccio (Big Tom). It was here that Michelangelo’s nose was broken by Pietro Torrigiani when they were both teenagers and protégés of Lorenzo de’ Medici and were sent there to sketch the frescoes. (You can see the broken nose quite clearly in Volterra's bronze above.)

Piazza della Signoria The David statue was here for hundreds of years. Also this is where Savonarola had his Bonfires of the Vanities and where he was executed.Michelangelo and several of his brothers were followers of Savonarola.

San Marco convent Michelangelo’s older brother Lionardo was a friar there, as was Savonarola. It houses great art by Fra Angelico, Ghirlandaio etc.

The Bargello for Davids by Donatello and Verocchio (Leonardo’s teacher) and Michelangelo’s Pitti Tondo, Brutus, Bacchus etc.


Palazzo Medici Riccardi Where Michelangelo lived with Lorenzo de’ Medici.
Santo Spirito, Oltr’arno. Where Michelangelo dissected bodies. His wooden crucifix (the earliest recorded work) is in the Sacristy.

Piazza Santa Trinita Where Michelangelo had his very public argument with Leonardo. 

The Medici Chapels behind San Lorenzo church. Michelangelo designed the tombs for two of the de' Medici family. His statues of them are flanked by Dawn and Dusk, Night and Day.

The Laurentian Library at San Lorenzo. This and the magnificent staircase to it were designed by Michelangelo.

The Uffizi houses the Sacred Family painting by Michelangelo.

• And of course. The Accademia where the original David now stands. But don't neglect to look at the slaves/prisoners and St. Matthew who line the gallery leading up to David.

Photo credit: Jorg Bittner Unner, Creative Commons

On my first visit to Florence, I and some other students, none of us studying Art, managed to blag our way into the Casa Buonarroti, which was in restauro at the time and saw the two reliefs and the very touching little wooden crucifix, now in Santo Spirito, which was waiting to be authenticated. None of us was in any doubt.

On my last visit, a year ago, Sarah Towle of Time Traveler Tours and Tales and I went to the Medici Chapels at San Lorenzo and looked through the door leading to the underground hiding place that the sculptor used on a visit to the city, long after he had made the David. It is not open to the public but the whitewashed walls are covered with his drawings.

Michelangelo's relationship with Florence was fraught. As a protegé of Lorenzo de' Medici (the "Magnificent"), he was loyal to the family, but after Lorenzo's death became a Republican. Florence itself had an on/off love affair with the powerful de' Medici family, expelling them and welcoming them back more than once.

My relationship with Florence and Michelangelo has undergone no such upheavals. I can't wait to work with Sarah Towle to bring this Renaissance sculpture to life for 21st century children and teenagers. You can read more about the project below.

But in the meantime, if you are going to Florence this summer, do follow the Michelangelo Trail. I'm only sorry I won't be doing it with you!

Time Traveler Tours & Tales Campaign


Joan Lennon said...

What a great project! Excellent!

Carol Drinkwater said...

Mary,after reading this I am champing at the bit and want to jump on a plane immediately to follow the trail. What a wonderful project. Perhaps they might also fancy The Olive Route? Huge good luck with it.

emma d dryden said...

So excited about this project, Mary! And to one day following the Michelangelo trail with you on a Time Traveler Tour!

Katherine Langrish said...

It sounds fantastic! One day...

Pat Kahn's Childsplay said...

A fascinating project! I'm looking forward to following the trail.

John Shelley said...

This is excellent Mary, I'm proud to be involved in my own humble way with Sarah's project too!