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Florence's Small Museums


To Reflect an Intimate Part of the Red by Anish Kapoor

When guide books write about museums in Florence, the Uffizi Gallery and the Pitti Palace get the lion’s share of attention. With their collections and history, that is no surprise. However, I prefer smaller museums, ones I can visit in one to two hours, and then get on with seeing the city. On my last trip to Florence I was able to enjoy special exhibitions at three of the city’s smaller spaces.

Strozzi Palace

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The Palazzo Strozzi was built by Filippo Strozzi the elder, a banker and rival to the Medici family. Construction started in 1489 and finished in 1538. Filippo died before its completion, but that didn’t stop Cosimo Medici from confiscating the palace, and not returning it for thirty years. It remained in the Strozzi family until 1937, when it was acquired by the Instituto Nazionale Delle Assicurazioni, a public entity that specialized in life insurance.

Strozzi Palace By MenkinAlRire via Wikimedia Commons

Today the palazzo is home to the Institute of Humanist Studies and the Fundazione Palazzo Strozzi. The latter is a public-private cultural foundation that sponsors many events at the palace, and runs the gallery there. This gallery hosts two or three large-ish show a year. This fall, they have a retrospective of works by Anish Kapoor - Untrue Unreal (through Feb 4, 2024).

Anish Kapoor (b. 1954) is a British-Indian artist who creates large instillation pieces. In the United States, he is probably best known for the “Cloud Gate” (The Bean) in Chicago’s Millennium Park. Untrue Unreal includes nine groups of pieces that show off different aspects of Kapoor’s work. The show starts with Svayambhu (Self-Defined). It consists of a large block of wax that slowly moves back and forth along a twenty-meter path, passing through a doorway. The shape of the wax changes each time it moves through the portal, as the heat in the room causes the to melt slightly and bulge.

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Other rooms include pieces that incorporate the use of strong primary pigments on objects.

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One room was filled with reflective objects and is entitled Gathering Clouds.

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Finally, there were three pieces that use Vantablack. This material absorbs 99.9% of incoming light, leaving not just a very dark black, but making it impossible to see the contours of the object.

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Museo degli Innocenti

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The Ospidale degli Innocenti (Hospital of the Innocents) was designed in 1419 by Filippo Brunelleschi as an orphanage. The building is considered to be the first example of Renaissance architecture. It houses a small museum of Renaissance art, along with the history of the building, but I was headed to their special exhibit - Alphonse Mucha: The seduction of Art Nouveau (until April 7, 2024).

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Alphonse Mucha  (1860-1939) was a Czech painter and illustrator. He worked in the Art Nouveau genre, creating advertisements and theatrical posters in Paris, especially for plays featuring Sarah Bernhardt. Later in life Munch moved back to Prague, and began creating works in what he called The Slav Epic, celebrating the history of Slavic peoples throughout Europe.

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Plate 54 from Documento Décoratifs

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Byzantine Head - Blonde

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Calendar with the Judgement of Paris

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Study for Améthyste

Museo Novecento–Florence

The Museo Novecento–Florence is dedicated to art of the 20th century. It is home to the Alberto Ragione Collection of art created by Italian artists.

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Portrait of Maruzza by Pompeo Borra

Florence Museums-40Giovanni Donna by Carlo Levi

The museo also hosts temporary exhibitions throughout the year, I was drawn to an exhibition of photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe (1946 - 1989) and Wilhelm von Gloeden (1856 - 1931). Beauty and Desire (through Feb 14, 2024) explores the attraction and inspiration that both photographers had for the work of ancient Greece and Rome. The curators grouped together photos, created also a century apart, the seem to talk to each other.

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Florence Museums-35Self portrait (Mapplethore) and Self Portrait as a Nazerene (von Gloeden)

Florence Museums-36Discus Thrower (Mapplethore) and Borghese Gladiator against Ephesus (Fratelli Alinari)

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Also on display was the show Cecily Brown - Temptations, Torments, and Tribulations (through Feb. 2, 2024). Brown (b. 1969) creates paintings that tread the line between realism and abstraction. It is as if she places her scene on the surface of a pond, and then disturbs the water just enough to throw everything our of whack, but totally obscured.

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I'm Gonna Make You Love Me

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Just My Imagination (Runnin Away with me)

When visiting a city, the large museums offer excellent collections of classic work. However, taking the time to visit the smaller galleries and museums, and the special exhibitions that they present, is always a great way to enjoy art and avoid the word of the crowds.


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