Yes, I had been to Florence many years ago. This was as a callow youth, unprepared for and uneducated about the wonders and mysteries of renaissance art. Too many years later, relentlessly drawn back to Florence, I was armed with this little guide. What an asset it was! It became our constant companion through The Duomo, The Baptstry and Museum, through the Basilicas San Lorenzo, Santa Croce, San Marco, Santa Maria Novella, that of the Santa Spirito and others.
The author’s whimsical yet authoritative observations on the paintings, frescoes, and sculptures helped contextualise and place these works in relation to their time and socio-political climate.
There is, of course, an emphasis on those works that are particularly Florentine and not of those artists represented more effectively in other cities and venues.
For those who become weary of a succession of adorations, annunciations, baptisms, circumcisions, madonnas with child, last suppers, crucifixions, pietas, resurrections, and assumptions, look closer. John Ayling tracks the evolution of the artist, the technique, and the subject matter as the 15th century unfolded. He does this by carrying us along with anecdotes of the life and times of the artists and the relevance of the works, all liberally spiced with subtle and infectious humour.
A great deal of scholarship is evident in tracing the development of styles through a process of succession from master to apprentice/journeyman with development and refinement of techniques.
On a more practical level, the author assists us with advice about access, and best times to visit, with tour guidance along cloisters, up stairs, along corridors, into naves, libraries and transepts and finally out into the the street wondering where the time has gone.
In summary, this is a charming, erudite, passionate discourse, written more in the style of the curious wandering flaneur for the education and enjoyment of the visitor to Florence.
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