Ever wondered how Florence looked a hundred years ago, or more? Various paintings in Florentine galleries and churches show recognizable scenes of Florence that are fun to compare to the present day. For the holiday season 2012, the state museums of Florence are offering a free map to visitors of Palazzo Pitti to get out and rediscover some of the parts of the city illustrated in paintings in their collection, as well as some guided tours (in Italian, see below). Let’s look at some of these visions of a lost Florence.

The mercato vecchio (old market)

Giuseppe Moricci, Il Mercato Vecchio di Firenze, 1860, Firenze, Galleria d’arte moderna

Is that the column with the statue of Abundance there? Then this must be piazza della Repubblica. How different does it look! For indeed, this was the heart of the medieval city (not to mention of the Roman one). Of this space, we know that Poggi “restored it to its former glory” out of “secolare squallore”  in the 19th century renovations of the city of Florence as capital of Italy (1865).

Moricci’s painting shows the market on the eve of its destruction – this space was also home to some guild headquarters, palaces and churches. Was the artist aware that he was documenting something that, in five years’ time, would begin to be dismantled? Was he aware of the campaign presenting this space as so dangerous and seething with undesireables? Perhaps yes, perhaps his choice to put a lady daintily picking her way into the muddy but paved space as the focal point of the painting was a form of commentary about the bourgeous invasion of a market that was to become a contested, sanitized and heartless center of a modern city.

The same area, painted from a different angle by Signorini, one of the most important Macchiaioli painters, in the representation below is just one of many that he executed in a fury of conservation, for he did know that this space was on its last legs.

Telemaco Signorini, Mercato Vecchio, 1882-1884, Firenze, Galleria d’arte moderna

Ponte alle Grazie

Adolfo Belimbau, Il convento del Ponte alle Grazie, 1930, Firenze, Galleria d’arte moderna
Ponte alle Grazie today, photo: Flickr user Andrew J Ferguson

We all know that the Ponte Vecchio is the last remaining bridge with houses on it, right? So this is proof of the excellent use of space until Ponte alle Grazie was bombed in WWII. When it was reconstructed (finished 1953), they omitted the buildings.

Duomo and Florence’s rooftops

Alfonso Hollaender, Cupola di Santa Maria del Fiore, 1910-1915, Firenze, Galleria d’arte moderna

Seen from above in the painting by Hollaender, Florence seems not to have changed much at all since 1910. Still terracotta roofs, inhabited by cats, and green shutters through which one can just see evidence of human life.

Paintings that are, and yet are not, snapshots of a recent past. For photographers – like Alinari – also documented these spaces, but it is the artists, the painters, that captured them with a particular vision

Related events:

  • Until January 6, 2013, the exhibit “Firenze negli occhi dell’artista – Da Signorini a Rosai” is at Palazzo Pitti, Galleria dell’Arte Moderna
  • Free Guided tours at 4pm (in Italian, with museum entry ticket) “Firenze negli Occhi dell’artista. Da Signorini a Rosai”: December 22, 29 2012: January 4, 5, 6 2013
  • For info and reservations of the above activities please call Firenze Musei, +39 055 294883

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