Florence

The Accademia Gallery

Michelangelo's the David
Michelangelo’s the David

If you’re in Florence and you plan to visit only one museum/art gallery while you are there, I strongly recommend that you make it the Accademia Gallery. Others might suggest the Uffizi Museum as your one and only Florence museum—if for some insane reason you only want to do one—but for my tastes it’s the Accademia. In fact, if you go to Florence and you don’t visit the Accademia, people might be inclined to shout at you in a shrill, censorial voice, “Are you a freaking idiot? You went all the way to Florence and you didn’t go to the Accademia? There’s just no accounting for some people!” Of course, they wouldn’t say that if you lived in Central or Northern Italy, because, then, “all the way to Florence” wouldn’t be that far. In that case, they’d shriek, “You live near (or in) Florence, but you’ve never been to the Accademia? Are you a freaking idiot?” But you get the picture.

And it’s not just culturally effete elitists who might mock you in that way. Cultural philistines, such as myself, might similarly sneer at you for your inexcusable omission. You’ve been warned. (In my mind, some people who have been to Florence, but not to the Accademia will, after reading this, hurriedly book trips back to Florence before their friends find out that they overlooked the Accademia. Then again, in my mind some people actually read the crap I write, but that quite possibly isn’t true.)

Michelangelo's the David
Michelangelo’s the David

That having been said, one thing I like about Accademia is that, relative to, say, the Louvre in Paris, it’s not terribly large. The truth is, I’m not much of an art gallery person. After about a half an hour—sometimes less—of wandering around a gallery my eyes start to glaze over. After an hour, I’m catatonic. Really nice, serene cafés in large art galleries are major bonusesfor such institutions. However, Accademia is small enough to venture through without the need for a stop at a café and without getting an art gallery headache.

And, when it comes to ennui-avoidance, it’s definitely a plus that many of the pieces in the gallery are breathtaking, most notably Michelangelo’s the David. If you are morally opposed to nudity, particularly male nudity, then the David is not for you. Michelangelo’s stone David is totally naked, much larger than life, and anatomically correct. At least, I think the sculpture is supposed to be anatomically correct. David is meant to be David of the Old Testament, as in David and Goliath. Biblical David is Jewish, but Michelangelo’s David didn’t look Jewish. That is to say, unless my eyes deceived me, I don’t think the statue’s dangly bit of anatomy was circumcised—a mandatory mark of the male versions of the Chosen People.

Model for a statue of Niccolò Machiavelli by Lorenzo Bartolini
Model for a statue of Niccolò Machiavelli by Lorenzo Bartolini

That’s neither here nor there, so let’s move on, shall we? The statue is captivating. And I say that as a straight guy. If you’re a heterosexual woman or a gay guy I would understand if Michelangelo’s David aroused you in an “I’ve got to splash cold water on my face if I want to continue to be behave somewhat respectably in public” sort of way.

In addition to the David, the Accademia also houses some lesser-known Michelangelo sculptures.

Michelangelo isn’t the only artist represented at the gallery. There are a number of beautiful paintings, frescos and sculptures by a variety of Renaissance and pre-Renaissance artists there. Those other artists are probably very well known to Renaissance art historians and aficionados. However, I’m not in one of either of those groups, so I recognized only a few of the other names.

Besides the David, which dominates one section of the Accademia, my favorite part of the gallery is an oblong room filled with sculptures. A long table in the center of the room runs almost the length of the room. Sculptures sit on the table, as well as against the walls of the room. As you walk around the table there are sculptures of varying types, sizes and subjects to the left and the right of you the whole way around.

The Accademia also has a gallery of musical instruments that include a variety of instruments from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. The collection comprises violins, cellos, pianos, harpsichords, various wind instruments and more. One word of warning: The musical instrument gallery is easy to miss. It’s on your right when you enter the Accademia.

A painting at the Accademia
A painting at the Accademia

Another few words of advice: The price of admission to the Accademia is included with the Firenze Card. If you’ve read some of my other Florence posts, you’ll probably know I recommend that you buy one if you visit Florence as a tourist. (Of course, if you don’t go to Florence, buying a Firenze Card is pointless, but you are probably smart enough to figure that out on your own.) In addition to including the admission price, the Firenze Card allows you to enter the “reserved ticket holders” line to speed your entrance into the gallery. (When I say “speed your entrance,” I mean it’s faster relative to the line for people who don’t already hold reserved tickets. When I was there, it still took me about 20 minutes, or maybe a little more (I didn’t time it), to get in. I’ve read that the busy times for the gallery are all opening hours during the height of the tourist season, so anything you can do to speed your entrance during those months is probably worthwhile.

Here’s the hard part: It’s not easy to figure out which is the reserved line. There are three lines: one for reserved ticket-holders, one for people without reserved tickets and one for tour groups. The problem is that, at least when I was there, there were no stanchions separating the lines and signage was next to non-existent. It was not entirely clear, at least not to me, which line was which. So, ask one of the rarely visible (at least, rarely visible when I was there) attendants. Even then, unless they’ve organized things better when you go than when I was there, even after asking, you’ll probably still have difficulty figuring out which line you should be in. To be on the somewhat safe side, ask some of the people who think they’re in line which line they think they’re in.  As they say, there’s strength in numbers. And, in case you’re worried, English seems to rarely be a problem even though the native tongue is Italian. English appears to have become the lingua franca in the few foreign countries I’ve been to. Unilingual anglophones, such as myself, have become terribly spoiled in that regard.

Been there? Done that? Do tell.