Monday, June 5, 2017
Florence is the birthplace of some of the most famous characters in history. The names of its Renaissance men are so well-known that they are often reduced to single words: Dante, Leonardo, Michelangelo. Indeed, the influence of Florence reaches far and wide; two of the world’s seven continents, North and South America, owe their names to Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci.
Poet Dante Alighieri was born in Florence in 1265. More than 750 years later, his Divine Comedy and Inferno continue to be read by university students. Considered to be Medieval masterpieces, their messages about morality, mortality and the afterlife draw on Dante’s studies of grammar, literature, philosophy and theology. His political activities earned him a death sentence and caused him to leave the city, so his tomb is found in Ravenna instead of Florence.
Florentine Filippo Brunelleschi left his signature on the city most obviously in the dome of its grand gothic cathedral, the Duomo. It is certainly visually impressive, but its significance is the innovative octagonal vaults, one inside another, that are both functional and fashionable. He also designed the city’s sternly impressive Ospedale degli Innocenti, which took in abandoned children and now houses the Museum of the Innocents, (MUDI). Of course, most Florence real estate is more modest than any of Brunelleschi’s buildings.
Leonardo da Vinci’s remarkable life begin in 1452, just outside of Florence. He was a painter in his youth, going on to produce the mysterious Mona Lisa, but intense curiosity led to scientific research in the fields of anatomy, architecture and engineering. Throughout his illustrious career he worked for prominent patrons, including popes and kings, in Florence, Milan and Rome before his death in France in 1519. The Leonardo da Vinci museum brings to life the works and words of the master himself.
Just a couple of decades after Leonardo’s birth, Michelangelo Buonarroti was born. His association with Florence began at a young age when he became a protege of the Medicis. Famous for the frescoed ceilings of the Sistene Chapel in Rome, and for the Pieta sculpture in St. Peter’s Basilica there, Michelangelo is known Florence for his larger-than-life David in the Accademia. A hall in the Uffizi Gallery has an entire hall dedicated to Michelangelo and the Florentines.
Florence is still home to influential players on the local and global stages. Italy’s ex prime minister, Matteo Renzi, is a modern-day Florentine. He was born in the city in 1975, educated there and before the age of 30 was elected the President of the province of Florence in 2004. Five years later he became the city’s mayor, and since 2014 has served as Prime Minister, the youngest in Italian history. The same year, Fortune Magazine named Renzi one of the most influential people under the age of 40.