Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover itMichelangelo Buonarroti
Few people had more of an influence on Western art than Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, known simply as Michelangelo.
Despite spending most of his life in Rome, Michelangelo considered himself a Florentine. And it is here that you will find several of his sculptures, his sole completed easel painting as well as a few architectural projects.
Do you want to learn more about the “divine artist” and his works?
Explore the life and art of a giant of the Italian Renaissance by walking in the footsteps of Michelangelo in Florence.
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A Short Biography of Michelangelo
Born on 6 March 1475 in the Tuscan town of Caprese, near Arezzo, Michelangelo was consumed with artistic ambition from an early age. When he was 13, he became an apprentice to Domenico Ghirlandaio, who was one of the most successful fresco painters in Florence.
His talent quickly became apparent and in 1489 he was sent to Lorenzo de’Medici’s sculpture school in the Medici gardens. He later went on to live in the Medici household.
Against a background of political instability in Florence, Michelangelo left for Venice in 1494, the first of his many flights.
Lured by prestigious commissions, he moved to Rome in 1496 and served under seven popes. His most formidable patron was Julius II, with whom the artist had a tempestuous relationship.
And it was in Rome that Michelangelo created many of his masterpieces, including the Last Judgement on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Michelangelo died in Rome in 1564.
Where to Find the Art of Michelangelo in Florence
Santo Spirito Church (Basilica di Santo Spirito)
Following the death of his patron Lorenzo de Medici, Michelangelo devoted his skills to a detailed study of anatomy by dissecting corpses in the church of Santo Spirito in Florence’s Oltrarno district. By way of a “thank you” to the church’s monastic community, he carved this wooden crucifix around 1492.
Michelangelo’s knowledge of the human form is evident in this striking naked figure of Christ, which was highly unusual at the time.
Information on visiting Basilica di Santo Spirito here.
The Bargello Museum is home to some of the most magnificent sculptures in Florence, including works by Michelangelo.
This statue of a naked and debauched Bacchus was Michelangelo’s first major commission, sculpted at the tender age of 21.
It’s not a surprise that this leering sculpture of the pagan god of wine was not a hit with Cardinal Raffaele Riario who had commissioned it. It eventually ended up in the hands of the Medici.
Pitti Tondo (1503 – 1504)
This marble relief of the Madonna and Child in a tondo (circular form) was a commission from Bartolomeo Pitti.
It’s a tender scene with Mary gazing wistfully into the distance as Jesus leans into her. You can just make out John the Baptist in the background
This unfinished marble sculpture of a nude man is variously identified as Apollo or David.
Apollo-David was snapped up by Duke Cosimo I for his private collection in the 16th Century. It was moved to the Boboli Gardens in 1824.
Brutus was famously one of the assassins of the dictator Julius Caesar, but Caesar was also his friend and mentor. The nobleman’s internal conflict is encapsulated in this Michelangelo sculpture.
If you stand in front of the sculpture, Brutus in profile looks heroic. But swivel round to look at his face full-on and he appears downright sinister.
Visit the Bargello Museum’s website for ticket information and opening hours.
Accademia Gallery (Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze)
The Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze, known as simply the Accademia, is an essential part of a Florence itinerary. It is best known as the home of Michelangelo’s most famous sculpture, David. However, his other sculptures housed here are equally compelling.
David (1501 – 1504)
Michelangelo’s buff biblical shepherd barely needs an introduction. Carved from gleaming white marble around the same time as his Pitti Tondo and standing 14 feet high, David is a symbol of both the Renaissance and the city of Florence.
David guarded the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio for 350 years before he was moved to the Accademia.
The Prisoners (1516 – 1534)
In 1505, Pope Julius II commissioned Michelangelo to build him a monumental tomb. However, the pope scaled down the project and the final structure, not completed until 1545, was on a much-reduced scale.
The Prisoners were designed for this tomb and give us a window into Michelangelo’s creative process and his understanding of the human body. You can still see his chisel marks on these unfinished figures, which look like they are trying to free themselves from the stone.
The Prisoners (or Slaves) are as follows: Young Slave, Bearded Slave, Awakening Slave and Bound Slave.
St. Matthew (1506 – 1507)
This unfinished marble sculpture was intended for one of the choir niches of Florence Cathedral but Michelangelo abandoned work on it when he was summoned to Rome. Like The Prisoners, this sculpture offers art historians a tantalising glimpse into the technique of the great master.
Visit the Accademia’s website for ticket information and opening hours.
One of Florence’s most famous landmarks, the Uffizi Galleries displays the greatest collection of Italian Renaissance art in the world. It also houses the only Michelangelo easel painting in Florence: Doni Tondo or The Holy Family.
Doni Tondo or The Holy Family (1506)
Created around the time that Michelangelo was liberating St. Matthew from a block of Carrara marble, The Holy Family is his only completed easel painting. This skilful tondo draws inspiration from classical sculptures, its figures looking like three groups of statues.
Find out more about tickets and opening times at the Uffizi’s official website
The Medici Chapels (Cappelle Medicee)
Michelangelo had reached mid-life when he was commissioned to build burial chapels for the Medici in 1519.
Collectively, The Medici Chapels are two structures: The New Sacristy (Sagrestia Nuova) and the Chapel of the Princes (Capella dei Principi).
The Sagrestia Nuova was Michelangelo’s first stab at architecture, and he also designed its sculptures dedicated to members of the Medici family. These sculptures are Night & Day, Dawn & Dusk, Madonna and Child, Lorenzo and Guiliano.
Visit the Medici Chapels website for ticket information and opening hours.
San Lorenzo Church (Basilica di San Lorenzo)
Built on the site of the first Christian church in Florence, the monumental San Lorenzo is the final resting place of the principal members of the mighty Medici.
Its historic Laurentian Library is considered to be Michelangelo’s finest architectural achievement.
It was commissioned in 1523, but by the time the artist left Florence in 1534 only the walls of the reading room were complete. The work was finished by others, interpreting his designs whilst integrating the parts that he had executed.
Visit the San Lorenzo website for ticket information and opening hours.
During the time Michelangelo was working on San Lorenzo he lived in two houses on Via Ghibellina in the Santa Croce neighbourhood. His plan was to convert several houses on this street into a palazzo of which he could be proud.
Drawing was key to Michelangelo’s practice and Casa Buonarroti is home to the largest collection of his drawings. There are also two of his early bas-reliefs: the Madonna of the Stairs and the Battle of the Centaurs.
Visit Casa Buonarroti’s website for ticket information and opening hours.
The main reason to buy a ticket for Palazzo Vecchio is to visit its magnificent Hall of Five Hundred (Salone dei Cinquecento) which holds Michelangelo’s sculpture, The Genius of Victory (1532 – 1534). It is thought that this was created for that ill-fated tomb of Pope Julius II.
The Genius of Victory marks the end of Michelangelo’s final stint in Florence. Once this was finished, he packed his bags for Rome for good.
Visit Palazzo Vecchio’s website for ticket information and opening hours.
Duomo Museum (Museo dell’Opera del Duomo)
The lesser-visited Opera del Duomo Museum is a tranquil refuge from the visitor hordes and is home to some excellent examples of Florentine sculpture.
Pietà (1547 – 1555)
I was very moved by this, Michelangelo’s penultimate sculpture.
Michelangelo designed his own tomb with a Pietà at its centre Three mourners tend to the body of a crucified Christ: Mary, Mary Magdalen and Nicodemus, whose face was modelled on that of Michelangelo.
Visit the Opera del Duomo Museum’s website for ticket information and opening hours.
Piazza della Signoria and Piazzale Michelangelo
Finally, if you are not able to visit the Accademia, you can see one or both of the fake Davids in town.
One stands in the statue’s original position, guarding the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio. The second is at Piazzale Michelangelo, one of Florence’s finest viewpoints.
Map of Where to Find Michelangelo’s Art in Florence
If you find it helpful to map things out, here’s one that I prepared earlier. For an interactive map, simply click here or on the image itself.
The Art of Michelangelo in Florence at a Glance
Do you fancy a handy checklist of where to find the art of Michelangelo in Florence? If so take a look at this hand-crafted one.
To print or download a pdf of this file, simply click here or on the image itself, no strings attached.
Tracing the Life of Michelangelo in Tuscany
Caprese Michelangelo: The birthplace of Michelangelo
Do you want to see where the magic started? If so, head to the village of Caprese, near Arezzo in Tuscany.
Caprese Castle was where the great man took his first breath and is home to the Michelangelo Buonarroti Birthplace (Museo Casa Natale Michelangelo Buonarroti).
Visit the official website for further information and opening hours
Palazzo Medici Riccardi: Michelangelo learns his trade
Or why not visit the palace where a young Michelangelo learnt the tricks of the trade?
Once the home of Lorenzo the Magnificent (1449 – 1492), ownership of the Medici Ricardi Palace passed from the Medici family to the Ricardi family in the 1700s. Today, it’s the palace’s tiny Chapel of the Magi with Benozzo Gozzoli’s fresco cycle, The Journey of the Magi, that pulls the crowds.
Visit the Medici Riccardi Palace website for ticket prices and opening hours
Carrara Marble Quarries: Michelangelo’s raw material
David had to start somewhere.
Michelangelo favoured the marble quarry at Carrara because the stone was white and pure. He made many visits here to supervise the cutting and shipping of the marble.
You can take a Carrara marble quarry tour to learn more about this sublime raw material and to explore a unique landscape.
READ THIS NEXT: Visiting the Carrara Marble Quarries, Italy
Basilica of Santa Croce: Michelangelo’s tomb by Vasari
Michelangelo’s story reaches its conclusion back in Florence.
Keeping company with Dante, Galileo, Machiavelli and Rossini, he is laid to rest in the Basilica di Santa Croce. His ornate tomb was designed by Giorgio Vasari and the three sculptures represent painting, sculpture, and architecture.
A fitting final tribute to a true Renaissance man.