How to beat the heat & crowds in Florence & have a major Renaissance painting all to yourself

I don’t usually give this kind of advice or information.

Typically I write my impressions of places I visit, without giving away too much info, mainly because Florence is so heavily visited and information is easily obtainable.

But today I will share a secret. It is good for any time of year, but in summer, it serves 2 purposes.  You will be in peace, perhaps even alone, and you can appreciate an under-known masterwork by a well-known artist.

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So, let’s say it’s over 90 degrees F.; you are in Florence; you love Renaissance art; you’ve visited all of the usual venues (museums/churches/artworks); and you’ve had it up to your eyebrows with the swarms of tourists that engulf this city.  What to do?

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Head yourself over to an empty, cool, beautiful former refectory on the east end of Florence.  It’s easy to get to by taxi or by bus and when you get there you will probably be alone, like I was last week, in the space.

 

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This church of San Michele a San Salvi is one of the most important ancient churches located outside Florence’s (former) circle of medieval walls. The adjacent Cenacle of San Salvi is a real hidden gem of the city.

You can find the location on the right side of this Google map screen shot. It is marked with a pin and titled “Cenacolo di Andrea del Sarto.”

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(For some reason I am not educated enough to understand, the picture above shows the plaque with a citation from Dante’s Purgatorio, which is placed on a wall near the church’s facade.  If you know why it’s there, please leave me a comment!  Grazie!!)

By traveling to this location, you will be rewarded not only with a coolish tranquility but also with a masterpiece:  Andrea del Sarto’s fresco of The Last Supper (called Cenacoli in Italian), which is as monumental as it is beautiful.

You walk into this calm typically Tuscan space (pale walls, red floor, accents of gray pietra serena stone) and this is what you see.  For me, this is where my blood pressure begins to regulate; soon I will be lost in the experience of the painting.

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This relatively unknown jewel of the art of fresco was lovingly described by none other than the world’s first true art historian, Giorgio Vasari. About it he said: “Andrea del Sarto, the flawless painter, is the author of the Last Supper kept in the Great Refectory of the San Salvi convent. [The fresco has] endless majesty with its absolute grace of all the painted figures.”

Here are some details of the glorious painting:

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I simply adore this casual slice of everyday Florentine life captured by Andrea del Sarto in the top of the lunette over the last supper.  One man appears to just be hanging out on a balcony over the people eating, while the other, possibly a server for the dinner, seems to be walking away.

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Not pictured here, but to the right and left of the room, along the walls in glass topped cases, are many sketches for the fresco by Andrea del Sarto.  It is a rare opportunity to see sketches by an artist from this period.  And, to see them in conjunction with the final work is an extraordinary opportunity.

 

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Notice in the picture above, Andrea del Sarto’s treatment of the Trinity.  A 3-faced head shot of sorts.

Who knows!? You might be as lucky as I was and have the place all to your self on the middle of a Saturday in July.  This is almost unheard of in Firenze!

Just outside the refectory is a fountain where the convent members could wash their hands before entering the refectory to dine.

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Utilitarian yet artistic.

 

Here is some info about the venue: http://www.polomusealetoscana.beniculturali.it/index.php?it/177/firenze-cenacolo-di-andrea-del-sarto

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