As the cradle of the Renaissance, there is no shortage of statues in Florence’s museums, churches and galleries.
But did you know that are fabulous free sculptures in Florence? You just need to know where to find them.
From fake Davids to the “Gates of Paradise”, here is your guide to Florence’s open-air sculpture galleries. All of them are within walking distance of each other and there’s a map at the end of this post to help you on your way.
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Free Statues in Florence’s Orsanmichele Church
Let’s start our free sculpture tour of Florence at the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance.
Orsanmichele started life as a grain market, with an open loggia at street level and warehouses above. When the market was relocated in 1380, Simone Talenti was commissioned to close the arches of the loggia and convert the grain house into a church for Florence’s wealthy and powerful guilds.
In the ultimate game of one-upmanship, the guilds commissioned the finest artists of the day to erect statues of their patron saints to fill the church’s 14 exterior niches.
Although these sculptures were started during the late middle ages, progress accelerated from the early fourteenth century. As a result, they collectively tell the story of the evolution of Renaissance sculpture.
Today, with the exception of Donatello’s St. George in the Bargello Museum, the original sculptures are housed in the small museum adjacent to the church. However, excellent copies of these sculptures occupy the church’s exterior niches and are yours to view for free any time of day or night.
Sculptures in Orsanmichele’s niches
For the best journey through Florentine sculptural history, circle the church’s perimeter. Start on the church’s right side (along Via Orsanmichele).
Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise in Piazza Duomo
The Baptistery of St. John is the egg from which Florence’s golden age was hatched.
In 1401, there was a competition to design the doors of the city’s new Baptistery. Lorenzo Ghiberti beat his rivals, including Brunelleschi, and created the North and East Doors of St. John’s Baptistery.
It is his East Doors that are the stars of this show.
Created between 1425 and 1452, Ghiberti recalled several Old Testament stories using realism, fine detail and perspective as never seen before. The depth of perspective and fine detail are extraordinary.
These bronze bas-reliefs changed the way that Renaissance people viewed the world around them and were later coined “The Gates of Paradise” by none other than Michelangelo.
Although it is well worth seeing the original doors in all of their glory in the Doumo Museum, the Baptistery doors are clad in copies of these panels. Check out the self-portrait of the artist just to the left of the centre of the door.
As for Brunelleschi, although he was beaten at the final stage by Ghiberti, all was not lost. He went on to create the iconic dome of Florence Cathedral (Duomo).
Statues in Florence’s Piazza della Signoria
Piazza della Signoria was the magnificent stage for the turbulent life of the Florentine Republic. It was here that public assemblies were held, and where Savonarola held his Bonfire of the Vanities and was later executed.
Today, this medieval square is one of the best places to see free works of art in Florence.
Copy of David (Michelangelo Buonarroti) at Palazzo Vecchio
David by Michelangelo is not only one of the most famous sculptures in Florence, but it is also one of the best-known statues in the world. This 14-foot-high statue, crafted from Carrara marble, is an icon of both the Renaissance and the city of Florence.
He is one of the unmissable things to see in Florence.
David represents divine victory over evil and symbolises the optimism and humanism of the early 16th Century, a true Renaissance Man.
You will have to buy a ticket for the Accademia to see the real thing, but one of two copies of David in Florence guards the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio in Piazza della Signoria. It is no accident that this is near the spot that Michelangelo planned for it.
Loggia dei Lanzi: Florence’s free outdoor art gallery
This copy of Michelangelo’s David is not the only free statue in Piazza della Signoria. He is kept company by a number of outstanding sculptures in Loggia dei Lanzi, which collectively form Florence’s free outdoor sculpture gallery.
Framed by three graceful arches designed in the 1370s, it was from this platform that ordinary Florentines could share what was on their mind and dignitaries watched celebrations and assemblies. Enlightened city officials transformed Loggia dei Lanzi into a free-for-all art gallery, with some of the most famous sculptures in Florence.
Rape of the Sabine Women (Giambologna)
This is one of the works of art that transformed my understanding of sculpture. Carved from a single block of stone, Giambologna’s 1560 sculpture is one of the finest works in the history of art.
This extraordinarily graphic statue depicts a Roman soldier stamping on a Sabine man, whilst carrying off his wife. Their intertwined bodies are frozen in a moment of anguish and terror, from the look of horror on the husband’s face to the woman’s silent scream.
Perseus (Benevenuto Cellini)
In the centre of the Loggia di Stanza, Cellini’s triumphant Perseus holds the decapitated snake-headed Medusa aloft. Sculpted between 1545 and 1554, this bronze sculpture stands on a square base that depicts the story of Perseus and Andromeda.
Neptune Fountain (Bartolomeo Ammannati)
The Neptune Fountain is the monument that Florentines are hardwired to hate from birth.
It is completely over the top. Carved from a single block of Carrara marble in 1575, it shows Neptune, the Roman god of the sea, lording it over his entourage of nymphs, tritons and dolphins. It was commissioned to celebrate Tuscan victories at sea.
Other sculptures in Piazza della Signoria
Donatello carved his famous lion cradling the Florentine coat-of-arms out of local grey sandstone between 1418 and 1420. Marzocco was originally installed in Santa Maria Novella before it was moved to Piazza della Signoria.
Today’s Marzocco in Piazza della Signoria is a replica, the original residing in the Bargello for preservation.
Judith and Holofernes (Donatello)
This is another copy of a Donatello sculpture; you can see the orginal in the Hall of Lilies in the Palazzo Vecchio. Depicting the assassination of the Assyrian general Holofernes by Judith, the sculpture was commissioned by Cosimo de’ Medici for the fountain in the garden of the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi.
This was one of the first Renaissance sculptures to be conceived in the round.
Hercules and Cacus (Baccio Bandinelli)
To the right of the Palazzo Vecchio is a marble statue by the lesser-known Florentine sculptor Baccio Bandinelli.
It was originally commissioned by the republic of Florence to commemorate the expulsion of the Medici in 1494. But after the Medici took back power in 1512, the commission was appropriated by Giulio de’Medici (Pope Clement VII).
Sadly for Bandinelli, most Florentines hated his statue, especially architect and art historian Giorgio Vasari. The Medici were amongst its few fans.
Bandinelli’s ripped Hercules looks like he’s taken a few steroids too many (Benvenuto Cellini famously compared the demi-god’s musculature to “a sack full of melons”).
Cosimo de Medici Equestrian Monument (Giambologna)
Before you leave Piazza della Signoria, compare the face of Cosimo I on horseback to that of his neighbour Neptune. Pretty similar eh?
This is no accident. Ammannati modelled Neptune’s features face of his wealthy patron. That must be the ultimate suck-up.
Giambologna’s monumental equestrian monument of Cosimo de Medici was erected in Piazza della Signoria in 1594.
Fake David in Piazzale Michelangelo
Most people climb the hill to Piazzale Michelangelo to take in one of the best views of Florence. But did you know that it is also home to the second copy of David in the city?
This bronze replica of Michelangelo’s buff biblical shepherd was designed by Florentine architect Giuseppe Poggi and installed in this vast square in 1873. Poggi also designed the statue’s base, which was intended for copies of Michelangelo’s work.
Piazzale Michelangelo is free to enter and should be included in any Florence itinerary.
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Where to See These Free Sculptures in Florence, Italy
If you find it helpful to map things out, here’s one showing the locations of these free sculptures in Florence. For an interactive map, simply click here or on the image itself.
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