Written by Molly McIlwrath
Metamorphoses and illumination are two words that capture Florence in the Fall for me. The shorter days with their crispy air and sometimes grey, sometimes blue skys disappear into the yellow tinged light from the street lamps as the early evening sunsets. The first days of the season are always remarkable with the afternoons suddenly transformed under a new light.
One place for me that most represents the particular feel of Florence during this season is the 15th c. Michelozzo Library commissioned by Cosimo de’ Medici the Elder in what is today the Museum of San Marco.
The light and colors of the illuminated manuscripts are accentuated with the contrast of the room’s ionic columns in grey pietra serena and the terracotta of the floor. In this season, I also gravitate more than usual to capture a few quiet moments in candle lit churches — Orsanmichele, Santa Trinità and Santissima Annunziata, as well as the evening Vespers at Badia Fiorentina among my favorites. In October and November, the shimmering golden mosaics of the Baptistery the hour before its closing, just as it becomes darker outside, is the perfect moment in my mind to experience its beauty and almost magical atmosphere.
In the fall we turned inwards toward the comforts of home as the temperatures become colder. Slowly contemplative strolls through historical house museums such as 14th century Palazzo Davanzati and the 15th c. Palazzo Corsi of Museo Horne with their treasure troves of Renaissance art collections helps enter the worlds and minds of these eccentric 19th-century art collectors. I think more about the intimate space of the study, hands writing away producing letters, diaries poems, documents — even personal shopping lists by candlelight.
The darker atmosphere inside Francesco I de’Medici’s Studiolo in Palazzo Vecchio is even more mysterious than most demonstrating his passion for alchemy and the elements that fascinated the late 16th century. Here we find secret openings of painted doors holding personal objects — a few leading to secret passages — and we can only imagine how they would have appeared illuminated by candelight as the Medici walked through them in the dark nights. My favorite of all is the Grand Duchess, Venetian born Bianca Cappello‘s grotesque frescoed ceiling studiolo with its peep hole and private balconies nestled between the Hall of Geographical Maps and the breathaking blues, reds and greens of the Bronzino frescoed chapel of Grand Duchess Eleonora di Toledo.
Thankfully Florence reveals its more sensual and mysterious side come fall. I find myself craving certain scents during this season and the Tabacco Vanilla candle from Santa Maria Novella pharmacy, opened in 1612 by Ferdinando de’ Medici is one that I light in the evenings once home and as an instinctive ritual first thing in the morning in the kitchen — even before coffee. In a perfect dream I would be walking around Florence alone in the dark of the night in the silence just after a rainstorm, with only a lantern in hand, and secretly enter all of my favorite places to illuminate everything — the medieval manuscripts of San Marco included!