To fill your eyes with wonder made by man, there is simply no Tuscan place like Florence. It is of course in almost every church and palazzo you see, from Brunelleschi’s dome (1420) and the Church of San Lorenzo, to the elegant loggia and tower (twenty-three feet taller than that of Siena) in Piazza della Signoria.
But the Renaissance in Florence began on a much smaller scale, namely with a sculpture by Nanni (died 1421), the Coronati, whose lifelike and agonized heads recall Roman sculpture. The passion for the human body of Donatello (born 1386) was the true rebirth. His earliest signed work, the bewildered Zuccone is so lifelike that legend has it Donatello shouted at him, “Speak, speak, or the plague take you!” His life-size bronze David (modeled after a delicate, soft-bodied adolescent) was the first freestanding nude statue since antiquity. Another of his life-sized statues, Mary Magdalene—this time in wood—is so emaciated and tortured, that her internal torment seems to have taken physical form. In emotional contrast, Luca Della Robbia’s Trumpet Players (1435), with its chubby and charming cherubic kids, is an expression of pure human joy. In painting, the celebration of the human physique and human vivacity was given life by Botticelli in his Spring (1482) and Birth of Venus. Innocent yet full of lust, they revel in the true rebirth: that of the human spirit.