A Woodworker’s Tour of Florence

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There has not been a lot of making going on recently as I have been away on holiday in Italy. After Paris, Florence is my favourite destination in Europe: Michelangelo’s David at the Galleria Academia, the masterpieces in the Uffizi, the jaw dropping artifice that went into building the Duomo and the best ice cream in Europe in the piazza outside it – what’s not to like? It also remains one of the prettiest places to walk around even if you do not spend penny number one visiting any of the galleries and museums. But if you are a woodworker what are the best things to go and take a look at? 

First off is the da Vinci museum on via dei Servi. It is is only small but has working models demonstrating Leonardo da Vinci’s machines and improvements of technologies of the fifteenth century. Some of these the visitors can operate which really bring home the value of his discoveries. All, of course are made from wood the machines of da Vinci’s own time would have been.

Those in the know then head down to the Ponte Vecchio, turn left before the bridge, straight past the Uffizi and enter the small building next door to find one of the gems of Europe: the Museo Galileo: The museum houses a collection of insturments, models and machines (many of which are made in wood) and which show the huge strides made in science over the last 500 years.

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The collection includes the actual instruments Galileo used including wooden barrelled telescopes, a lodestome in brass, iron and walnut and various wooden barrelled microscopes. There are also reproductions of the instruments that Galileo used to conduct experiments in motion. There are other treasures however, the most impressive of which is the chemistry cabinet commissioned and used by the Lorraine Grand Duke Peter Leopold who installed a chemical laboratory in the Museo di Fisica e Storia Naturale of Florence. There, he personally performed experiments as a hobby. The equipment is housed in a large cabinet with walnut inlays. The cabinet opens up to form a slate working surface with three cavities, one of which is internally connected to a pedal-operated bellows for combustion and calcination operations. There are small shelves, drawers, and compartments for storing bottles of chemical preparations and assorted glassware. In addition to being a chemistry laboratory it is also a beautiful piece of furniture.

Finally, if you want some inspiration for working with Peter Follansbee on a New English Workshop course next year then visit the Palazzo Davanzati on via Porta Rossa. This houses a fantastic collection of 13th – 16th century furniture and carved boxes. The Palace, built by the Davizzi family around mid-14th century, was purchased in 1578 by the Davanzati family (their coat of arms is still visible on the facade) and remained in their possession until 1838.

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There is a full range of furniture on display including beds, chests, chairs and tables. There are also some hugely notable pieces including one of the most significant painted arms cabinets of the fourteenth century and a fearsome looking strongbox with the most intricate lock for the lid (made from Damascene steel) I think I have ever seen.

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The chests and boxes would be guaranteed to bring even Peter out in a cold sweat.

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In short; Florence has an embarrassment of riches awaiting any woodworker who wants to seek them out.

– Paul Mayon

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