Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot — Florence. View from the Boboli Garden

Of all Italian cities, Florence is by far the most recognisable in any painting, if only because every painter thought it his task to commemorate the magnificent Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, whose dome was built by Filippo Brunelleschi between 1420 and 1436, while the inner dome decor belonged to Michelangelo. To the left of the cathedral is the campanile (bell tower) designed by Giotto; to the right is Palazzo Vecchio.

The Boboli Garden dates back to 1550s when the land was bought by Cosimo I de’ Medici and his wife, Eleanor of Toledo, to build the new ducal palace. In 1554-61 the famous Giorgio Vasari, the biographer of Italian painters, sculptors, and architects, worked there along with Bartolomeo Ammannati and Bernardo Buontalenti. The latter two, for instance, finished Grotto di Madama and the Large Grotto that were begun by Vasari. Below are a couple of photos of the Gardens today. The entrance to the grotto is a splendid example of the late Italian Mannerism.

Vasari and Buontalenti Grotto    

O Fair and Strong! O Strong and Fair in Vain!

Italia! thou art fallen, though with sheen
Of battle-spears thy clamorous armies stride
From the North Alps to the Sicilian Tide!
Ay! fallen, though the nations hails thee Queen
Because rich gold in every town is seen,
And on thy sapphire lake in tossing pride
Of wind-filled vans thy myriad galleys ride
Beneath one flag of red and white and green.
O Fair and Strong! O Strong and Fair in vain!
Look southward where Rome’s desecrated town
Lies mourning for her God-anointed King!
Look heaven-ward! shall God allow this thing?
Nay! but some flame-girt Raphael shall come down,
And smite the Spoiler with the sword of pain!
Oscar Wilde, Venice, 1877