The Glory of Florence

10 week course: 13 October - 15 December 2017

In the 1300s Florence was largely governed by the flourishing merchant classes who had grown wealthy in trade and banking - indeed the florin, first minted in Florence in 1252, became one of the strongest currencies of Europe. However, in 1434 power came under the control of the Medici family, and its first de facto ruler Cosimo de Medici (1389-1464) was keen to legitimise his authority, glorify his political achievements and immortalize himself and his family through lavish programmes of patronage in the arts. Under the continued patronage of the powerful and influential Medici dynasty, Florence would become the most magnificent and prominent centre of the arts in Italy.  

Our new course explores the development of Florentine art, architecture and sculpture within a historical and sociological context, with a special focus on Medici patronage. The course is organised thematically - each session explores a different subject such as humanism and Neo-Platonism; secular patronage; the artist’s workshop and the frate dipintore or artist monk. Key works studied include Masaccio’s frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel, Botticelli’s mythologies, Ghiberti’s Baptistery Doors and Brunelleschi’s great dome of Florence Cathedral, but time is also spent looking at less familiar works. We will discuss examples by some of the most influential artists, painters and sculptors of the period such as Fra Angelico, Michelangelo, Donatello, Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli.

There will also be two special guest lectures, the first on Florentine Gardens by author, broadcaster and landscape consultant Steven Desmond, who specialises in historic gardens and architecture.  The lecture will look at the transformation of Florentine Renaissance gardens by British and American aesthetes in the late 19th century.  At Villa La Pietra, the informal English garden laid out by its 19th-century Italian owners was remodelled by the British art dealer Arthur Acton into an ideal of the 17th-century Italian garden, financed by his rich American wife’s inheritance. Nearby, Bernard Berenson, arbiter of taste for the world’s museums and collectors, hired the architect Cecil Pinsent to transform the gardens of his ancient villa into the kind of terraces of mosaic, box and cypress that he felt were appropriate. These gardens as well as others continue to look out onto the famous views of Florence and the Arno valley.  Steven's book Gardens of the Italian Lakes, can be found in the online reading list.  

Our second guest lecture is given by the bestselling author Ross King. Among his books are Brunelleschis Dome (2000), Michelangelo and the Popes Ceiling (2002), The Judgment of Paris (Governor General’s Award, 2006), and Leonardo and The Last Supper (Governor General’s Award, 2012). He has also published two novels (Domino and Ex-Libris), a biography of Niccolò Machiavelli, and a collection of Leonardo da Vinci’s fables, jokes and riddles. He is the co-author with Anja Grebe of Florence: The Paintings & Frescoes, 1250-1743 (2015).

The course is structured thematically, and images are discussed within their economic, political and social context.

Art History in Focus’s courses are characterised by a relaxed and entertaining learning environment, which often allows for lively discussion. Lectures last two hours with a break for refreshments, and the talks are illustrated by high quality digital images.

Lectures are on Friday mornings and run from 11-1; doors open at 10.45. One of the sessions will be a study day at the National Gallery (8th December) in which Siân and her colleague Jacqui Ansell will give guided tours of the collection focusing on works studied during the course. Refreshments are included in the Trafalgar Room, and an optional Christmas lunch is arranged for those who would like to join the group.

Please note, October 13th and November 10th will be afternoon sessions from 2.30-4.30. There is no half-term


Further Course Information

Location and Directions
Churchgate House Centre
Downside Bridge Rd
Cobham, Surrey, KT11 3EJ.

To view a map of the Churchgate House Centre location click here

There is free parking at the centre, although if you are unable to find a space you can park in one of the nearby roads or in the pay and display car park on Hollyhedge Road. There is further free parking on the left just over the bridge on Downside Bridge Road.

The course is open for all to join. If you would like to attend please fill in the online booking form. If you would prefer to send a booking form by post please download a copy here.

We regret we are unable to offer refunds on unused course subscriptions, but your place may be transferred to someone else if you are unable to attend (please provide their name in advance, thank you)

Please refer to our Terms and Conditions for booking this event.


  • Discover masterpieces of Florentine Art and Architecture
  • Guest lecture on Gardens of Florence by Steven Desmond
  • Explore works studied in class in a guided tour of the National Gallery (week 9)
  • Meet people with similar interests
  • Refreshments included



Booking is now closed.

If you have any questions regarding the course or booking please send us an email or
call on +44 (0)1932 267322

Recommended Reading

Visit the AHF bookstore for a list of recommended books and products to accompany this course.


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