Top 10 Florentines you need to know

The top artists, writers, and politicians who were largely responsible for the Florence we see and enjoy today

This is not a list of the 10 most important people in the history of Florence. It's a list of ten notables who are perhaps most responsible for the Florence that the visitor encounters—which is why the list is so heavily weighted toward Renaissance artists.

The Medici who was merely a great leader—say Cosimo Il Vecchio, who founded the dynasty's fortunes by becoming banker to European kings and the papal curia while making himself an indispensable advisor to the city council—is all fine and well, but it's the likes of his grandson, Lorenzo The Magnificent, who commissioned the buildings or great works of art you stumble over at every turn, that makes this list.

Not all of these men were Florentines by birth, but they all came here, worked here, and left an indelible mark on the Cradle of the Renaissance.

  1. Michelangelo Buonarotti (1475–1564) - Arguably the greatest artist of the Italian Renaissance—and perhaps of all time—equally a genius at sculpture, painting, fresco, and architecture. (He also wrote excellent funny poetry—no, really.) » more

  2. Giotto di Bondone (1267–1337) - Shepherd discovered by Cimabue sketching his sheep on a rock became the greatest painter of the Gothic era, laying the artistic groundwork that would blossom into the Renaissance. » more

  3. Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519) - The original Renaissance Man, a brilliant painter, inventor, and natural philosopher who was always happier tinkering with new techniques and materials than finish commissions. » more

  4. Botticelli (1444–1510) - One of the greatest painters of the early Renaissance was nothing if not a man of his times. » more

  5. Donatello (1386–1466) - This unassuming man was the greatest sculptor of the early Renaissance. » more

  6. Filippo Brunelleschi (1377–1446) - Second-rate sculptor who became the foremost architect of the Renaissance, establishing a style that would be copied for generations and capping the Florence cathedral with an ingenious, revolutionary, and downright gigantic dome. » more

  7. Dante Alighieri (1265–1321) - The poet and politico who revolutionized Italian literature with his epic Divine Comedy (Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso) and enshrined Tuscan dialect as the forerunner of modern Italian language. » more

  8. Lorenzo "The Magnificent" de' Medici (1449–1492) - Godfather of the Renaissance, the most powerful man in Florence (prince of the city in everything but title), noted humanist philosopher (he gathered great books to the Medici lib), and an excellent poet in his own right. He is perhaps chiefly remembered, however, as the greatest patron of the arts in history. The list of artists he either discovered, supported, or encouraged in their careers reads like a who's-who of Old Masters: Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Michelangelo, Ghirlandaio, Verrocchio, and others. » more

  9. Cosimo I de' Medici (1519–1574) - The Medici who turned the family from Florence's foremost banking concern (and foremost citizen-leaders) into the official Dukes of Florence, later the Grand Dukes of Tuscany, and major players on the European scene. He also took on the family mantle as a leading patron of the arts (Vasari, Cellini, Pontormo, Bronzino, etc.). He also built the Uffizi (family offices) and enlarged the Pitti Palace (family shack). » more

  10. Girolamo Savonarola (1452–1498) - The firebrand preacher and "Mad Monk" who briefly turned Florence into a theocracy and church-run police state and who started the original "bonfire of the vanities." » more

  11. The Medici - I know, I know: this is a "top 10" list and I'm on number 11 here. But the Medici weren't just one person, they were a family—the single most important family in the history of Florence, pretty much ruling the city for 300-odd years, largely responsible shepherding in the Renaissance through their championship of humanist ideals and their ongoing patronage of the city's greatest artists from the 15th century onwards. Their legacy? Well, their private family painting collection is what now makes up the museums of the Uffizi (which is itself the old family office complex) and the Pitti Palace (the old family home)—and that's just the beginning. » more

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How long does Florence take?

Planning your day: Florence would well be worth a week, but you can still fit a lot into just a day or three.

To help you get the most out of your limited time in the Cradle of the Renaissance, here are some perfect itineraries, whether you have one, two, or three days to spend in Florence.

» Florence itineraries

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