Book Series Studies in Medieval and Early Renaissance Art History, vol. 37

Francesco Bocchi's The Beauties of the City of Florence. A Guidebook of 1591

Thomas Frangenberg, Robert Williams

  • Pages: 282 p.
  • Size:210 x 275 mm
  • Illustrations:130 b/w, 12 col.
  • Language(s):English
  • Publication Year:2006

  • ISBN: 978-1-872501-44-4
  • Hardback
  • Available


The text presented here, Francesco Bocchi's Le Bellezze della città di Fiorenza (The Beauties of the City of Florence), originally published in 1591, is one of the most remarkable of Renaissance writings on art and thus an especially valuable document of the culture within which and for which Renaissance art was made. It is not exactly the first guidebook, nor is it entirely an art guidebook in the modern sense of the word, but it marks an important step in the history of guidebook literature, perhaps the definitive step in the formation of the modern genre. It seeks to direct people's attention to outstanding objects, but also to offer instruction in how to look, what to think, and what to say. Scholars find it useful for purely archaeological reasons, as a record of numerous minor works of art and their locations, for instance, but its deepest source of interest is the lively discursive engagement with art to which it attests, and the passionate and eloquent way in which it makes the case that such engagement is a matter of the greatest urgency and importance. For this reason, the book has much to offer the non-specialist - anyone who visits Florence and gives any thought at all to what it means to look at art - and the desire to reach this kind of reader has been the real motivation behind the preparation of this translation.
Enough of the city remains as Bocchi saw it to permit the book still to be used as a guide, held in the hand as one walks from place to place and read before the objects described. The notes and illustrations provided here are designed to facilitate that process. What Bocchi emphasises and what he ignores will sometimes surprise the modern reader, and what he says about individual works may occasionally prompt bewilderment or disagreement. His values and habits of thought are close enough to ours to seem familiar yet are not exactly our own; his way of looking, of thinking, and of speaking are foreign enough to remind us of the distance that separates us from the Renaissance, of the singularity of historical moments and individual points of view. In reading Bocchi, one begins to understand something of how his contemporaries thought about what they saw; one learns to see the works differently and, as a result, to develop a sharper sense of the presuppositions we bring to our encounters with art, to see our own way of looking and thinking more objectively. This translation is thus an invitation to enter into a dialogue with history; its deeper purpose is to stimulate modern visitors to Florence to objectify their own processes of looking, thinking, and speaking, and in so doing to develop a new degree of self-consciousness, a new, historical perspective on themselves.


Thomas Frangenberg’s main research interests concern European Art and Architecture (1500-1770), Italian Art Theory 1400-1800, the history of linear perspective and its relation to the theory of optics.  He teaches at the University of Leicester.


Robert Williams is a specialist in Italian sixteenth-century aesthetic theory. He is Professor of History of Art and Architecture at the University of California, Santa Barbara.