This Wonderful Little Place: Florence

Since his student days KIERAN O’BOYLE, head of BONHAMS, IRELAND, has been drawn to FLORENCE where he discovered Cantinetta Antinori …



For the last 20 years, Florence has been like a long distance friend of mine; familiar yet exotic, and always a pleasure to see. I first visited this magnificent Renaissance city in 1997, during my first year in college. I had a typical student experience and ended up working in the San Lorenzo market selling leather jackets and handbags to tourists, scraping together enough lire to have a good time, while meeting people from all walks of life. The backdrop to this summer job was the city’s architecture, sculptures and large piazzas. The history of art books I had been reading in UCD were vividly brought to life; I was in awe and it captured a piece of me.

Since then, I’ve returned often and was fortunate to have an extended sojourn when I studied portrait painting in oils at The Florence Academy of Art in 2008. The academy teaches classical methods of painting in the realist tradition. Visiting the studio every day while connecting with the methods of Old Masters in those surroundings will always be a treasured experience. Nowadays, I only have time to fingerpaint with my daughter, Emily, and son, Oisín.



Because so much of Florence is pedestrianised, it’s the perfect size to enjoy on foot. I remember ambling through narrow, cobblestone streets and looking up at apartments where open windows revealed original frescoes on the ceilings. A 20-minute walk from the Ponte Vecchio, past the Pitti Palace, finds you out in the hilly, Tuscan countryside, away from the bustle. My preferred sanctuary is the Boboli Gardens – they are vast – offering great views of the city and plenty of spots to relax in the shade, on a warm summer’s day.



It might seem odd to say about such a beautiful city, but some of my best memories of it are in the dark! The prominent buildings and monuments are lit up at night, adding a sense of drama. My favourite trip was with my wife when we were newlyweds. We loved strolling by the Arno in the evenings, crossing the Ponte Vecchio, getting lost in the network of narrow streets, and happening upon typically understated, yet exceptional, restaurants that never failed to serve delicious food. Or the city’s enoteche – wine bars – serving tasting platters of cheese, salami and cold cuts. Traditionally, Florentine cuisine is defined by its quality ingredients and simple execution. A particularly memorable find was when we wandered off Piazza Santa Maria Novella and came across Cantinetta Antinori (Piazza Antinori 3, 50123), a small intimate restaurant, in an historic 14th-century setting. We ordered everything the waiter recommended and it did not disappoint. The food was amazing, complemented by a wine list that reflects that Antinori family’s prowess. They have been making wine for over 600 years.

Bonhams’ jewellery experts will be in Belfast on March 16, providing complimentary valuations.

This article appeared in a previous issue, for more features like this don’t miss our next issue, out Thursday April 6.

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