A Boring Old Wall? Look Closer.

In Florence, The Art of Travel, 10. The Art of Place by Dani Kimball1 Comment

The art in Florence is, of course, abundant. However, I find that by being surrounded by timeless works of art, world-famous portraits, and renowned statues has allowed me to practically stop seeing them all together. I’ve become numb to what would otherwise be a once in a lifetime chance to view the masterpieces around me. Around every Florence street corner there is a historic building, statue, or artwork, whether it be in a museum or a plaza. There is always something to see, something that makes the tourists whip out their cameras as they “ooh” and “aah”.

I’ve slowly become immune to the glory of the Duomo, the history of the Ponte Vecchio, and the palace of the Medici’s. However, the piece of art that does entrance me is one hardly anyone knows about. This piece exists in a public space yet in secret. There’s no plaque underneath it. There’s no stop marked for it on a city tour map. It simply just exists. It isn’t special to those who walk past because few even know what to look for.

It’s hard to spot while you walk because odds are you’re too busy ogling at the Palazzo Vecchio or running to grab a spot in the Uffizi Gallery line. But, it’s there.

On the southern side of the front wall of the Palazzo Vecchio, there’s a face. That’s it. It’s a man’s profile. However, this carving was made by none other than the great master, Michelangelo. This carving is one of Michelangelo’s many graffitis that exist around the city. There are many origin stories about this face, but the one I’ve heard is this: Michelangelo was caught with some friends doing graffiti by a policeman (or the era equivalent). Due to a dare from his friends, Michelangelo faced his a back the wall and carved the face as the policeman berated him. The policeman was none the wiser to Michelangelo creating graffiti as he scolded him for doing the very act. Other stories “say that the artist was regularly caught in conversation with a notorious bore and one day carved the chatty man’s likeness into the wall simply to pass the time. Still another version of the story states that Michelangelo witnessed an execution in the square and the face is that of the man on death row”.

Closeup of “graffiti”

When my parents came to visit me, we didn’t go to the Uffizi. We went to see the face. My family and I pushed through the Palazzo and Uffizi crowds and arrived at the corner of the stone wall. There was a tour group by us, but they weren’t looking at, or much less even aware, of the carving. They were all simply taking a break while the guide adjusted her microphone. We shuffled behind the group and got up close to the wall. My dad even asked, “Where is it?”, before we spied it in the lower-right hand corner. Once spotted, we all shrieked from excitement. My mom yelled, “Oh wow. Get a picture!”, while my dad exclaimed, “How cool!”. The tour group had no clue what we were talking about or what we were looking at. To them we must’ve looked crazy. But we were so entranced by this secret masterpiece. I traced the outline with my fingers.

This piece, while subtle, is magical. It exists humbly on it’s own. No attention is called to it. No one stops unless they know what to look for. But there on a stone wall in Florence is a carving by Michelangelo. How many other cities can say the same?

This small carving envelops the essence Florence. Yes, there are incredible museums here, with priceless pieces exhibited, which can be viewed for a meer $60 ticket… or you can just walk the streets. I was able to touch the same carving that Michelangelo touched centuries ago. I know this isn’t the only secret masterpiece that exists on the streets of Florence. I’ve probably walked by a dozen during my time here. This city doesn’t just hold art. Florence was, is, and forever will be a canvas.

(Image: Michelangelo's Graffiti ; Source: Danielle Kimball)


  1. Hi Danielle,
    I can really relate to this post, living in a city of renowned art and history and yet being jaded to all of it after a few months. Sometimes, showing a person new to your city around can really put everything into perspective and show how lucky we are. I love how you placed the line that Florence itself is a canvas, because its true you can feel this history and awe just walking around without actually paying a tour guide to explain something’s poignance. I have been making a point to seek out these obscure “landmarks” as opposed to viewing the more touristy spots when I visit a new city, so thank you for sharing this!

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