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Florence: A Portrait by Michael Levey

About.com Rating 5 Star Rating


The Bottom Line

Michael Levey's sumptuous reappraisal of Florence blends history, art and culture; the resulting journey is illuminating and evocative, treating the city as a person and providing a true portrait. Even the most jaded Florentines or well-read experts will re-evaluate the city after this.
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  • Well-balanced approach.
  • Beautiful illustration.
  • Valuable content.


  • Not for those after a basic textbook.


  • 298 pages, including index.
  • 24 colour plates and many black and white photographs.
  • Published by Pimlico, ISBN: 0712673105.

Guide Review - Florence: A Portrait by Michael Levey

The internet may have reduced the importance of how a book looks and feels - by the time one arrives through your letterbox you already own it - but Florence does its titular city proud: glossy, well cut and wide pages with glorious colour plates and many black and white photographs. Fortunately for such a proud volume the text is equally good, covering the history of Florence from the start of the Renaissance to the end of the nineteenth century with verve and passion. This is a history of Florence itself, its buildings, art and culture; people are involved, but they are not central. Themes and questions of cultural identity are also discussed, including republicanism and humanism, but it is the city itself, the evolving physical and visual spaces, which dominate.

Indeed, Levey's subtitle - A Portrait - is a perfect reflection: his smooth style compliments his descriptions of Florentine art and the well-chosen illustrations, creating an experience that is a feast for both the visual and analytical parts of the mind. Equally, Florence is a portrait rather than a landscape because Levey often treats the city as a person, referring to it as a living entity and using strong personification. Readers wanting a political narrative or an economic examination will be disappointed, but they are well served by other books and articles. Instead, Levey's approach is refreshing and, although too freeform in places for some tastes, will reward anyone with an interest in Florence.

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