• Michelangelo's David (Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence): The Big Guy himself, the perfect Renaissance nude, masterpiece of sculpture, and symbol of Tuscany itself.
  • Sandro Botticelli's Birth of Venus (Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence): Venus on the half shell. The goddess of love is born from the sea, a beauty drawn in the flowing lines and limpid grace of one of the most elegant masters of the Renaissance.
  • Duccio di Buoninsegna's Maestà (Museo dell'Opera Metropolitana, Siena): The genre-defining painting of the Virgin Mary in majesty, surrounded by saints, was carried through the streets of Siena in triumph when it was unveiled in the early 14th century.
  • Rosso Fiorentino's Deposition (Pinacoteca, Volterra): Mannerism, a style of art inspired by Michelangelo and led by Andrea del Sarto, was the last truly great native Tuscan artistic movement. The prize work of Volterra's picture gallery exhibits all the hallmarks of the school: torsion, narrative tension, hyperreal colors, and the beginnings of what many centuries later would become modern art.
  • Piero della Francesca's Resurrection of Christ (Museo Civico, Sansepolcro): Piero's dead-on geometric perspective and exquisitely modeled figures helped make this haunting work the model for all later depictions of the risen Christ. This is quite possibly the only fresco whose reputation as the "best painting in the world" actually saved it from bombardment during World War II.
  • Lorenzo Ghiberti's Gates of Paradise (Battistero, Florence): In 1401, young Ghiberti won a sculpture competition to craft the doors of Florence's Baptistery. Fifty-one years later, he completed his second and final set, boosting the Gothic language of three dimensions into a Renaissance reality of invented space and narrative line. Art historians consider that 1401 competition to be the founding point of the Renaissance. Michelangelo looked at the doors and simply declared them "so beautiful they would grace the entrance to Paradise."
  • Masaccio's Trinità and the Cappella Brancacci (Santa Maria Novella and Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence): The greatest thing since Giotto. Masaccio not only redefined figure painting with his strongly modeled characters of intense emotion and vital energy but also managed to be the first painter to pinpoint precise mathematical perspective and create the illusion of depth on a flat surface. The world's first perfecter of virtual reality.
  • Giovanni Pisano's Pulpit of St. Andrew (Sant'Andrea, Pistoia): For more than a century, the search for Gothic perfection in stone seemed almost to be a private Pisano family race. Here Giovanni's 1301 sculpted hexagonal pulpit outshines father Nicola, and is the commanding work of the genre, crammed with emotional power and narrative detail.
  • Filippo Lippi's Life of St. John the Baptist (Duomo, Prato): The recent restoration of this dazzling fresco cycle has at last brought the city of Prato some of the recognition (and visitors) it deserves. Lippi's depiction of the Dance of Salome is possibly a portrait of the amorous monk's mistress, Lucrezia Buti, and certainly one of the iconic images of the early Renaissance.
  • Life of St. Francis (Basilica di San Francesco, Assisi): This fresco cycle shocked the painting world out of its Byzantine stupor and thrust it full tilt on the road to the Renaissance. Did Giotto paint it, or was it the work of many artists? Whatever the answer (and we'll probably never know for sure), the frescoes blend realism, classicism, a concept of space and bulk, and pure human emotion in a way that parlayed humanist philosophy into paint.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.