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Knock On Wood

The way inside Florence's greatest buildings and humblest homes begins with a rap of a centuries-old doorknocker.

In Florence, sculpture can be not only seen, but also felt, even heard. Michelangelo’s marble David, Donatello’s bronze version of the biblical boy, and Cellini’s Perseus are among the great sculptural masterpieces to be admired from a distance, but there are thousands of miniature works of art that any one of us can experience in our own hands.

Throughout the city, on great wooden doors, some centuries old, hang cast-bronze doorknockers, an omnipresent detail of Florence’s history since medieval times. These expertly rendered works of hardware, which assume such forms as lions’ manes, cherubim, vines and blossoming flowers, grotesques, hands and faces, are a novel way to experience the city.

While the more common sites of Brunelleschi’s great red dome and the cobblestoned medieval Ponte Vecchio remain magical and emblematic experiences of Florence, it is these diminutive cast details and the very doors on which they are mounted that form yet another identity for the city. MILIEU’s longtime contributing editor and photographer Peter Vitale was in Florence on a recent shoot when he began to see something at eyelevel that might elude some people “I love the variety of door knockers you find everywhere there,” he says. “Their individuality identifies one homeowner from the next.”

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This story appeared in the Summer 2018 issue of MILIEU.