Florence is known as the Cradle of Renaissance which is reflected in many of the stunning buildings, squares and monuments in the city. You can find out more about them in my guide to the main attractions. Amongst these, it is the famous Uffizi Gallery which houses some of the world’s most important works of art. Obviously, Italian art features prominently, but there are also paintings and sculptures by other artists from around the world. It is the second most visited museum in Italy after the Vatican.
The vast majority of works are from the Renaissance period, but the collections have works from the 12th -17th centuries. Every year more than a million visitors enjoy the museum. That’s in excess of 10 000 a day so it is vital to book your tickets in advance to avoid either wasting time or not being admitted because the quota for the day has been filled. I bought my tickets directly from the gallery website.
History of the Uffizi Gallery
The building that houses the Uffizi Gallery was originally built by Cosimo I de’ Medici, known as Cosimo the Great and first Grand Duke of Tuscany as the offices for the judiciary. Uffizi actually translates as offices. The U shaped building also contained a secret corridor that joined the Pitti Palace and the Uffizi and runs across the top of the Ponte Vecchio. In order to create the space to build the complex a vast number of buildings in the area were demolished.
In 1581, Francesco I de’ Medici, Cosimo’s son and the new Grand Duke of Tuscany set up a private gallery on the top floor. In the centre of this was a beautiful octagonal room called the Tribuna, but more about that later.
As the Medici family became more powerful their wealth grew. Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici, the last of the Medici dynasty, on her death in 1743, left most of the family treasure to the Tuscan state. Sixteen years after her death the museum was opened to the public. Many of the works that are on display are still part of the original Medici collection.
What to see
This is a bit presumptuous of me to make suggestions and is a bit like saying how long is a piece of string but here goes anyway. Everyone is going to like something different, but these are the works that I enjoyed the most. I was happy to wander through the halls alone, but a guided tour will always give you a lot of background information and interesting bits of history along the way.
Portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino
By: Piero della Francesca
This portrait dates from around 1465 and is a good example of early Renaissance art. What is particularly interesting about this work is that the background features a landscape which is rare during this period.
Birth of Venus
By: Sandro Botticelli
I love the works of Botticelli so I thought that I would mention that these can be seen in halls 10 – 14.
This work was commissioned by the Medicis. It is a combination of Classical mythology and Christian beliefs and is a representation of love and spiritual beauty. It has been endlessly analyzed by art historians and while they disagree on a number of things about the painting they generally agree that it is an illustration of a traditional scene from Greek mythology.
By: Sandro Botticelli
This was painted between 1477 and 1482. The Primavera (or the Allegory of Spring) is full of symbolic meanings which are still being debated today. There are hundreds of flowers and the use of beautiful colour in the painting shows great skill.
By: Rosso Fiorentino
I have always loved this painting since I was a child and had no idea that it was in the Uffizi Gallery so you can imagine my surprise when I saw it. It was painted around 1522 and is a fragment of a lost altarpiece that probably depicted the Madonna and Child with Saints. King Francis I also commissioned Fiorentino to paint a fresco at Fontainbleu and this was the beginning of the Italian style of painting in France.
By: Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo’s works are often characterised by bringing nature into his work in order to make the understanding of a religious concept easier. This is his first work and he was just 20 years old when it was painted. The style of the painting follows tradition with the angel on the left, the Virgin on the right and a lectern in the middle.
Caravaggio’s real name was Michelangelo Merisi. His style of painting was quite revolutionary at the time. He was influenced by the Venetian and Lombardy style. He learnt the use of colour from the Venetians and realism from Lombardy. This is quite clearly defined in the painting. This work was painted in 1596-1597.
Madonna of the Goldfinch
When I found out the history of this painting I was stunned. The original owner’s house collapsed in 1547 and the painting was shattered into 17 pieces. The work was only 41 years old. It was nailed together and the cracks were painted over numerous times during the years that followed. Five centuries later all the colour had disappeared and it was a grimy, dusty brown. It took 10 years of microscopic restoration to return it to its former glory with vibrant reds, royal blues and gold. Seeing it was a privilege and I just had to include it in my selection of Uffizi Gallery favourites.
The Doni Tondo is also called The Holy Family and is the only finished panel painting of Michaelangelo’s to survive. It is still in its original frame. It is thought that the painting was commissioned by Agnolo Doni to commemorate his marriage. The tondo refers to the round frame which is characteristic of the Renaissance period.
Francesco de Medici wanted a special room inside the Uffizi to display his most precious treasures and so the Tribuna was built and complete in 1584. Apart from the art, furniture and trinkets on display, the room itself is a work of art. The walls are draped with red velvet and the dome is decorated with thousands of shells, marble and precious stones. It is exquisite and although it is not brightly lit you can see how the light reflects off the dome giving is an ethereal dimension.
Looking back at my visit to the Uffizi I am still in awe of the outstanding collection of works of art. Writing this post has given me a lot of pleasure because I now have had the time to explore the stories behind my favourite works.
I always find visiting a museum of the stature of the Uffizi somewhat overwhelming when I am there. It is an assault on the senses to be surrounded by so many significant works There are also hundreds of sculptures on display that I merely glanced at. Over and above that the interior demands attention with its magnificent painted ceilings. If you like art you could happily lose yourself in the Uffizi and like most significant museums one visit is never enough.
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