If you are going to Florence then I am sure that the Uffizi Gallery is on your agenda. It houses some of the world’s most important works of art. It can be overwhelming with so many incredible works of art on display but I have made it easy with this quick guide on what to see at the Uffizi Gallery. 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.

 

Uffizi gallery

 

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.

 

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Ponte Vecchio view from the Uffizi

 

What to see at the Uffizi Gallery

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.

 

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Portrait of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino

 

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.

 

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Birth of Venus

 

La Primavera

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.

 

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La Primavera

 

Musical Angel

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.

 

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Musical Angel

 

The Annunciation

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.

 

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The Annunciation

 

Bacchus

By: Caravaggio

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.

 

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Bacchus

 

Madonna of the Goldfinch

By: Raphael

When I found out about 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.

 

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Madonna of the Goldfinch

 

Doni Tondo

By: Michaelangelo

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.

 

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Doni Tondo

 

The Tribuna

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.

 

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Tribuna Dome

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.

 

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Painted ceiling panel

 

Compiling this brief guide on what to see at the Uffizi  Gallery made me look at the works I enjoyed seeing more carefully. When you walk through a gallery this big I find that things tend to blur a little.  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 gallery and like most significant museums one visit is never enough.

Florence is also known as the Cradle of Renaissance which is reflected in many of the stunning buildings, squares and monuments in the city. My guide to the main attractions will show you a little bit more of what Florence has to offer to help you plan your stay in this beautiful city.

More travel inspiration: Other Italian Cities

 

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21 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for not just introducing me to the museum, but also to some famous works of arts…this certainly inspires me to plan a trip to Florence next time I am in Italy! Also, it’s great to know about the history of the building – something that we often don’t know about the buildings which house history 🙂

    • That’s so true. There is so much history around and so many interesting stories. I am so glad you enjoyed the art. I know it’s not everybody’s cup of tea but I think often knowing the story behind it makes it that much more appealing.

  2. I had no idea that the buildings now home to the Uffizi Gallery were formerly judiciary offices, though now you point out the translation of Uffizi, that makes so much sense! And that top floor private art gallery morphed into what we have today. My difficulty with galleries is always in trying to create a plan of attack, since to see everything is both too ambitious and too overwhelming. I love your suggestions of pieces to seek out.

    • Thank Kavita. I know exactly what you mean. I always feel like I have had a sensory overload and can’t really appreciate everything I have seen at the time. It’s only afterwards that it sinks in just how amazing the experience was.

  3. I love how much history the building has, especially since it was built by the Medici family. The story of the Madonna of the Goldfinch is really neat. Looking at the picture of it, I would never have known that it had shattered into 17 pieces. The frame on the Doni Tondo is impressive. The Tribuna is an impressive dome, I bet it is marvelous to see in person.

    • I just love the fact that they stuck the painting back together. I have to wonder if I would have done the same thing or just put it in the bin. The works up close have such detail and depth of colour that photos cannot capture.They are stunning!

  4. Wow, I so regret that I didn’t visit this museum when I had the opportunity (during that one brief time I passed through town). So many of the great ones there. I was a painting major (long ago) and this post really brings back a lot of should have, would have, could haves from my life. It isn’t easy to write about works of art, but you’ve done an excellent job here. Thank you.

    • Thank you so much! This was just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many other fabulous works to see. Maybe one day you will get the Florence to see them for yourself. 🙂

  5. One could spend days at Uffizi Gallery. There is so much to see and an incredible amount of history. We spent the better part of a day when we visited the museum a few years ago. Next time, I will certainly take your recommendation to get a guide. It’s hard pulling together the highlights and you did a great job doing that. Great article and one of the best museums out there!

    • The highlights package is always a tough decision for me to make so I am glad that you enjoyed the works that I included. I relate to spending a lot of time there as there is so much that is amazing to see. I also found the Florentine embroidery fascinating. The work is so intricate it is incredible to think that it was all done by hand.

  6. I have been to Florence before but I had no idea that the Uffizi Gallery is the most visited museum in Italy! Good point in making a reservation beforehand!

  7. I was never an art-person. Everything changed when I visited Vienna last autumn. I had visited more galleries in the few days than I had ever in my whole life prior to that. I should very much love to visit the Uffizi gallery. I can see from your photos that it is like no other. Each one of the painters are a legend.

    • Vienna has some stunning art. I am sure that you saw a lot of Klimt when you were there. I am not sure why everyone raves about The Kiss but maybe there’s more to it than meets the eye. I have no doubt that if you visit Florence you will now add the Ufizzi to your list. 🙂

  8. The Uffizi Gallery is actually the place which changed my “I don’t like museums” mindset as an 18 year old – we visited Florence on a school art trip, and it was a really incredible and fascinating place. Botticelli’s birth of Venus was a highlight 🙂

  9. Secret passages, Medici history and Renaissance art – those are three things to totally tempt a history buff. I adored the Uffizi particularly for the Botticelli’s and Caravaggio’s. The lineup was horrendous but we got in quickly by buying a tour from a vendor outside. Surprisingly it wasn’t a bad tour. Thanks for bringing back the memories … for me and 10,000 visitors a day!

    • Sometimes you can get lucky buying tickets for a tour from a vendor. We had a similar experience at the Colosseum and were able to skip the queue. I am so glad that you enjoyed seeing these masterpieces again. There is a timeless beauty to them.

  10. The Uffizi is, to this day 11 years after I visited it, my favorite art museum of all time. You have a beautiful list of pieces of art to be sure to see! La Primavera is my favorite painting as well. It’s just so gorgeous.

    • That’s the great thing about art. It talks to everyone in a different way and we all have our favourites. I am so pleased that you enjoyed my list and that the post brought back happy memories for you. 11 years….. I think another visit is due 🙂

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