Last Tuesday we dedicated a whole morning to art and culture, one offered by the city of Florence and its Uffizi Museum!
The Uffizi Gallery, together with the Vatican Museums in Rome, is among the most visited museums in the world so we decided to take a close look at its treasures.
A very good guide accompanied us in this splendid journey through the Uffizi for a 3 hour tour (following a longer than usual itinerary, since normally most tours last about an 1 hour and a half) telling us about both the history of the museum as well as interesting tidbits of information, such as: did you know the area in which the Uffizi are located used to be a harbor back in Roman times? And that up until the Uffizi were built, the area was considered one of the most disreputable neighborhoods in Florence? We didn’t! :)
She gave us a brief rundown of the history of the Medici family, the most important dynasty in Florence and pretty important to begin to understand most of what is Florence and its history.
Thanks to the Medici family, the city can boast one of the largest cultural and artistic heritages in the world.
Book your Guided Tour of the Uffizi Gallery and explore the museum accompanied by an art history expert!
The beginning of the tour:
The Last of the Medici and the First Floor
Our path started at the ground floor when our guide pointed out the portrait of Anna Maria dei Medici hung in the middle of the wall as you’re about to enter the museum (near the cloakroom).
Anna Maria is important for the history of the museum and city since, as the last surviving member of the Medici family, she left everything to the Lorraine family with a special stipulation: the Lorraines could not take away from Florence any of the art collections the Medici had amassed, defining these as State property to be left to the enjoyment of the public, including foreign visitors to the city. We therefore have her to thank for all of the precious artworks preserved in Florence, which surely contribute to it being considered the second travel destination in the world.
Climbing the first flight of stairs, we stop at a wooden door. Our guide says that his door, designed by Buontalenti, is the last of what’s left of the Medicean theater created here by request of Francesco I dei Medici (1541-1587), who loved attending performances. Today, the only remaining pieces of the theater are the door and the wooden beams of the theater’s ceiling, which can be still be seen in the Botticelli rooms.
Second Floor: Vestibule and Eastern Corridor
Continuing on to the second floor, we arrive at the Lorraine Atrium which precedes the entrance into the the main corridor and museum rooms. Here the marble busts set out side by side include members of the Medici and Lorraine family, from Francesco I to Gian Gastone, welcoming you to the museum!
Among these is the bust of Vittoria della Rovere, the last member of the Della Rovere dynasty from Urbino, daughter of Federico Ubaldo della Rovere and Claudia dei Medici and married to Ferdinando II de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. The guide focused our attention on the woman because she is particularly important for many art pieces in the museum, bringing to Florence artworks collected by her extinct family as dowry.
From the vestibule, you then pass by the ticket collector and enter into the Eastern Corridor, whose ceiling is richly decorated in splendid grotesque , painted between 1579 and 1581.
Second Floor: the Main Rooms
From this corridor, we can access the first rooms of the museum. The rooms are set out in chronological order, from ancient works to the newest and divided by art period and artist.
Room 2 is dedicated to Giotto and to art of the thirteenth century. Here, you can admire one of his most famous artworks, the Ognissanti Madonna. With the help of our guide, we were able to see the differences among this one and the other two altarpieces found in the same room, one by Cimabue and the other by Duccio di Buoninsegna. The main innovation introduced by Giotto and which you can see compared to the other two is the representation of the Virgin Mary as a real woman, with her womanly shape outlined under her mantle.
While Giotto was innovating his Madonna, Dante Aligheri was also writing his Divine Comedy in the vulgar language. Both artists were seeking a new language that the general populace would understand, making each of their works reach a broader audience.
Within Rooms 5-6 dedicated to the painters of the International Gothic style, we stopped to admire Gentile da Fabriano’s Adoration of the Magi (1423). The guide explained that the painting was commissioned by the Strozzi family, important cloth merchants of that time, and in a way was also a “promotional” tool, an ad for their products: notice that all of the important figures in the painting are showing off the best textiles, from silks and brocades, that the family traded in Florence at that time.
Room 7 hosts the artworks of the early Renaissance, and here you will find the Madonna and Child with St. Anne by Masaccio, the first painter who represented Jesus completely naked. It was the start of Humanism, where the beauty of the human being no longer something to hide but to be exalted for its perfection.
In Room 8 we love on to admire Filippo Lippi’s splendid Madonna and Child with Two Angels (from around 1465). The Madonna is beautiful, the model being his own muse, Lucrezia Buti. As a friar who fell in love with her, he left the order causing quite a scandal at that time! They were forced to flee the city and go into exile, eventually returning to Florence with the help of the Medicis. In the same room, do not miss the Portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino (from around 1472) by Piero della Francesca, Tuscan painter from Arezzo. These paintings belong to the Uffizi collection precisely because Vittoria della Rovere brought them from her family from Urbino.
The guide introduced us to the fantastic world of Botticelli in Rooms 10-14 (remember they were part of the Medicean theater? You can still see the original wooden ceiling beams.) The beauty of the two main masterpieces by Botticelli, the Birth of Venus and The Primavera will leave you speechless.
The paintings, both commissioned by private individuals (among them Lorenzo il Magnifico), symbolize the triumph and return of pagan beauty to Florence. For this reason, they met the disapproval of the politician and monk Girolamo Savonarola. Botticelli, who became a follower of the monk, became remorseful of many of his pagan works and destroyed them - fortunately not these ones!
Leonardo da Vinci
In Room 15, dedicated to Leonardo da Vinci, the beautiful Annunciation stands out on the left wall. It is said that the face of the angel looks a lot like the young Leonardo, who was really handsome as a youth.
To the right, we find another important painting, The Baptism of Christ, by Leonardo’s teacher, Verrocchio. This is considered to be the first painting where Da Vinci left his mark. The story goes that Verrocchio left Florence for a few days and ordered Leonardo to finish one of the two angels in the painting (the one with his back to the viewer, looking over his shoulder). When the master came back and saw the angel painted by Leonardo, he exclaimed that he had nothing more to teach to his student, as his skill was greater than the teacher’s. Soon after that, Da Vinci left Verrocchio’s workshop to work on his own commissions.
The angel’s expression is definitely different from those of the other figures in the painting, its unusual gentleness gives us a glimpse of Leonardo’s genius.
Michelangelo and Titian
Within Room 25 you will admire the splendid Doni Tondo by Michelangelo while in Room 28 stop to admire the Venus of Urbino (1538) by Titian. Compare the Venus with the one by Botticelli: while Botticelli drew a goddess, Titian portrayed a very sensual, real woman. Titian shows signs of anticipating Impressionism, using different techniques from his contemporaries and color like an Impressionist.
Corridor of Statues and the Terrace over the Loggia dei Lanzi
While we’re finished with the main rooms on the second floor, you arrive to the Western Corridor known as the Corridor of Statues with its collection of Roman and Greek statues collected by the Medici family in Rome. Among the most important, is the Venus located in the Tribune (off the Eastern Corridor) while at the end of the corridor by the caffe there is the original marble roman Porcellino used as inspiration by Tacca to make the bronze one in the Loggia del Mercato Nuovo, near the Old Bridge.
The view you can enjoy from the corridors of the gallery is fantastic, both toward Palazzo Vecchio but especially the one which overlooks the Arno and Ponte Vecchio. Take a few minutes to savor a coffee on the terrace over the Loggia dei Lanzi while enjoying a wonderful view dominated by the impressive Palazzo Vecchio.
First Floor: Blue and Red Rooms, Caravaggio
From the cafeteria you head back down to the first floor using the new stairway designed by architect Natalini (part of the “New Uffizi” project) and we quickly visited the new rooms that are part of the new project. The Blue rooms are dedicated to foreign painters from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries while the Red ones are dedicated to Tuscan masters such as Andrea del Sarto, il Bronzino and Raffaello, where you will find the Madonna of the Goldfinch which used to be in the rooms 26-27 before.
At this point, as we’ve finished with the main museum, we would expect an exit... but as the Uffizi is currently undergoing many changes, we find ourselves in the temporary exhibition space which currently hosts beautiful works of the Gothic international period. If you have time and energy, enjoy the exhibit - otherwise, once you’ve finished through this area, take a quick look into the Caravaggio rooms where you’ll find both Bacchus and The Medusa as well as other works by Caravaggesque painters.
The Battle of San Romano
The tour is almost finished but not before admiring the recently restored Battle of San Romano by Paolo Uccello. The painting, following restoration, is temporarily being displayed here to highlight its impressive bright colors and the experimental use of perspective. Actually, the Uffizi now only holds the central part of the larger work done by Paolo Uccello: in the 1700s for one reason or another, the two side panels were sold/ended up at the Louvre in Paris and at the National Gallery in London. Copies of these are presented to the side of the restored painting for a complete viewing of the artwork, where you’ll notice the differences with the unrestored works in the other museums.
Get more info about the Uffizi:
If you want to learn more about the museum, the rooms and the artworks visit the website: Uffizi Gallery.
The Uffizi today is a labyrinth in which one can gladly get lost to enjoy all of the treasures within.
The history held within this palace as well as in each painting and statue, makes Florence one of the most beautiful and fascinating cities in the world.
After our visit, we would highly recommend visiting the Uffizi with a guide. An art expert makes discovering the Uffizi a very pleasant journey, bringing the paintings and museum alive with details on who, what and why. There are so many artworks in this museum, without the help of a guide to select the most important one risks not being appreciate any of them or even missing some important masterpieces. Unless you’re an art historian or know a good amount of art and its history, we absolutely advice a tour guide to accompany you on this adventure!