The immortal treasures of the renaissance at the Uffizi
The Uffizi Gallery is one of the oldest public museums in the western world (28 years previous to the Louvre, just to mention), as it opened to the public in 1765.
It had formerly been a private collection, belonging, easy to guess, to the Medici.
The name itself, ‘Uffizi’, means simply ‘offices’, as the original destination, at the times of Cosimo I , was to gather together all main Florence offices and magistracies.
The architect, Giorgio Vasari, designed a peculiar U shape, using a severe grey stone called ‘pietra serena’.
The idea of using the Uffizi as an art gallery as well started to develop in 1574, when Francesco I, Cosimo’s son (Bianca Cappello’s husband) transformed the second floor into a place where one could ‘walk surrounded by paintings, statues and other valuable things’.
Architect Buontalenti was to build an octagonal ‘Tribune’ for outstanding art objects, beautifully encrusted in mother-of-pearl and vibrant with red and gold.
Archival documents prove that laboratories of art and alchemy were placed side by side by the Grand Dukes Francesco I and Ferdinando I de’ Medici (1587–1609) to facilitate collaboration between artists and scientists.
Goldsmiths, jewelers, cabinetmakers, sculptors, painters, and cutters of semi-precious stones exchanged theoretical and technical skills with the alchemists who worked in the Uffizi.
As the art collected or commissioned by the Medici grew, more and more rooms of the Uffizi were involved.
Vasari, who was not only the architect but also the author of Lives of the Artists ( 1550 and 1568), states that Leonardo and Michelangelo used to gather here “for beauty, for work and for recreation.”
Anna Maria Luisa, the last of the Medici, an illuminated woman, bequeathed the collection to the Lorraine in 1737, signing the famous ‘patto di famiglia’, obtaining that none of the artifacts could be taken out of Florence.
The gallery had been open to visitors by request since the sixteenth century, and, as we have already mentioned, it was officially opened to the public in 1765, under Duke Peter Leopold of Lorraine.
While today the collection consists essentially of paintings and the gallery of statues, in the original conception art collections coexisted with naturalist specimens, scientific instruments and an armoury.
Peter Leopold transferred the scientific collections to other museums.
At the heart of the Gallery is the Buontalenti’s Tribune: reminiscent of the Tower of the Winds in Athens, it symbolizes cosmic order.
There’s a famous and much enjoyable painting by the German-British artist Johann Zoffany (1772-1778) depicting his own personal version of the Tribune stuffed with paintings and statues (many of which were never part of the collection!) and literally ‘invaded’ by more than twenty British ‘grand tourists’ absorbed in admiration of the overwhelming (if disorderly) amount of absolute masterpieces.
Now, you are the 21st century visitor of the Uffizi! There are, of course, pros and cons…you have certainly lesser time that the travelers of the Grand Tour, and, above all, you are much more numerous!
On the other hand, the Gallery is now much better illuminated, more orderly, allowing you a chronological approach that will help a better understanding and appreciation.
At home then, before and/or after you visit, you can enjoy a virtual tour of the museum on your laptop or tablet !
Visiting the Uffizi with an experienced local guide will first of all help to make the most of your time, following the fundamental steps in the evolution of that magic period in human history called the Renaissance.
Your guide will concentrate on some of those masterpieces that have a specific importance either because there are by now part of our collective imagination ( such as ‘The Birth of Venus’ and ‘The Spring’ by Sandro Botticelli, and their symbolical meanings) or because they play a special role in the development of art history ( such as the works by Giotto and Cimabue, precursors of the Renaissance more than one century in advance, or those by Masaccio and Piero Della Francesca who invented focused perspective).
Other paintings will be selected as they help to envision the world as it was in those days, giving huge insight on details, such as fashion or weapons or landscapes (I am thinking about Paolo Uccello’s ‘Battle of San Romano, or the delightful ‘Adoration of the Magi’ by Gentile da Fabriano).
Not to say about the portraits in the collection! Such as Andrea del Castagno’s portrait of Dante Alighieri, the portraits of the Duke and the Duchess of Urbino py PIero della Francesca, Raffaello’s portraits of the two Popes Julius II and Leo X, Bronzino’s portrait of Eleonora di Toledo and of the other Medici family members.
These portraits will be the occasion for talking about Florentine history as well.
Dulcis in fundo, a superb collection of non-Florentine art, starring absolute master works such as Titian’s ‘Flora’ and the ‘Venus of Urbino’, or Rembrandt’s self portrait, Caravaggio’s ‘Bacchus’.
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