We’re continuing our Italian Adventures today with a tour of the Highlights of The Uffizi Museum in Florence.
Hands down, The Uffizi is one of the premier museums in the world and a destination museum for art lovers. I dreamed of visiing the museum since first learning about it in Middle School and that dream became a reality in January 2023.
It could take an entire week to tour all the treasures of The Uffizi, so I apologize in advance for missing any major highlights. Today we’re focusing on key themes and must see images, but that does not mean this is everything you should see or that will interest you if you visit the museum in person.
- Pro Tip: As a Museum Explorer and Art Historian (I teach art courses on Art Expeditions)…I recommend if you cannot travel around the world to reach a museum you can still enjoy the museum’s treasures online via their digital collections and audio guides. Don’t feel constrained to forgo learning about a museum and it’s treasures just because you can’t get there in person.
- You can access The Uffizi Collection and free resources online HERE
Background on The Uffizi:
The Uffizi Museum is housed in what was once ‘the offices’ of the Florentine government and Medici offices of power. We won’t get to deep into the history of The Medici today, but here is an overview of the foundations of The Medici and The Uffizi
- The Medici began a major banking empire in Florence that stretched across Europe – they had banks as far away as Bruges in Belgium. Their banking system allowed for lines of credit when traveling. They also financed projects for the papacy and others.
- Banking at the time was considered a ‘sin’ because usury is outlawed in Exodus 22. That being said, the conept behind loans is important and the idea of usury is now tied more to unethical lending and going after the poor (high interest loans, etc…)
- Because of this, The Medici, who were faithful started donating their money to found and build churches and patronize the arts of Florence.
- The founder of the family bank and fortune was Giovanni di’Bicci de Medici…His son Cosimo the Elder (il Vecchio) was respected in Florence. Il Vecchio (the older Cosimo) used his power through Republican channels – by creating alliances and working in the background. At the end of the day he was commited to the idea of Florence as a Republic. Il Vecchio was faithful and helped fund San Marco Convent in Florence and commissioned the amazing Fra Angelico paintings there.
- His grandson, Lorenzo the Magnificent continued the investment in the arts. Unfortunately Lorenzo and his brother were attacked during Easter Mass during something known as The Pazzi Conspiracy. Lorenzo survived, but his brother Giuliano did not. This started a shift in Medici power. They were more guarded after the attack.
- The Medici were briefly exiled (after Lorenzo’s death) and when they returned they became official leaders ‘Dukes’
- They moved their operation to the Palazzo Pitti across the Arno River.
- This is important because it meant the main seat of government (Palazzo Vecchio) and the Palazzo Pitti were separated by a river.
- So it was decided that The Medici would build government offices beside the Palazzo Vecchio (Vecchio means old in Italian) and then connect their palace on the other side of the Arno to The Uffizi (offices)
- They built this passageway from The Uffizi to The Palazzo Pitti over the Ponte Vecchio.
- The Ponte Vecchio is a Medieval Bridge (the old bridge) – up to that point the bridge had butcher shops on the bridge because they could then dump their waste in the river (this was before modern drinking technology).
- The Medici did not like the smell as they crossed the secret passageway over the bridge so they banned the butchers on Ponte Vecchio and ordered Gold to be sold instead – and it still is the gold hub of Florence today.
The Uffizi was originally commissioned on a design by painter, architect and writer Giorgio Vasari (who wrote a comprehensive history of art in Florence to that time) in 1560 and it was completed by another famed painter-architect (and inventor) Buontalenti.
In the 1580s, Grand Duke Francesco I decided to move a majority of the family’s collections of art to the second floor of the ‘offices.’ Thus starting the initial beginnings of The Uffizi.
- The Medici were the largest collectors of art in Italy and possibly the world – they funded Donatello’s David to Michelangelo works to Botticelli and beyond. They also collected ancient artworks from Rome, Greece and beyond, which are in The Uffizi today
When the last of The Medici realized the dynasty was dying out and would be ceded to an Austrian relation, Maria Luisa (Medici) left all The Medici art and palaces to Florence to ensure that they would forever be tied to the city. Maria Luisa continues to be loved in Florence for this deed. Read more here.
The Uffizi was officially opened to the public in 1765 and became a museum in 1865.
- The Palazzo Pitti – still connected by the passageway over The Ponte Vecchio in many ways is an extension of The Uffizi Collection and also worth visiting. You can purchase tickets for both sites on the Uffizi website.
Overview of The Art:
The Uffizi has the best collection of Renaissance art in one building in the world. The reason is because thanks to Maria Luisa, this artwork remained together in one collection in the city of Florence. Most of the Renaissance works are by Tuscan painters, but the collection also features masterworks by Venetian artists like Titian and Baroque masters like Caravaggio. They also have a good Northern European selection of art.
While I’ll be focusing on ‘The Highlights’ – truly every work in this museum is AMAZING. The trick is to scale your time time so you don’t get overwhelmed. It might be helpful to break up the visit over two days. Or…
Book a guided art history tour guide (I recommend using Viator because I’ve had luck with them on finding quality tours).
A tour guide will be able to give you highlights, a depth of history and keep you engaged.
Must see at the uffizi
Let’s start with Giotto and Duccio…
Giotto and Duccio border the edge of The Medieval World and Renaissance. In my opinion both should be categorized as Early Renaissance because they had an anticipation of perspective in painting before it was firmly established by Brunelleshi and Masachio (you can read more about Masachio here).
I place these together because they are from the same era and both are painting a theme known as The Maestra – or Seat of Wisdom – It is a spiritual interpretation of Mary as the Mother of God sitting on the Seat of Wisdom… a popular them in Medieval and Renaissance art.
Duccio’s work is called The Ruccellai Madonna and is a must see:
Giotto, who we learned about in our visit to The Scrovegni Chapel, painted this gorgeous Maesta which is hard to miss as you enter the gallery. It is known as the Ognissanti Madonna and used to be in the Ognissanti Church in Florence. See how you feel as though there is movement in the scene and a depth in the painting…this was painted over 100 years before Masacchio first painted with linear perspective.
Speaking of Masacchio…his work with Masolino is a great painting to learn about linear perspective and the foundations of Renaissance painting
Sandro Botticelli –
Botticelli is one of my favorite artists because of his use of vibrant color, graceful lines and a deep symbolism that catapulted Renaissance art to new heights in his day. While his ‘Venus’ is the most famous of his works at The Uffizi given its signifcance as one of the first mythological paintings since antiquity, it is not my favorite at The Uffizi (don’t get me wrong I love them all!) – I love Botticelli’s religious art because it is so detailed. I also enjoy his famous Primavera, which has so many unique elements in style it blows you away.
Check out the Sandro Botticelli works online.
Verrochio + Leonardo Da Vinci:
One of the most iconic works at The Uffizi is a painting of The Baptism of Jesus by master painter and sculptor Verrochio and his apprentice – Leonardo Da Vinci
It is said that Leonardo’s angel was so good in the image that Verrochio gave up painting to focus on sculptor so Leonardo could shine.
Nearby you’ll find Leonardo Da Vinci’s Annunciation:
Raphael is one of my favorite artists given his mastery of color. He is known for his Madonna paintings and The Uffizi’s Madonna of The Goldfinch is a must see. In Christian art, a goldfinch symbolizes resurrection and rebirth. Learn more here.
The Michelangelo is so fully of color and sweeping movement it is hard to take your eyes off it. You feel as though you are in the scene. Michelangelo always saw himself as a sculptor first, but his paintings are pure genius.
The Uffizi also includes great works by
Titian (Venetian artist)
Lucas Cranach (German)’s Adam and Eve
Perhaps the scariest and masterful works is Caravaggio’s Medusa:
This is only a handful of the masterpieces in this amazing museum. I hope to host a class on Masterpieces of The Uffizi on Art Expeditions in June 2023…
- Art Expeditions is our sister site that is focused on Art History and Education
Next time on American Nomad we’ll be leaving Florence to explore the AMAZING Tuscan countryside and towns like Pisa, Sienna and more.
Don’t forget to subscribe for updated posts