The Uffizi Gallery

 

There is no collection in the world that can boast such an exclusive selection of masterpieces as the Uffizi Gallery. The museum offers an exposition area of 8,000 square meters and 45 rooms, hosts an immense artistic patrimony comprised of thousands of paintings from the Middle Ages to Modern, a huge number of sculptures, miniatures and wall hangings. A million and a half visitors each year make the Uffizi one of the principal tourist destinations in the world. Among its records is the fact of its being open to the public since 1591, when its rooms were opened to whoever asked to see them – and thus can be considered the oldest museum in the world.

The story of this extraordinary collection ranges over four centuries. Ever since its nucleus was created, the gallery is a testimonial to the dedicated patronage not only of the Medicis but of those who governed Florence over the years and of a large number of illustrious Florentine families. In the Florence of yore, art was considered the most remarkable form of social prestige, and it is thanks to the open and illuminated minds of rich bankers, merchants and lords, that we can admire masterpieces today like Michelangelo’s Tondo Doni or the Madonna del Cardellino by Raphael in the Uffizi’s rooms.

The Gallery is located in the building ordered during the middle of the 1500s by Cosimo I de’ Medici and is one of the most significant chapters of a series of important urban architectural transformations that made Florence into a rich and powerful monarchy. The museum owes its name to its ancient function: in fact, the Uffizi were born to house the uffici or “offices” of the thirteen Florentine tribunals that regulated the administration of the Medici territory.

The project was given to the architect Giorgio Vasari, already busy at the time with the additions to Palazzo Vecchio. In the long, slim piazza, originally occupied by the river port, Vasari designed two long, parallel buildings, connected on their short side towards the Arno. This U-shaped complex seems to embrace the square and produces a spectacular prospective cone towards the river with, on the opposite side, the magnificent view of Palazzo Vecchio and Piazza della Signoria.

The architecture is sober and elegant and recalls, in the contrast between grey stone and white stucco, the typical Florentine style. The long porticoes are an architectural novelty: in place of the traditional arches, lengthy horizontal cornices accentuate the depth of space, acting as true prospective lines, bringing the eye towards the stupendous background of the Arno river.

In 1565, the construction was practically finished; in that same year, on the occasion of the wedding of his son Francesco with Giovanna of Austria, Cosimo I had Vasari design the famous elevated passageway known as the “Vasari Corridor”. This long walkway starts from Palazzo Vecchio, crosses the Uffizi, passes over Ponte Vecchio and finally reaches the Pitti Palace, residence of the Medicis.

The corridor guaranteed the prince both the possibility of secretly keeping tabs on the judges’ work as well as making a quick getaway into his new home in case of popular uprisings. Even today, passing through the corridor is an intriguing experience: peering through the little windows and numerous vantage points, one has the impression of spying on the people in the street from overhead. It is really a fascinating and mysterious place: but most of the visitors who crowd to the museum don’t even imagine that behind a nondescript door, a great treasure is hidden: the walkway in fact contains the most complete European collection of artists’ self portraits, often presented as gifts by those very same artists. Like Marc Chagall, who came to Florence personally to offer it.

The process by which the Gallery’s rich collection grew was certainly not a short one; it took centuries, starting mostly in the 1600s. The museum’s collection was often enlarged by works coming to it over the years from the Medici family. Like Leopoldo de’ Medici’s amazing collection of miniatures comprising almost 1,400 pieces, second only to that of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Or the vast archeological anthology begun by Lorenzo the Magnificent that, up to the end of the 1800s, was the main reason for visiting the Gallery. You’ll also find here the Cabinet of Drawings and Prints, made up of some of the world’s finest graphic works, about 120,000 pieces by the greatest Tuscan masters including Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo.

The Uffizi is, more than anything, a grandiose picture gallery, the most ancient core of which is the octagonal room designed by Buontalenti, the famous Tribune, created to hold the magnificent Medici collection of paintings, jewels, medallions and scientific instruments.

The museum boasts one of the most incredible artistic patrimonies of all time that includes paintings from Italian and foreign schools from the Middle Ages to the 18th century. It starts in the 1200s with Cimabue, ending, in the final room, with Tiepolo, Canaletto and Guardi. In particular, there is the unbeatable selection of Florentine and Italian Renaissance pieces, with some of the most extraordinary by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, Piero della Francesca and Paolo Uccello. There is also the largest collection of Botticelli, among which are the Birth of Venus and his famous “Spring”.

The exceptional nature of the Uffizi Gallery lies also in the surprising way it was created: it is the fruit of continuous effort, unique and marvelous, the passionate and cultured efforts of princes and reigning lords. And in this sense, the Uffizi Gallery is certainly the greatest project the Medici dynasty could ever have dreamed of.