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 Gallery is housed in the building built by Cosimo I of Medici and designed by Vasari in 1560. But the collection was started in 1574 when Cosimo's son, Francesco I, transformed the second floor of the Vasarian building into a place 'to walk in with paintings, sculptures and other precious things' and entrusted Buontalenti with the creation of a Tribune where art objects could be exhibited.
Vasari, who died that same year, could hardly have imagined that inside that building, born to house the Magistracy, almost all the major painters (not just Florentine) whose biographies he had written in one of the most interesting documents on the history of art, Lives, would have been on show.
It was based on an idea of Vasari, who had put the portrait of each artist with his biography, that Leopoldo de'Medici started the rich collection of artists' self-portraits. This kept on growing over the centuries with a further 250 self-portraits arriving in the 20th century, often gifts from the artists themselves. Like Chagall who went to Florence himself to hand over his portrait.
To Leopoldo's love of collections we also owe the extraordinary miniatures collection which now has 1392 pieces and is second only to the one in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Without counting the vast archeological anthology along the stairs, the lobbies, in the three Corridors and organized in a particularly opulent way in the Niobe Hall. The complex also houses the important collection in the Drawings and Prints Room.
But nowadays the Uffizi are mainly a great art gallery, starting from the 13th century with Cimabue, to reach Tiepolo, Canaletto and Guardi in the last hall. Here we find the Italian painting of the Tuscan Macchiaioli or of Carrà and Severini, the foreigners Ingres and Delacroix, but also Durer, Rubens, Rembrandt and where, above all you have the unbeatable Florentine and Italian Renaissance selection, just think of the 27 Botticelli including The Birth of Venus and the Springtime or the Doni Tondo by Michelangelo, the Annunciation by Leonardo Da Vinci.
The process that led to the creation this rich heritage was not short and lasted several centuries, starting form the 17th century. The Gallery was often enriched by works collected over the years by the Medici in their villas and palaces: Ferdinando I had been given some Caravaggio as a gift, Cosimo II bought a series of Caravaggeschi, Don Lorenzo dei Medici, in his Petraia villa, mainly collected contemporary Florentine artists and many others were collectors during the 18th century managing to put together thousand of paintings: Cardinal Leopoldo, for example, owned about half the Venetian paintings on show in the Gallery today.
The exceptional aspect of the Uffizi also lies in this surprising creation process: the continuing, really extraordinary, knowledgeable and, above all, passionate collecting of kings and young princes. And in this sense the Florence Uffizi certainly represent the greatest works conceived by the Medici offspring.
In 1782, for the first time these works were organized into the Ancient Picture Room, but it was the reordering in 1919 that gave us a more organic arrangement.
In the Gallery we can see (Art Gallery):
- Tuscan Painting. Florentibne Primitives and Trecentists (including Cimabue and Giotto)
- Sienese Trecentists (including Simone Martini)
- Late Gothic period
- First Renaissance (including Paolo Uccello, Beato Angelico)
- Filippo Lippi
- Piero della Francesca
- Filippino Lippi
- Verrocchio e bottega
- First Florentine Cinquecentists (including Michelangelo)
- First Mannerists (including Rosso Fiorentino, Pontormo)
- Second Mannerism (including Bronzino, Vasari)
- Florentine 17th and 18th centuries
- Italian painting from the 14th and 15th centuries – excluding Florence (including Mantenga, Bellini, Carpaccio)
- 16th century Italian Painting – excluding Florence and Venice (including Raffaello, Parmigianino)
- Painting in Venice in the 16th Century (including Lorenzo Lotto, Giorgione, Tiziano, Tintoretto, Veronese)
- Italian Painting in the 17th Century - excluding Florence (including Guido Reni, Caravaggio, Artemisia Gentileschi)
- Italian 18th and 19th century painting (including Guardi, Tiepolo)
- German Painting (including Durer)
- Flemish Painting - XV and XVI century (including van der Weyden, Memling)
- Flemish and Dutch Painting - XVII century (including Rubens, van Dyck, Rembrandt)
- French Painting (including Lorrain, Le Brun)
- Spanish Painting (including de Zurbaran, El Greco, Velazquez, Goya)
The history of the Uffizi Gallery
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.
Of the building renovation works started in Florence during the Grand Duchy of Cosimo I dei Medici the most important was undoubtedly the one started in 1560 in the space south of the square towards the river where Vasari was charged with building the main State Magistracy buildings (hence the name Uffizi).
After demolishing one of the oldest town quarters, Vasari built a monumental u-shaped portico building, a real masterpiece of late-Renaissance period architecture. To avoid the unpleasant effect of a long, monotonous facade, Vasari split it using a recurrent motive that allowed him to elegantly connect the two ends to Palazzo Vecchio and to the Loggia dei Lanzi, along with the happy solution of the arched bridge at the end, overlooking the Arno.
Once most of the building had been completed at considerable expense, Cosimo had Vasari undertake another ambitious project: a raised communication passageway connecting Palazzo Vecchio to Palazzo Pitti, his official residence. This is the famous Vasarian Corridor, a route from Palazzo Vecchio across the Uffizi, along the Arno above a portico, crossing it over Ponte Vecchio and on to Palazzo Pitti and the Boboli gardens.
During the XIX century, following indications left by Vasari, they sculpted 28 marble statues portraying the most important Tuscan personalities and placed them in the pillar niches outside the portico.
On entering this great U-shaped square, you notice that difference between the light and shade of the side porticos and the luminosity of the arches in the background anticipating the river presence. From here, looking in the opposite direction, this simple yet complex architectural plant is a perspective spy-glass towards Piazza della Signoria, including in one single backdrop the façade of Palazzo Vecchio with its statues, the fountain in the center and even the Cathedral cupola.