A month ago I wrote about the Louvre Museum in Paris – the world’s most visited museum. Today, we will focus upon the 25th-most visited museum in the world – the Uffizi Gallery. It is located in Florence, Italy, the capital of the Tuscany region. The Uffizi Gallery is housed in a palace built by famous Renaissance artist, architect, and historian Giorgio Vasari. It was commissioned by the first Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1560 to house his administrative offices. It was these offices (“uffizi” in Italian) that ultimately gave the gallery its name.
Florence is home to many masterpieces of Renaissance art, as well as outstanding examples of Renaissance architecture. When I returned here during the very warm summer of 2013, I began a day-long walking tour with a stop at one of Florence’s most iconic sights – the Duomo – a cathedral with a terra cotta-tiled dome. To me, its interior rivals that of St. Peter’s though, of course, on a smaller scale. Leaving the Duomo, I walked a few hundred meters to the Plaza of Michelangelo. Here I admired Michelangelo’s statue of David and, while not the original which is housed in the Accademia Gallery, this bronze rendition projects the artist’s work in a powerful way, too. Art critics point to David as one of the greatest sculptures from the Italian Renaissance period and possibly of all time. David was created between 1501 and 1504 in Florence and stands about 17 feet high.
Next on my list was a walk down the hill to the River Arno where I planned to stroll across the Ponte Vecchio – Florence’s historic and most noted “covered” bridge. As I left behind the beautiful statues of the Plaza of Michelangelo, I had walked only a short distance when I came upon the large courtyard of the Uffizi Gallery. I had visited this museum once in 1970 and so I had not included it on today’s walking tour. But when I saw how many tourists were entering and leaving, I decided to join the 2 million annual visitors and revisit this world-famous museum. This decision turned out to be a really good deviation from my planned itinerary for the day.
Waiting in line to enter, I passed the time by perusing a brochure provided by the museum. I learned a great deal. This Gallery exhibits the largest collection of Renaissance Art anywhere in the World. While it is home to many iconic masterpieces from world-famous artists, it is renowned for being a haven for works that were completed during the Italian Renaissance. (14th to the 16th centuries). Artists such as da Vinci, Raffaello, Botticelli, and Michelangelo are all featured in the gallery’s vast collection. Other European artists round out the collection with their works that date from the 12th to the 17th centuries. It is often said that the Uffizi appeals to both history buffs and art lovers alike.
Spread across two floors, this gallery requires a sizeable time commitment to peruse the exhibits in each of its many halls. Since I was short on time, I decided to focus on some of the many paintings that arose out of the Medici collection. It happened that the last Medici heiress, Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici, left nearly every piece of art collected by the Medici family over a period of 300 years to the Tuscan state in 1743. The only requirement of the gift was that the collection must remain in Tuscany, or more specifically, Florence. Some 25 years later, the gallery opened to the public and featured a large portion of the Medici family’s collection.
Given its prominent location close to the Arno River, the Uffizi Gallery has been affected by a number of floods over the years, including a particularly severe one in 1966. Local residents and tourists alike attempted to save the precious artworks from the rising waters. These individuals later came to be known as the “mud angels” in recognition of their efforts at the Uffizi and they were successful in rescuing some pieces. But when the flood waters finally receded it was apparent that many of these treasured works were in dire need of restoration. With broad public as well as governmental support, a herculean effort to restore these works was undertaken and was widely viewed as most successful.
The Uffizi Gallery was attacked by a car bomb in 1993. The explosion killed six people and heavily damaged parts of the gallery, though few of its masterworks were harmed. The bombing prompted a decision to rebuild and expand the museum. Over the ensuing decade the Uffizi’s gallery space was significantly enlarged. Later in 2007, the “Nuovi Uffizi” project began. Its goal was to double the size of the exhibition area. New galleries featuring Dutch, Flemish, French, and Spanish artists opened during 2011, and a series of rooms highlighting the works of 16th-century Tuscan artists was dedicated in 2012.
The Uffizi Gallery was once home to the Mona Lisa, even if just for a brief period of time. When this famous work of art was stolen from the Louvre in Paris, 1911, it was off the grid and missing from the art scene for two years. Eventually, the thief attempted to sell it but that attempt was thwarted when the famous painting was recognized. Once experts determined that the painting was indeed genuine, it was hung temporarily in the Uffizi Gallery until it could be safely returned to its rightful home at the Louvre.
In room 35 on the second floor I stumbled upon Leonardo da Vinci’s “Annunciation,” which is one of his first commissioned paintings. The painting was brought to the Uffizi in 1867 from the church of San Bartolomeo in Florence. I remembered this particular painting from the only art class I ever took at University, so I was at least aware of its existence and was able to identify it immediately. But moving beyond a reprint of it in my textbook and seeing the original was for me a “moment.” The scene is set in a flourishing “enclosed” garden likely belonging to a classical Renaissance palace. Critics point to the meticulous attention to detail that was a characteristic in da Vinci’s works. In this instance he paid attention to the flowers in the field and to the depiction of the river and the boats that ply its waters. Da Vinci detailed the mountains that were dotted with towers and trees. The scene is depicted in the light of a clear morning. Similarly, the beauty of the faces, from that of the Madonna to that of the angel, is characteristic of da Vinci. The Archangel Gabriel kneels before the Virgin, offering a lily, and the Virgin responds from her seated position behind a lectern where she has been reading. The scene represents the traditional religious idea of purity which here is depicted in a genuinely natural setting.
Discovering a work of art that I had learned about so many years earlier illustrates the most amazing thing about the Uffizi. A visitor can stroll its wide corridors on the two floors and randomly survey the wonders to be found in its scores of “rooms,” or a visitor can identify specific artists, e,g., Botticelli or Raffaello, and peruse their works that are grouped together. Whether your specific interests are in seeing Renaissance art in particular or European art in general, you will be extremely gratified when you have feasted your eyes upon the astounding collection at the Uffizi Gallery.
Next time: “Fallingwater: An amazing summer house”