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The Uffizi Gallery (Florence): Medieval & Renaissance Masterpieces

Updated: May 28, 2022

Italy is opening up again and the museums are finally welcoming visitors after almost 6 months of closed doors. The famed Uffizi Gallery in Florence has also just finished a restoration of its lower floor -- which I haven't seen yet -- so that's on my "to do" list! I managed to get in a visit and see their upper floor collection (the marvelous Medieval and Renaissance collection) last fall. Here are some of my favorites, minus the bazillion "Madonna and Child" paintings since I think they make a fun post on their own. ;-)

So until you can get back to Florence in person, enjoy this virtual tour!

The "Uffizi" ("offices" in old Italian) were built in 1560 under Cosimo I de' Medici to house the city's government offices after he transformed the City Hall into his private residence (he changed his mind a few years later and moved to the Pitti Palace so the "offices" have held art ever since). The museum gets nearly 5 million visitors per year so I took advantage of the current situation to see it without the crowds!

The building was intended to house some of the art of the Medici family, including their collection of Roman sculptures which line the two long corridors. Here we see a Roman copy of a Greek statue depicting Ceres, goddess of fertility, the harvest, and grains (giving us the word "cereal"!). The body is stunning in black basanite, a volcanic rock.

The ceilings of the corridor are adorned with frescoes that could take years to unpack!

The first paintings you encounter are the amazing Medieval religious paintings (they were ALL religious paintings back then!) full of gold leaf and otherworldly awe. This is an Annunciation by Simone Martini and Lippo Memmi from 1333, designed for the cathedral of Siena:

What's extraordinary is that the angel actually SPEAKS. You see the raised words "“Ave Gratia Plena Dominus Tecum” (basically: Hail Full of Grace - May God be with you)

Here is another work from the Siena cathedral (Cosimo I defeated rival city Siena in 1555 so he clearly felt entitled to pillage their art ): Ambrogio Lorenzetti's Presentation of Jesus at the Temple from 1342. I love the architectural detail and lively faces.

This Adoration of the Magi is by Lorenzo Monaco from 1420. It is around this time that Florentine artists started to learn how to use mathematical perspective to achieve a more realistic sense of space, while this one still has the fairy-tale atmosphere meant to invoke "the spiritual world."

Here we inch ever closer to Renaissance perspective in Gentile da Fabriano's Adoration of the Magi from 1423. It's one of the masterpieces of Gothic style and glitters with gold leaf and embossed areas to highlight objects like crowns and spurs.

Here's a close-up. Such fabulous detail on the brocade and crown!

Giovanni da Fiesole is better known to us as Fra Angelico (the angelic friar), and he painted this stupendous Coronation of the Virgin in 1435. The entire scene is set over a gilded background, which erupts in engraved rays behind Mary and Jesus.

Here's a close-up. Much rejoicing indeed!

Here we have another Coronation, by Filippo Lippi, from 1439-47, with glorious realistic detail and real, human faces. The Renaissance is here!

Adventures in perspective abound in this Battle of San Romano by Paolo Uccello. Painted between 1435-40, it celebrates a Florentine victory over the Sienese (you can see a knight on the left driving his lance into the knight on the white horse). The perspective is far from perfect but you can feel his excitement at trying something NEW.

Below we see The Seven Virtues by Piero del Pollaiolo around 1470 (one is by Botticelli). These were commissioned by the Merchant's Guild, so we are well away from the Virgin & Child and now deep into more civic themes, which was one of the most revolutionary aspects of the Renaissance.

More revolutionary still was the new freedom to paint pagan subjects, which had been a serious no-no during the Middle Ages. Here is Botticelli's amazing Primavera (spring):

Painted in 1480 it depicts scenes from Classical mythology: here we see the Three Graces

On the right we see the goddess of spring adorned in a magnificent floral robe. There are supposedly some 138 types of plants depicted accurately in the background. I could spend a whole YEAR looking at this one!

In the next room: Venus! This would normally be swamped with people and I had it nearly to myself:

The "Tribune" is a round, high-ceilinged room with an amazing collection of statuary and marble marquetry floor.

At the end of one long hall you get to this overlook across the city. Below you is the Ponte Vecchio and you can see the "corridor" that runs along the top, connecting the Palazzo Vecchio (city hall) with the Pitti Palace once Cosimo I decided to make that his new home. This way he didn't have to walk among the unclean masses.

This next one is quite fun and has some great detail. It's The Three Archangels and Tobias by Francesco Botticini, from 1470-75. I have no idea what this is about so Google it if you're curious!

I love the red shoes!

And the kid carrying a fish:

As you walk, don't forget to look up! This room had scenes of battles and the industries involved in armaments. This seems to be a smith to make armour.

Moving on in history now, this Leda and the Swan by Francesco Melzi is from 1505-07. We're a long way from the Virgin Mary as we see Leda, fully naked, after being "seduced" (*ahem*) by Zeus in the form of a swan. She gives birth to two sets of twins, who defy science by being born from eggs.

Ghirlandaio, one of the masters of detail, painted this Adoration of the Magi in 1487. There is SO much going on in this one you'd need to sit down and zoom in on it to take it all in!

This surreal Perseus freeing Andromeda was painted by Piero di Cosimo in 1510-15. Andromeda was sent to be sacrificed to a sea monster in order to punish her mother's vanity (Cassiopeia bragged that she was more beautiful than the Nereids), but Perseus fell in love with her and saved her. Don't mess with the Greek Gods! (unless he falls in love with you, in which case, have a good time but watch out for that wily Zeus!

Head back into the Roman room for this beautiful relief depicting a bull being led to sacrificial slaughter. It's based on a Greek work from the Temple of Athena in the Acropolis. I love the flowing drapery.

This neoclassical room was built in1780 to house a series of Roman statues depicting the Classical myth of Niobe, who bragged about how many children she had. This angered Leto (mother of Apollo and Artemis), who proceeded to kill all of her children in retaliation. Once again: do not mess with the Greek gods!

We finish in the sculpture hall again, with this Roman sculpture of Pan teaching a shepherd to play the flute (but I think he has something else in mind...).

And to finish, here are some of my favorite little details. There are some fabulous faces:

And some magnificent monsters:

And stunning statuary:

And amazing animals:

That's it for now! Thanks for joining my little tour of the Uffizi's upper floor. I'll be back next week with a journey of a very different kind, as I've just arrived back in the U.S. after a 15-month absence! If you enjoyed the tour and would like to help support my espresso addiction, drop a few coins into the "tip jar" (see the "Tip your Guide" button in the menu bar, or just click on the link here). And leave a comment here or over in Facebook. I like to know you're out there! :-) Ciao e alla prossima!

(bye and see you next time)

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