After the agony of waiting in line for hours to enter the famous Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy, visitors might hope that they would have a chance to relax and meander casually through a few rooms of renowned artwork, relaxed and carefree. And yet you walk through the first room, turn into the next corridor and suddenly realize that you are confronted with miles and miles of galleries and more Madonna and Child paintings than you ever thought you would see in your entire life. Its helpful to know what is worth visiting in the Uffizi…although all of the art work presented in the Medici’s collection is worthy of consideration it is possible to feel like you’re drowning in religious Renaissance art work. Allow me to help you breathe a bit easier and point out some useful sights. Besides, its embarrassing to wear water wings through an art gallery.
Book your tickets in advance
Before I start with the artwork, allow me to help you reduce stress before you even enter through the doors. If you go to the Uffizi website, it is possible to either book your tickets in advance on the website or to call the phone number listed to avoid a line that is guaranteed to be at least 2 hours long on a fairly busy day (which in reality is every day). On Via Calzaioulli, about 3 blocks south of the Duomo, is a small booth at the side of the road in the building of Orsanmichele. Here you can buy tickets for the Uffizi, the Academia, Palazzo Pitti and a variety of other tourist attractions without having to wait in outrageous lines at the actual museum.
After entering the second floor of the museum…
After entering the second floor of the museum, visitors walk down a corridor adorned with classical sculpture. To the left is a single room housing a few pieces of ancient sculpture and architecture. The frescos on the ceiling of the corridor are known as grotesques, and were painted by a number of artists of the same school and were produced in the 16th century at the end of the Medici reign. The frescos are surreal and almost disturbing, but it is well worth looking up as you walk down to see some well-painted frescos that are completely different both in style and concept from the rest of the museums collection. The first piece of art that is well worth looking at is Giotto’s ‘Ognissanti Maesta’ in Room 2. The painting was executed in the early 14th century, and is a turning point in religious art and ushered in the realism of the Renaissance. The piece shows Madonna and Child, but is note-worthy for the way that the surrounding angels over lap each other in space, so that their heads look like ‘a bunch of grapes’ instead of previous work where each figure is shown in full. In the next room is Martini’s Annunciation, a fine example of the realistic portraiture that began at the start of the Renaissance. The faces are not stylized as in the earlier Byzantine art of that century, and reflect the works of Giotto because of their pale skin and distinct features. The following rooms show many early Renaissance works, which are admirable for their skill but all look very similar.
The next important work is ‘The Adoration of the Magi’ by Gentile de Fabriano. The piece is hanging on the wall opposite the entrance to room 5, and is a masterpiece of realism and composition, particularly with the inclusion of animals that are painted with so much attention that it is hard to imagine that the very 2d works of artists such as Duccio were only 50 years earlier. In the same set of galleries is Verrocchio’s Baptism of Christ, yet another triumph of realism and shows the influence of northern painting on the early Renaissance.
The next room house Pierro della Francesco’s two portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino, portraits that are recognized by the art community as one of the first examples of both highly individual, specific portraits and of the shift from religious art to private secular artwork. With the rise of the rich merchant class in Florence, more and more artwork was commissioned by rich patrons who chose to have portraits of themselves rather than the traditional Bible scenes. This leads us onto the next room, one of the most popular in the Uffizi.
Rooms 10 through 14 are dedicated to Botticelli, one of the greatest artists of the renaissance. His work is almost illustrative in its simplicity, but the grandeur and beauty of paintings such as ‘Primavera’ and ‘Birth of Venus’ are not to be missed, despite the large amounts of tourists. If the crowds around these two paintings are two much, make sure to check out Botticelli’s religious works at the other end of the gallery, which although less famous and magical are striking works of realistic art.
The next room is also incredibly important, housing work by Leonardo DaVinci. Naturally, all the works in this room are spectacular. But one that should be given close attention is the ‘Adoration of the Magi’, an unfinished work by Leonardo that ushered in a new stage of drama and independent thought in religious works. Pay close attention to the architecture, which shows an understanding of perspective not even dreamt about by the artists in the first few rooms of the museum.
From this point on it is easy to become exhausted, especially upon realizing you haven’t even reached a halfway point. Let me recommend some rooms that are of special interest and are worth seeing for their historical and artistic relevance. The Duhrer works in Room 20, showcase many drawings by the German master that must not be missed, and then further on through the gallery in Room 25 is the ‘Doni Tondo’ by Michelangelo Buonarotti. As with all Michelangelo’s work it is startingly colorful and breath-taking, and definitely a good warm-up if you are planning traveling south to Rome and the Sistine Chapel. Rooms 26 through 28 also show some amazing works of high Renaissance (for example Raphael’s ‘Madonna with the goldfinch’, Parmigianno’s ‘Madonna with the Long Neck’ and Titian’s ‘Venus of Urbino’). These works all lead up to a much more individual and conceptual period in artwork, that of Mannerism, that would follow the Renaissance.
Get a membership card
I highly recommend continuing around the museum, but it is understandable if you are beginning to see everyone in the galleries with halo’s and feel the need of a change of scene. It is also a good idea to invest in a ‘Friends of the Uffizi’ card if you are in Florence for more than a week. It is only 40 euros, and would allow you to come and go to the all the state museums as many times as you wish without waiting in line. For more information on the works in the Uffizi and for the membership card, visit www.uffizi.com and http://www.amicidegliuffizi.it/homenglish.html
Photo of the Uffizi Gallery by cfwee