- Piazzale degli Uffizi 6
- 055 238 86 51
- adult/concession €6.50/3.25, 85min audioguide for 1/2 €5.50/8
- 8.15am-6.35pm Tue-Sun, to 9pm Tue Jul-Sep
Lonely Planet review for Uffizi Gallery
There are some museums that tower over all others in terms of the quality of their collections - think MoMA, the Egyptian Museum, the Hermitage, the Louvre, the Prado and the Vatican. But this list wouldn't be complete without adding Florence's jewel in the crown, the Uffizi. Filling the vast, oversized U-shaped Palazzo degli Uffizi, the collection spans the whole gamut of art history from ancient Greek sculpture to 18th-century Venetian paintings, but its core is the masterpiece-rich Renaissance collection.
Cosimo I commissioned Vasari to design and build the gargantuan U-shaped palace in 1560 - a government office building (uffizi means offices) for the city's administrators, judiciary and guilds. Following Vasari's death in 1564, architects Alfonso Parigi and Bernando Buontalenti took over the Uffizi project, Buontalenti modifying the upper floor of the palace to house the works of art keenly collected by Francesco I, a passion inherited from his father. In 1580 the building was finally complete. By the time the last of the Medici family died in 1743, the family's private art collection was enormous. Fortunately, it was bequeathed to the City of Florence on the strict proviso that it never leave the city.
Over the years, sections of the collection have been moved to the Museo del Bargello and Museo Archeologico, and other collections in turn have been moved here. Several artworks were destroyed or badly damaged in 1993 when a car bomb planted by the Mafia exploded outside the gallery's west wing, killing five people. Documents cataloguing the collection were also destroyed.
Visits are best kept to three or four hours max. When it all gets too much, head to the rooftop cafe (aka the terraced hanging garden where the Medici clan listened to music performances on the square below) for fresh air and fabulous views.
Tuscan Masters: 13th Century to 14th Century
Works in the Uffizi are displayed on the 2nd floor in a series of numbered rooms off two dramatically long corridors. Arriving in the Primo Corridoio (First Corridor), the first room to the left of the staircase (Room 2) highlights 13th-century Sienese art and is designed like a medieval chapel (look up to admire those great wooden ceiling trusses) to reflect its fabulous contents: three large altarpieces from Florentine churches by Tuscan masters Duccio di Buoninsegna, Cimabue and Giotto. These clearly reflect the transition from the Gothic to the nascent Renaissance style. Note the overtly naturalistic realism overtones in Giotto's portrayal of the Madonna and Child among angels and saints, painted some 25 years after that of Duccio and Cimabue (c 1306-10).
The next room stays in Siena but moves into the 14th century. The highlight is Simone Martini's shimmering Annunciation (1333), painted with Lippo Memmi and setting the Madonna in a sea of gold. Also of note is the Madonna with Child and Saints triptych (1340) by Pietro Lorenzetti, which demonstrates a realism similar to Giotto's; unfortunately both Pietro and his artistic brother Ambrogio died from the plague in Siena in 1348.
Masters in 14th-century Florence paid as much attention to detail as their Sienese counterparts, as works in the next room demonstrate: savour the depth of realism and extraordinary gold-leaf work of San Reminio Pietà (1360-65) by gifted Giotto pupil, Giottino (otherwise known as Giotto di Stefano).
Rooms 5 and 6 (actually one large room) are dedicated to works of the International Gothic style, with the knockout piece being Gentile da Fabriano's Adoration of the Magi (1423), originally commissioned by Palla Strozzi for Santa Trìnita.
A concern for perspective was a hallmark of the early-15th-century Florentine school (Room 7) that pioneered the Renaissance. One panel (the other two are in the Louvre and London's National Gallery) from Paolo Uccello's striking Battle of San Romano, which celebrates Florence's victory over Siena, shows the artist's efforts to create perspective with amusing effect as he directs the lances, horses and soldiers to a central disappearing point.
In Room 8, Piero della Francesca's famous profile portraits (1465) of the crooked-nosed, red-robed Duke and Duchess of Urbino are wholly humanist in spirit: the former painted from the left side as he'd lost his right eye in a jousting accident, and the latter painted a deathly white, reflecting the fact that the portrait was painted posthumously.
Carmelite monk Fra' Filippo Lippi had an unfortunate soft spot for earthly pleasures, eloping with a nun from Prato and causing a huge scandal. Search out the artist's self-portrait as a podgy friar in Coronation of the Virgin (1439-47) and don't miss his later Madonna and Child with Two Angels (1460-65), an exquisite work that clearly influenced his pupil, Sandro Botticelli.
Another related pair, brothers Antonio and Piero del Pollaiolo, fill Room 9, where their seven cardinal and theological values of 15th-century Florence - commissioned for the merchant's tribunal in Piazza della Signoria - burst forth with fantastic energy. More restrained are Piero's Portrait of Galeazzo Maria Sforza and Antonio's Portrait of a Lady in Profile.
The only canvas in the theological and cardinal virtues series not to be painted by the Pollaiolos was Strength(1470), the first documented work by Botticelli.
The spectacular Sala del Botticelli, numbered 10 to 14 but in fact one large hall, is one of the Uffizi's most popular rooms and is always packed. Of the 15 works by the Renaissance master known for his ethereal figures, Birth of Venus (c 1484), Primavera (Spring; c 1478), the deeply spiritual Cestello Annunciation (1489-90), the Adoration of the Magi (1475; featuring the artist's self-portrait on the extreme right) and The Madonna of the Magnificat (1483) are the best known, but true aficionados rate his twin set of miniatures depicting a sword-bearing Judith returning from the camp of Holofernes and the discovery of the decapitated Holofernes in his tent (1495-1500) as being among his finest works.
Room 15 displays two early Florentine works by Leonardo da Vinci: the incomplete Adoration of the Magi (1481-82), drawn in red earth pigment, and his Annunciation (c 1472).
The Medici clan stashed away their most precious masterpieces in this exquisite octagonal-shaped treasure trove (Room 18) created by Francesco I. Today their family portraits hang on the red upholstered walls and a walkway leads visitors around the edge. The popular favourites here are the Bronzino portraits of the family of Cosimo I, including his wife Eleonora di Toledo (painted with their son Giovanni), the duke himself, young Giovanni holding a bird, daughter Bia and son Francesco.
Flemish & German Masters
Rooms 20 to 23 house works by Northern Renaissance painters including Dürer (Adoration of the Magi; 1504), Lucas Cranach the Elder (Adam and Eve; 1528) and Hans Memling (Madonna and Child Enthroned With Two Angels; 1480).
High Renaissance to Mannerism
Passing through the loggia or Secondo Corridoio (Second Corridor) visitors enjoy wonderful views of Florence before entering the Terzo Corridoio (Third Corridor). The first room here (Room 25) is home to Michelangelo's dazzling Tondo Doni, a depiction of the Holy Family. The composition is unusual and the colours as vibrant as when they were first applied in 1504-06. It was painted for wealthy Florentine merchant Agnolo Doni (who hung it above his bed) and bought by the Medici for Palazzo Pitti in 1594.
Raphael and Andrea del Sarto works rub shoulders in Room 26, where Raphael's charming Madonna of the Goldfinch (1505-06) holds centre stage, though his striking portrait of Pope Leo X with Giulio de' Medici and Luigi de' Rossi is just as impressive.
The work of Venetian masters graces Room 28, where 11 Titians are displayed. Masterpieces include the sensual nude Venus of Urbino (1538), the seductive Flora (1515) and the striking portrait of Eleonora Gonzaga, Duchess of Urbino (1536-37).
Room 29 is notable for Parmigianino's oddly elongated Madonna of the Long Neck (1534-40), and subsequent rooms feature works by Paolo Veronese, Tintoretto, Rubens and Rembrandt. Don't miss Room 42, known as the Niobe Room, which was built to house a group of statues representing Niobe and her children. Discovered in a Roman vineyard in 1583 and brought to Florence in 1775, the works are 4th century BC Roman copies of Greek originals.