The Uffizi Gallery
The Galleria Degli Uffizi has the finest collection of Renaissance paintings in the world. Housed in a cavernous building designed by Giorgio Vasari, it covers some 400 years and innumerable artists including many of Italy’s most famous masters like Giotto, Cimabue, Duccio di Buoninsegna, Domenico Veneziano, Filippo Lippi, Caravaggio, Paolo Uccello, Sandro Botticelli, and of course, Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Raphael. It would take days to see the entire collection of the Uffizi Gallery (which also includes sculptures and, believe it or not, over 100,000 drawings and prints) but most visitors just come for the big names, and to the soak up the beautiful interiors in which their works are displayed.
Visiting the Uffizi Gallery: What to See
In 1599, the great architect, painter, and art historian Giorgio Vasari was commissioned by the Medici family (who basically made the rules in Florence for the better part of 400 years) to design an office building for the Florence judiciary. What he came up with is probably one of the grandest and most beautiful buildings ever constructed solely for government bureaucrats. It wasn’t until Cosimo I de Medici died in 1574 that the top floor became a display area for some of the family’s, ahem, substantial art collection. Over the years, the art slowly replaced the bureaucrats until the Medici dynasty died out in the 18th century and only a visionary piece of political maneuvering by the last Medici heiress, Anna Maria Luisa, ensured that the entire collection stayed in the museum. Her famous Patto di Famiglia basically stated that when she died her inherited fortune – i.e., the entire accumulated estate of the Medici family – would be bequeathed to the Tuscan state on the condition that it would never leave Florence. Thus, the Uffizi became one of the world’s first art museums, officially opening to the public in 1765.
Duccio, Giotto, and Cimabue
Ever wondered what painting was like before the Renaissance? In a word: flat. The poses are flat, backgrounds are flat, and even the expressions of the subjects are flat. After all, artists hadn’t figured out perspective yet. If you take a look at the works of Cimabue and Duccio, this flatness is still present but on the way out. Then contrast them with Giotto’s Majesty and you’ll instantly experience a frisson of innovation. At the end of the 13th century and beginning of the 14th, artists started adding depth and life to their paintings, making the figures and themes more human instead of strictly divine. Giotto’s Majesty brings out the body of the Madonna in ways that were unthinkable 100 years before.
Uccello, Veneziano, and Lippi
In the early Renaissance, human subjects were brought even more to the fore of art and paintings became more and more realistic as the works of ancient thinkers was rediscovered and used to power the arts in new and exciting directions. Paolo Ucello’s early masterclass in the use of mathematical perspective (newly discovered at the time) is called the Battle of San Romano. Meanwhile, Domenico Veneziano abandoned the flat, divine light that was a staple of Medieval paintings in favor of nuanced natural light which illuminates the subjects of Santa Lucia de’ Magnoli’s Altarpiece in new and beautiful ways. Finally, human love and other emotions jump off the canvases of Filippo Lippi in his touchingly intimate representations of the Virgin Mary.
Chances are that your other main art stop in Florence is a the Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that you’ve “done” Michelangelo. He only has one painting in the Uffizi but it’s a doozy. The Doni Tondo is a tempera painting of the holy family which is not only one of the masterworks from the 16th century, it helped lay the foundations for the entire mannerist painting movement which featured explosive colors and contorted poses that showed off the human figure. Looking at it today, the colors are so vivid and the expressions so natural it’s hard to believe that it was painted over 500 years ago.
The Medici’s collection of Raphael’s work is the largest in the world and it’s spread across the Uffizi galleries and the Pitti Palace. Raphael’s crowning achievement from the time that he actually spent in Florence is Madonna of the Goldfinch, which underwent an extensive restoration in 2008 and is now back and better than ever.
Leonardo Da Vinci
The great artist, inventor, and polymath was a Florentine through and through. In fact, he had a big influence on the young Raphael when the young painter came to Florence to study. Both of Leonardo’s works in the Uffizi were painted when he was still a young man. The first is actually a painting by his master, Verrocchio, to which Leonardo simply added an angel — but what an angel. All the other poor angels in the painting pale in comparison. The second painting, The Annunciation, showcases Leonardo’s now canonical painting technique called sfumato which avoids sharp lines in favor of smoky, blurred edges that adds a softness and realness to his images once thought impossible.
Sandro Botticelli’s story is a bit of an outlier in the Uffizi pantheon because his work is generally considered to have regressed in his later years due to an association with the fanatical friar Girolamo Savonarola. No art lover, Savonarola famously hosted a big, art-burning bonfire in Florence in 1497. Before Botticelli drank the Cool-Aid, he produced two of the most beautiful and enigmatic paintings of the Renaissance – The Birth of Venus, and Primavera. Botticelli’s Venus may have been modeled after a married noblewoman with whom he had an unrequited love interest. If so, we can hardly think of a more fitting tribute. Primavera is even more mysterious, having thus far resisted all attempts to pin down even basic meanings and symbolisms. What we can discern is the confluence of Christianity and ancient pagan philosophy (i.e., Neoplatonism) that was one of the defining currents running through Renaissance art.
No one stands out from the late Renaissance period quite like the quintessential bad boy of art, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio. As personally troubled as he was talented with a brush, Caravaggio brought a level of realism to painting that was thus far unheard of. Often using poor people and prostitutes for models, he recreated the Bible in the image of the poor and downtrodden while reveling in the dichotomies of light and darkness that he seemed to effortlessly evoke with chiaroscuro. Most of Caravaggio’s works in the Uffizi are earlier works from before he had fully developed as a painter, but they have as much impact on the viewer today as they did when they were first painted.
Tips for Visiting the Uffizi Gallery
The Uffizi Gallery is open Tuesday through Sunday from 8:15am to 6:50pm. The ticket offices close at 6:20 and the museum itself starts closing down at 6:40pm.
The museum is closed every Monday, January 1, May 1, and December 25.
From July 1st to September 30th the Uffizi officially goes on summer hours, meaning they are open until 9:00pm ever Tuesday and 11:00pm every Saturday.
On the first Sunday of every month, the Museum offers free admission to everyone. Keep in mind, this will also mean exceptionally long lines and no skip-the-line opportunities.
In order to accommodate people the museum is usually open on holidays. However, if the holiday falls on a Monday it’s up to the board of directors to decide whether or not to open. Whatever they decide will be announced on the Uffizi website.
Uffizi Gallery Tickets
Uffizi Tickets come in three different versions: Full, Reduced, and Free
Full(price) tickets are for any non-EU citizen 18 and over and any EU citizens 25 and over. There is no senior citizen discount.
Reduced tickets are available for EU citizens between 18 and 25 with a valid ID and public school teachers from within the EU with proof of their position.
You can buy tickets on their website.
You can buy a tour on our website.
School groups MUST book their visit ahead of time by contacting: firstname.lastname@example.org
Free entrance is given to anyone under 18 years old regardless of nationality with proper identification, people with certifiable physical disabilities who are accompanied by a family member, ICOM (International Council of Museum) members, and journalists with a valid ID showing professional status.
Here are some things you are not allowed to bring into the Uffizi:
- Large Bags
- Selfie Sticks
You may leave all of these items in the cloakroom, which is free.
The Uffizi Gallery is completely wheelchair compatible but there are two things that you need to remember: 1. The wheelchair entrance ramp on the via della Ninna has a 3cm step in it. 2. If your wheelchair does not fit into the elevator you can exchange it for a wheelchair of the correct size at the entrance.
Unlike the Accademia, you ARE allowed to take photos at the Uffizi galleries. You cannot, however, use selfie sticks or tripods.
The Best Time to Visit the Uffizi Gallery
Along with the Florence Cathedral and the Accademia, the Uffizi is one of the most popular attractions in Florence. Although you can reserve tickets in advance you might still end up waiting to get in because only 900 people are allowed into the building at any one time. The door policy is a strict “one out one in”. The only way to avoid the entrance lines completely is by going with a guided Florence tour.
Florence’s high season, when crowds will be the largest, runs from April straight through to the end of September/middle of October. Because it is something of a Mecca for serious art buffs, arriving early to beat the lines does not always work. The museum itself suggests coming around lunchtime when both entrance lines and crowds in the galleries can be smaller due to people taking a break to eat.
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