Whenever you dive into the vastness of the web fishing for information about Florence, visiting Uffizi Gallery floats to the surface. It’s a big catch, one that is considered to be the most important museum in Italy as well as one of the most beautiful art collections in the entire world. Very few of those who find themselves in Florence miss the opportunity to peek inside. Art enthusiast or not, it’s bound to impress you!
The gallery resides in the U-shaped Palazzo Degli Uffizi in the historic city center and comprises incredible 93 halls scattered over two floors. You should be ready to soak up a great deal of information and even greater deal of art. Hence, before you go, it’s good to find out a little more and plan ahead. This guide is a great place to start!
Not many people are aware that the imposing building known as the Uffizi Gallery was not meant to be a museum. Its story began in 1560 when Cosimo I de’Medici, the First Grand Duke of Tuscany. He commissioned new administrative and legal offices (“uffizi” in ancient Italian) for Florentine officials.
Cosimo could very well afford it given at the time Medici’s power over Florence was secure and stable. Hence, he turned to one of his favorite artists and architects, Giorgio Vasari, who designed the grand building we admire today. To make space for the Uffizi complex, most of the buildings in the area had to be demolished including an ancient Romanesque church of San Pier Scheraggio. Some of the remains of the church's facade are still visible on the ground floor along Via Della Ninna street facing Palazzo Vecchio.
However, the old nave of the church was preserved and is encapsulated within the gallery’s ground floor near the museum entrance. Called the Hall of San Pier Scheraggio, it only opens for special events and celebrations.
Besides the power-resonating halls and opulent office spaces, Vasari also built a clandestine corridor. This secret passage connected the Uffizi to the Palazzo Vecchio, Pitti Palace as well as the church of Santa Felicita. In fact, it was constructed in celebration of the marriage of Cosimo’s son, Francesco and allowed the Medici family to move from their residence to Uffizi or to attend the mass without having to walk through the streets.
Vasari’s contribution to the building’s structure and appearance was crucial. However, the construction lasted over twenty years, and the talented architect passed away before he could see it through to the end. After Vasari’s death in 1574, another great artist, Bernardo Buontalenti, took over the project finishing it a few years later.
In 1581, Francesco I de’ Medici who took over to become the new Grand Duke of Tuscany after Cosimo’s passing. He reserved the top floor of the Uffizi’s east wing for his private gallery of statues, paintings, and precious objects. The heart of this unmatched private museum was an octagonal room known as Tribuna (Tribune) representing the four elements decorated with precious stones, marble, and shells.
However, what started out as a whim became a tradition. The collection grew vaster year by year with every member of the Medici dynasty making his or her contribution until the family died out in the mid 18th century.
Anna Maria Luisa de’Medici, the last surviving member of the Medici, made sure that all of the family treasures collected over centuries would never leave Florence. She willed most of the collection to the state of Tuscany under the condition that they would never leave the region. They were to remain “decoration for the State, for the utility of the Public and to attract the curiosity of Foreigners.” Her idea was to make the gallery public and share the wealth of art inside with all.
The gallery opened to public sixteen years after her death, in 1769. This initiative was possible thanks to the Grand Duke Peter Leopold. He took the reigns over Tuscany under the rule of Austrian House of Lorraine which stayed in power until 1860, the unification Italy.
Grand Duke Peter Leopold was a huge enthusiast and patron of art. Besides Uffizi, he also founded and opened the renowned Accademia Gallery which, today, houses Michelangelo’s David. When Peter Leopold took charge of the Uffizi, he reorganized the collection according to the new scientific criteria of Englightments and divided it according to art types.
For instance, the scientific paintings were divided from the purely artistic pieces and allocated to their own Museum of Zoology and Natural History commonly known as “La Specola.” To get a more realistic idea of how grand the Medici collection was, you will need to go beyond the Uffizi itself and visit many more museums in Florence as well as the rest of Tuscany!
Since that time, visiting Uffizi Gallery became one of the most popular activities in Florence as well as the whole of Italy. Today, the fate of the Uffizi focuses on the project Nuovi Uffizi (New Uffizi) which entails modernization of all existing halls as well as building a new exit designed by Arata Isozaki.
The ongoing works associated with the project have already doubled the exhibition space allowing for better viewing conditions. Also, the collections have been reorganized according to the artistic periods or related themes. However, the Nuovi Uffizi is proceeding rather slowly as the board decided not to completely close the gallery to the public at any point of the reconstructions. Hence, the museum is receiving its well-deserved makeover including new spaces, lighting, air conditioning and security step by step. While it might be inconvenient at times, it’s still better than traveling to Florence only to discover the gallery is entirely off limits.
Today, the internationally renowned collection covers the spectrum of art history from ancient Greece to the 18th century Venice. There is so much to see in Uffizi that diving in without little knowledge or planning can be time consuming and ineffective. Hence, here is a condensed guide to Uffizi you definitely shouldn’t miss.
As mentioned in the origins of the gallery, the Uffizi Tribune is the oldest room in the museum. It's opulently decorated with enamels and shells that play with the theme of the four natural elements (Earth, Air, Water, Fire) which was typical for the scientific curiosity during the Renaissance period. This room breathes the original spirit of the gallery, and it’s the only room that was designed with the aim of featuring art. The works in the rest of the gallery are arranged according to their artistic periods as well as famous artists.
This hall is crucial to comprehending the artistic revolution of Tuscan painting that took place in the 13th century. Majority of pieces in the room display influence of Byzantine art meaning simple two-dimensional bodies and shart outlines.
However, three masterpieces stand out; three grand temperas painted on wood panels called Maestà (a portrait of the Virgin Mary on a throne).
Duccio was a model representative of the Sienese painting school that prioritized color and decoration over drawings. His Madonna, Madonna Rucellai, is slightly softened by a mysterious smile.
Cimabue is the last of the Italian artist to paint under the influences of Byzantine art. However, watching his Madonna, you can see that something was changing. The Madonna resting her leg on the upper step of the throne foretells the unique experimentation that will make his talented apprentice Giotto famous.
Out of the three, Giotto is the true creator of modern painting who laid the path to Renaissance. His Maestà, Madonna di Ognissanti, is very different from the other two. She sits on the throne that projects space and shape and creates perspective. The subject, at last, is portrayed as real human being with both, body and soul, in a realistic space of this world.
These halls introduce us to the painting style known as “International (Flamboyant) Gothic.” The style came into existence during the 14th and 15th century as a direct expression of the sophisticated, gracious, and often fairytale tastes of the royal courts.
To get an accurate grasp of this rather flamboyant style, check out the Coronation of the Virgin by Lorenzo Monaco. He emphasizes the opulence of the crowned Virgin instead of the courts and portrays her surrounded by saints above fairytale rainbow.
This room is entirely dedicated to one of the key protagonists of the early Renaissance period, Filippo Lippi. Notable works include:
Lippi portrays slender and graceful figures, twirling clothes and streaming strands of hair with significant attention to the outline.
The hall featuring the famous works of Sandro Botticelli is one of the most popular rooms in the whole Uffizi. Although it is currently closed for renovation, you can see some of the selected for in the Hall 41 including:
Both of these works are intertwined with mysterious symbolism and association full extent of which has not yet been deciphered.
This particular hall is known mainly thanks to several masterpieces created by the young Leonardo da Vinci. These are the works he painted before he left to Milan in 1482 to work in service of Duke Ludovico il Moro. When he was a young artist, and scientist Da Vinci trained his artistic craft with the grand master Verrocchio. The notable works in the room include:
These works help you unravel the peculiarities of young Leonardo’s style specific only to his works such as emotional intensity, expression of feelings, and dynamic drawing.
This already renovated hall features pieces from a period known as “High Renaissance” until its final evolution into so-called “Mannerism.” The one artwork one simply cannot miss, is the Tondo Doni picturing the Holy Family with the child and St. John the Baptist by Michelangelo himself. In fact, it’s the only Michelangelo’s painting still in Florence as well as the only one he ever made not painted directly on the wall.
Why is it so important? It inspired and influenced generations of painters because of the many so far unseen elements it presented:
All in all, in this hall, you will be able to observe how Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael inspired the new artistic movement, Mannerism (from the word “manner” meaning “style” in old Italian). The painters started to use:
Andrea del Sarto and Raphael used to share hall 26 on the second floor but were moved to the renovated halls of the New Uffizi project. Today, the works of Andrea del Sarto reside in the new red rooms 57 and 58.
The one Sarto’s work you should watch out for is the Madonna of the Harpies. It’s a perfect work to help you understand the influences the artist absorbed during his career including classicism of Florentine tradition as well as styles and techniques of Leonardo, Raphael, and Michelangelo. It’s also a great example of the transition from Renaissance style to Mannerism
Raphael resided in Florence for four years from 1504 until 1508. Although he didn’t stay long, he managed to paint many imposing works. The one to watch out, for instance, is Madonna of the Goldfinch.
This painting is the perfect representation of Raphael’s unique style in combination with the influences from Leonardo da Vinci:
Another painting to focus on is the rather well-known Raphael’s self-portrait.
Hall 83 is dedicated to the stunning works of Titian (Tiziano in Italian), a leading artist of the Venetian school.
Being great at painting portraits, the rich of the European courts of the time sight him out quite actively. In terms of his style, he focused on the color and its subtle shades as well as the light, landscape, and the relationship between nature and man.
The hall features ten works by Tiziano including the most famous of his works, the Venus of Urbino.
This hall is dedicated to the great artist Michelangelo Merisi better known as Caravaggio who died at an early age of 39 years. His most famous works include:
Although today the world knows Uffizi for the incredible collection of paintings, in the beginning, Florentines called it “Gallery of Statues.” Why? The first collection comprised mainly of ancient Roman and Greek statues.
The interest of the Medicis in antiques started with Cosimo the Elder and grew stronger with grandson, Lorenzo the Magnificent. Lorenzo went as far as to found the Garden of San Marco, an academy where many artists of the time such as Michelangelo came in contact with sculpture for the first time. Sadly, Lorenzo was the last ruler to benefit from the political stability of Florence. His son was forced to flee the city when his dodgy administration techniques were uncovered, and the statues were stolen.
It was Cosimo I, the first Grand Duke of Tuscany, with his sons who revived the family interest in art and started to enlarge their collection with new acquisitions. Hence, today, you can admire pieces such as the statue of Venus in the Tribune or Niobe group which also has a hall of its own. Furthermore, numerous statues and busts are positioned along the corridors which line the u-shaped museum.
From any point of Florence’s historic city center (including the train station), you can reach the gallery within a 10-minute walk. You can find the entrances are in the left wing of the museum; the ticket office on the right heading towards the river Arno.
There are elevators close to both entrance and exit of the gallery. There are fairly small so, at times, there might be a short wait.
The Uffizi Gallery spreads over three floors. Your visit begins on the top floor which is, according to Italian standards, called the second floor. The easiest way to reach the top level is via a grand staircase from the 1500s.
Since the gallery is almost as famous for its long lines as for its art, we advise you plan ahead to avoid stress. To give you a better idea of the queuing odyssey, there are three different instances that can hold you up in a queue:
Most people stir towards the official option regarding ticket and tour purchase. However, due to changes in the relationship between Italian museums and the government, the official Uffizi website offers information but cannot sell tickets.
Most third-party vendors provide skip-the-line tickets and tours, but not all of them offer the same kind of service. For instance, some vendors allow you to buy a fast-track ticket online but still require you to pick up the physical ticket at the gallery.
The Uffizi Gallery tickets and tours offered at DoTravel currently constitute the fastest way to get inside the museum. The promoters pick up your pre-booked ticket for you and escort you inside via a designated entrance. While it’s always better to book in advance, last minute bookings are also often available.