It’s rare for an art museum to have too many masterpieces to display. That happy fate befell the Uffizi Gallery in Florence when the last of the Medici, Electress Anna Maria, willed the entire family collection to the gallery in 1743. The results, collected over several centuries, provide a view of one of the finest treasure troves of art anywhere in the world.
The Uffizi occupies a building originally intended as office space for the Grand Duke Cosimo I (1519-1574). ‘Uffizi’ in Italian means ‘office’. The gallery itself was completed in 1581 from a design by Vasari, under the sponsorship of Cosimo’s son, Francisco. Gradually, the Medici transferred more and more works here, creating the world’s first public art museum in 1591.
Many art museums start with a small, sometimes outstanding, collection of privately collected works. Here, as with everything they did the Medici – rulers of Florence off and on for generations – packed them in by the cartload.
Works are presented in chronological order, giving viewers the opportunity to see the whole panoply of Renaissance art in the manner it developed. That display constitutes not just an education but an experience of a lifetime.
Among the works here are the famed Venus by Botticelli. The Ognissanti Madonna by the late Gothic master, Giotto, is on display. It is kept company by The Madonna and Child with Two Angles, by Lippi, along with hundreds more equally great works. Raphael’s Madonna of the Goldfinch resides not far from a Bacchus by Caravaggio.
One wall holds the Venus of Urbino by Titian. Another displays the Baptism of the Christ by del Verrocchio. Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo is one of the lesser works in this superb collection. Da Vinci’s Annunciation is just down the corridor. The famed Mannerist painting, The Madonna of the Long Neck by Parmigianino resides in the Uffizi.
Outstanding as that portion of the collection undoubtedly is, there is much more to the Uffizi than Italian Renaissance works of the masters.
Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait as an Old Man is one example. The Adoration of the Magi by the great German master, Albrecht Dürer is yet another. El Greco, Goya and Velasquez are all well represented.
Many later works are on display, too, including over 250 self-portraits one of which is of Chagall who handed his to the curator personally. Works by Ingres, Delacroix and Rubens can be seen in the narrow corridors. The museum also holds almost 1,400 miniatures, second only to the collection in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
The Uffizi remains one of Florence’s most popular attractions. In a city full of outstanding art, both indoor and out, that is quite an achievement. When so many outstanding artists are represented in one collection visitors will be offered more than can be seen in one afternoon. To view the collection, then, and actually see it, will take some planning. During the summer it can take several hours to get in without a reservation. Therefore, booking well in advance is vital.
But the small effort will be richly rewarded. Nowhere else in the world is there quite this comprehensive display of so many fine works.