One of the world’s finest and oldest art galleries, the Uffizi in Florence, Italy has housed the world’s masterpieces since the time of Leonardo. Established in 1581, it was designed by Vasari, architect and author of Lives of the Artists. The same loving detail that went into that masterpiece of art writing went into the curation of the museum, and has continued to do so ever since. Discover some of its finest masterpieces here.
Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus
Perhaps the Uffizi’s most famous work, The Birth of Venus is one of those paintings that has achieved a level of fame that serves to obscure the greatness of the original work. Like the Mona Lisa or the Warhol Marilyn series, our expectations cannot fail to be disappointed, but Botticelli gets incredibly close to justifying the reputation of this work. The alluringly beautifuo Venus standing on her shell is the most remembered aspect, but the work also delights in its little details – in folds of fabric and floating flowers. Its sheer size and beauty also impresses.
Fra Angelico, Coronation of the Virgin
One of the most stunning altar-pieces ever created, Fra Angelico‘s work offers us an entire compendium of saints, each giving their own unique character and spirit by the master painter of the 15th century. The painting is stunning enough on its own, but when coupled with the detailed engraving work in the gilt this truly becomes a masterpiece. Originally a triptych, this work offers a wealth of details that allow this work to stand out by itself. However, you can see its sisters at nearby San Marco to get an idea of how Angelico conceived of the triptych.
Baccio Bandinelli, Laocoön and his Sons
Part of the Uffizi’s breathtaking sculpture corridor, Bandinelli‘s sculptures teaches us much of what we need to know about artistic methods during the Italian Renaissance. Based on a Hellenistic sculpture unearthed in 1506, Bandinelli took the ruined original and its description by Pliny the Elder and used it to model a modern recreation for Pope Leo X to give as a gift to King Francis I. Here we have the entire story of the Renaissance in microcosm: an artistic commission from a powerful leader based on a work of antiquity, which is then refashioned for a contemporary audience by a master craftsman.
Parmigianino, Madonna with the Long Neck
The strange adult-like proportion of the child and the famously long neck present in its colloquial name should work against Parmigianino’s most famous work, yet somehow they seem to imbue the painting with its own unique kind of grace and stillness. In fact, everything in this painting is radical and innovative, from these proportions to its strange perspective, to the highly unusual placement of figures within the painting, showing a painter trying new ways to depict familiar scenes attempted by all the painter’s great predecessors. And the Madonna with the Long Neck is proof that a radical new way can lead to a masterpiece being painted.
Raphael, Portrait of Pope Leo X with Two Cardinals
Raphael’s Portrait of Pope Leo X, who commissioned of many of the gallery’s finest works, is another of the quietly revolutionary works that make the Uffizi worth exploring. Raphael eschews the idealism of his time to show the Pope as he must have been in reality, a ‘warts and all’ approach that would not become prominent for at least another century. Furthermore, the master Raphael has filled the painting with references to contemporary events that mean the work has a new detail to offer on every single viewing.
Unknown Tuscan Master, Head of Christ
A painting best-known due to its inclusion in the introduction of EH Gombrich’s seminal Story of Art, this early depiction of the head of Christ is a fascinating insight into a neglected period in the history of art. Before idealised naturalism became the defining mode of art for centuries, works such as these were painted. Ornamentation and the depiction of emotion take precedence over realism, giving the work an exciting air of expressionism that would not return to art until the 20th century. To see this work is to see how the history of art could have taken a very different direction indeed.
Leonardo da Vinci and Andrea del Verrocchio, Annunciation
The Uffizi is within the small upper echelon of museums that own a Da Vinci. The Annunciation is one of about 16 paintings we have from perhaps the world’s most famous artist of all time. It is an informative insight into the early da Vinci, who painted this work alongside his master Verrocchio. Although it is now undoubtedly thought to be a collaboration, signs of the signature da Vinci’s style can clearly be seen, particularly on the Angel Gabriel on the left, whose face bears a distinct similarity to the artist’s other works, the La Belle Ferronnière and the Mona Lisa.
Along with The Birth of Venus, Caravaggio’s Medusa is the work people most associate with the Uffizi Gallery. As well as a gripping study of one of mythology’s most compelling characters, this round-canvas work is an exciting exploration of form from one the great radicals of his time. Representing both the Medusa herself, whose head could turn humans into stone, and the mirrored shield that finally defeated her, the work is a fascinating exploration of opposites and the nature of art as well as a gripping image in its own right.
Michelangelo, Doni Tondo
This depiction of the Doni Tondo (Italian for ‘Holy Family’) offers an experience only available at this gallery: the chance to see a panel painting by the mature Michelangelo, for this is the only one that survives. A fascinating precursor to the Sistine Chapel, which he probably began after completing this work, it offers many chances to see Michelangelo’s mastery of bodily form and fabric through its depiction of a robe-wearing holy family flanked by beautiful male nudes. The presence of the former has baffled many art historians.
Titian, Venus of Urbino
The best and most famous of Titian’s nudes, the Venus of Urbino is a masterwork of the form and one of the most alluring women in the history of art. Its frank and shameless eroticism was shocking for its time, and the legacy of this work can be traced through artist from Manet through to Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas today. Many, including the writer Mark Twain, see the painting as an obscenity, a pornographic blot in Titian’s faultless career, whilst many others admire the mastery of flesh Titian achieves. View the painting yourself to form your own opinion on one of art’s most controversial pieces.