Masterpieces at the Uffizi:
When your time is very limited, an itinerary to guide you through the many halls of the Uffizi in search of some of the most important masterpieces is essential. There are many other works not included in this list, but the aim is to guide you along a visit that will make sure you stop and admire some of the greatest works of art of the Uffizi’s collections.
- The museum itinerary should take about 1.5 hours to complete.
- The itinerary highlights some of the most important works of art we consider essential you admire, there are likely many other lists out there that include other works as well.
Please note: from June 2014 until Spring 2015, Halls 2-7 are temporarily closed for renovations to the rooms. Many of the major works are temporarily on exhibit in Halls 43-45, but not all.
Hall 2 – Giotto and the 13th Century. This great hall has three “Majesties”, one by Cimabue, the other by Duccio di Buoninsegna and the third by Giotto. The title of “Majesty” is given to depictions of the Enthroned Madonna with Child surrounded by Angels and Saints. The technique is of tempera on wood with a gold leaf background. If you compare the three works, you are able to witness the change in style that occurred in Italian paiting at the end of the 13th century. In fact, between the 11th-13th centuries both sculpture and architecture had already developed their own innovative, original language in Western Europe with Romanesque and Gothic styles, while painting had remained “behind” by still depending in great part on the Greek-Byzantine style. You can see this style in Cimabue‘s Majesty, painted between 1280-90 (on the right wall as you enter). A more natural representation of the same subject can be noted in the work by Duccio (on the left wall), painted in 1285 but it is with Giotto that a new style can definitely be noted (the central work in the room as you enter). Giotto, along with his contemporary Dante Aligheri, does not speak Greek or Latin, but Italian and his figures are placed in a three dimensional space, acquiring concrete bodies which also know how to express their emotions through their facial expressions and gestures. Note for example, in Giotto’s Majesty from 1310 the figure of the Madonna herself, where for the first time you are able to see her body shaped under her clothes. Look back at the other Majesties to see the differences.
Hall 5-6 – International Gothic. Among the many beautiful works in this room, Gentile da Fabriano’s Adoration of the Magi, signed and dated 1423, stands out for its refinement. It can be taken as an example of the transition from the courtly Gothic to the Renaissance: it maintains its Gothic character in the representation of lavish dress style, in the richness of the golden frame and in its gold leaf background. This is right alongside the structural composition and narrative of the story developing in the early Renaissance. Here, we no longer have the division of figures into separate panels as found in triptychs or polyptychs (seen in the halls right before this one); the entire story can be found in the same scene, which starts at the top with the Three Kings who see the comet and then follow it as they travel through Jerusalem to Bethlehem. In scenes along the dais, or predella found below, the painter also abandons the use of a golden background and adopts the representation of a blue sky, which together with perspective is one of the new elements of Renaissance painting.
Hall 7 – The Early Renaissance – The works in this hall, dedicated to the early Renaissance, contain all of the elements that characterize the new artistic style: representation of three-dimensional space by using perspective, which can be seen in the Battle of San Romano (1438/40) by Paolo Uccello, the study of natural light which creates a beautiful effect in the St. Lucia dei Magnoli Altarpiece (circa 1440) by Domenico Veneziano, the centrality of man and the study of anatomy powerfully expressed in the Madonna and Child with St. Anne by Masaccio and Masolino (from around 1425). The rediscovery of the works of ancient philosophers and writers, who had already given rise to the studies of humanities by Petrarch and Giovanni Boccaccio in the fourteenth century, proceeds in fifteenth-century Florence in the renewal of art through the study of antiquity: Filippo Brunelleschi, Donatello, Masaccio, Lorenzo Ghiberti and Luca della Robbia are just some of the main protagonists of this development.
Hall 8 – Filippo Lippi – The extraordinarily beautiful Madonna with Child and Two Angels (1465) by Filippo Lippi, whose original location might have been in Palazzo Medici, is the most famous example of the representation of this subject matter in fourteenth-century Florentine painting. Filippo Lippi, a much admired painter by Cosimo the Elder and Piero de’ Medici, had the ability to paint Madonnas which are characterized by an extraordinary grace, as well as lively expressions and quite loving demeanors.
In this same hall, you’ll find another important masterpiece for the portrait genre, greatly appreciated in the Renaissance: the Dukes of Urbino by Piero della Francesca (1465-1472). Here, Federico da Montefeltro and his wife Battista Sforza are depicted in profile, just as they were in ancient medals with effigies of the Caesars, but the faces are not idealized. Through the real representation of their features, the personalities of the two spouses can be sensed. The duchess intellectual and refined with her wide forehead, the Duke imperious and a bit Machiavellian, with a great, and quite famous, nose which expresses all of his authority. The two portraits have a beautiful, panoramic landscape in the background, with the sky fading into the distant horizon. These elements were fundamental to the development of painting in the 15th century and, in particular, for Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael.
Hall 10-14 Botticelli – This room holds two masterpieces that make the Uffizi Gallery famous worldwide: The Birth of Venus and the Primavera (Spring) by Sandro Botticelli, both the highest expressions of the Florentine humanistic culture inspired by pagan Renaissance. Both were commissioned by the Medici family who knew how to appreciate the beauty of the ancient world in modern works, and who also were quite capable in creating one of those most marvelous marriages between money and beauty.
Hall 15 – Leonardo da Vinci is the star of this room, where you can admire two of his early works: the Baptism of Christ and The Annunciation. The first is famous because it has the first example of painting by the brilliant young artist. In fact, most of the work was painted by Andrea del Verrocchio, under whom Leonardo was apprenticed. Only the angel in profile with his back to the viewer is by Leonardo, who was able to transmit a softness and grace to the angelic face in contrast to the other figures by the teacher, which are a little stiff in comparison. The Annunciation (circa 1472) is completely by Leonardo, who was just around twenty at the time, and who already gives us a sample of what was to become his famous “sfumato” technique in the landscape in the distance.
Hall 35 – This is the hall dedicated to the Tondo Doni by Michelangelo, the only tempera panel painting whose attribution to the great artist is certain. The subject here is the Holy Family, and was commissioned by Agnolo Doni and Maddalena Strozzi in 1506. The work was done in between the sculpting of the David (finished in 1504) and the frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, begun by Michelangelo in Rome in May 1508. The frame is original and was carved in the Del Tasso workshop following Michelangelo’s own design.
To complete the triad of the most important Italian painters of the sixteenth century, you now need to head down to the first floor.
Hall 66 – The hall is dedicated to the works by Raffaello da Urbino, known more simply as Raphael. The Uffizi and Pitti Palace hold the largest number of Raphael paintings in the world with a total of 20 works. In Florence and in the same years during which Michelangelo painted the Doni Tondo, Raphael painted the Madonna of the Goldfinch, which recently underwent a difficult restoration that lasted 10 years. The work had in fact gone to pieces in 1547 when the house of Lorenzo Nasi crumbled under a landslide from Costa San Giorgio and over the centuries had undergone renovations so heavy that it was no longer possible to admire the poetic beauty of the work, which the work has now regained. It is an early work that still shows the influence of his master, Perugino, but it also shows the influence of Leonardo da Vinci, the master Raphael came to study while in Florence between 1504 to 1508.
The Portrait of Pope Leo X with Cardinals Giulio de ‘Medici and Luigi de’ Rossi dates to 1518 when Raphael was in Rome. Already evident here is the greatness and perfection in style that made Raphael the master of all painters of the “classical” school up until the nineteenth century.
Hall 83 – Here, visitors can admire a new depiction of the goddess of love: the Venus of Urbino by Titian, the greatest representative of the Venetian school of the sixteenth century. The most important element for Titian was not the drawing, usually considered the basis of all artistic expression, but color, as it will be, 300 years later, for the Impressionists. Titian’s Venus is made of flesh and nothing like Botticelli’s Venus, which instead appears like a Greek statue, divine and immortal.
Hall 90 – Our itinerary and tour ends in this room dedicated to Caravaggio, the “cursed” genius that profoundly changed painting not only in Italy but in all of Europe at the beginning of the seventeenth century. The elements that characterize Caravaggio’s style are the realism with which details are described and the contrast between light and darkness. The latter not only creates a striking effect, it also has a symbolic meaning: the light is grace, the darkness is sin and despair. This was a reflection of the life of the painter himself, who managed to combine the genius in art to a recklessness that eventually led to his death. The works by Caravaggio at the Uffizi have not yet developed this aspect as they are early paintings, but you cannot help yourself but admire the terrible gaze of the Medusa that almost jumps out from the dark background of the shield on which it is painted, the harsh reality of the hand of Abraham who is about to kill his son in The Sacrifice of Isaac, and the perfect rendering of details in the wanton Bacchus.