History of the Uffizi Gallery
Few people know the huge building of the Uffizi was not created as a museum. It was ordered in 1560 by Cosimo I de’ Medici, first Grand Duke of Tuscany, to house the administrative and judiciary offices of Florence, the “uffizi” (Italian for “offices”). At the time when the grandiose building was being built, the Medici hegemony was secure.
Cosimo called upon his favorite artist, Giorgio Vasari, to design the u-shaped building we still can admire today. The great architect also built the secret Corridor that joins the Uffizi to the Pitti Palace running above the Ponte Vecchio, the church of Santa Felicita and the many buildings on the way to the palace before ending at the Boboli Gardens. The “Corridoio Vasariano” was built to celebrate the marriage of Cosimo’s son, Francesco, to Giovanna d’Austria.
To build the Uffizi and make space for the huge complex, many constructions were demolished. Among them San Pier Scheraggio, an ancient and important Romanesque church. You can still see some remains of the old church on the ground floor, in the so called Via della Ninna, facing Palazzo Vecchio. The archs and columns of one of the aisles of the church are still visible from that street.
The old nave of San Pier Scheraggio is the only part of the church that is still almost intact and is encapsulated into the Uffizi ground floor, close to Palazzo Vecchio and near the museum entrance.
The Hall of San Pier Scheraggio is often closed and opens only for special events and celebrations.
Inside are the famous detached frescoes by Andrea del Castagno depicting the cycle of Famous Men and Women and another famous fresco by Sandro Botticelli.
Anyway, the Uffizi was finished by another great artist, Bernardo Buontalenti, after Vasari’s death in 1574.
In 1581 Francesco I de’ Medici, Cosimo’s son and new Grand Duke of Tuscany, set up a Gallery with statues and other precious objects on the last floor of the east wing of the Uffizi.
But the heart of the original museum is the octagonal room called Tribuna. Completed by Bernardo Buontalenti in 1584, it represents the four elements and is fully decorated with marvellous marble, precious stones and shells.
The collections would become vaster and vaster, continually enriched by almost every member of the Medicy dinasty until their extinction in the XVIIIth century.
The Gallery was opened to public later, in 1769, by Grand Duke Peter Leopold, maybe the most enlightened and important member of the Austrian house of Lorraine, new regnant family of the Grand Duchy until the unification of Italy.
The gallery was completely reorganized according to the new scientific criteria of the Enlightemnment and the collections were divided per type. The paintings from the scientific pieces, for which a new museum was built, the Museum of Zoology and Natural History best known as La Specola.
During the nineteenth century many Renaissance statues were moved to the National Museum of Bargello and some Etruscan pieces were placed to the Archaeological Museum.
Since then, the Uffizi have become one of the most visited and popular museum of the world.
The next future is focused on the project of a new exit for the Gallery, designed by the architect Arata Isozaki. Tradition will meet modernity.