on November 21, 2009
Florence's Uffizi is one of the iconic galleries of the world, and probably the best collection of paintings in Italy. Everybody with any interest in Italian (and by extension, European) painting of the last last few hundred years, but particularly Renaissance should try to visit. Uffizi being the busiest single building in Italy, it's not always easy to get in. In the summer, the queues are longer than the building itself, and as the number of people allowed in is sensibly limited, only early morning arrival (and half a day of more spent queuing) will ensure entry. In the winter things are better, but it's still sensible to allow for an hour's wait at least. It's possible to book tickets in advance, on payment of a 4 Euro booking fee, but you need to specify the precise day and hour of entry (in 15 minute intervals) which may create problems for those who like their sightseeing spontaneous. Once inside, the policy of admitting only limited number of visitors makes immediate sense, as despite huge popularity of the gallery, it doesn't get unbearably crowded and it's actually possible to see the paintings. And what paintings there are! The glory of Uffizi is its collection of Italian Renaissance works, although it has much more than that. The gallery was originally an office (uffizi) building, built by Giorgio Vasari for Cosimo I Medici and turned into a gallery by Francesco I. The following generations of Medcis added to the collection, and the last of them, Princess Anna Maria Lodovica, who died in 1743, left the collection to the people of Florence. Room 2 in Uffizi houses three magnificent Maesta (Madonna enthroned) altarpieces by Cimabue, Duccio and Giotto. Dating to the end of Duocento and beginning of Trecento, these paintings show how Medieval, Byzantine, hieratic style starts to turn into an early premonition of Renaissance developments - though Giotto, with his golden backgrounds and mystical air is still very much a Gothic 'un. Room 3 contains Simone Martini's wonderful Annunciation as well as other Sienese works of Trecento. Rooms 7 and 8 have some of the most iconic works of Italian Renaissance, including Uccello's "Battle of San Romano" which is a clear example of early developments of perspective, Masaccio's strangely humane Madonna, the unforgettable portraits of Duke and Duchess of Urbino by Piero della Francesca and the sweet and pretty Madonnas of Filippo Lippi.Botticelli's works are present on more Uffizi merchandise than any other artists and are housed in the converted large space of rooms 10 to 14. The two that are most likely to stop a visitor in his tracks are the allegorical (or maybe symbolic) The Spring (Primavera) and The Birth of Venus, both dealing with non-religious subjects, full of allusions to antique mythology and somehow deeply emblematic of the whole phenomenon of the Florentine artistic flourishing in the time of Lorenzo il Magnifico. Room 15 has early work of Leonardo da Vinci including the mysterious and unfinished Adoration of the Magi. Even if you finished the visit to Uffizi at this point, it would be worth every cent of the entry fee and every minute of the queuing. But there is more there. Further on in the sequence of rooms is the extraordinary Tondo Doni by Michelangelo, his only "proper painting"; stepping beyond the masterpieces of Florentine Renaissance, there is Durer and Cranach the Elder, Holbein and Memling; among other Italian regions and traditions the Venetians are very well represented (Bellini, Giorgione, Veronese and Tinoretto) as is Raphael. A highlight of a separate Dutch room is made of two excellent Rembrandts. The building itself is attractive too, and in addition to the priceless selection of painterly masterpieces, there is a sprinkling of sculpture, frescoes and furniture that enhance the experience. Uffizi is not a gigantically huge place, but the quality of the collection makes it impossible to more than scratch the surface during one visit. If your schedule and budget allow it, go back (apparently Edward Gibbon, of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire fame, visited 14 times during one stay in Florence, though this might be pushing it for even the most dedicated). If it's to be the only visit, rationalise it by concentrating on chosen paintings, artists or periods rather than trying to take in everything. You don't need to prepare in advance, there will always be something that grabs your attention and it's better to devote time and attention to a few works than to skim-view all. You could achieve a reasonably quick run-around in less than a couple of hours, but unless you are visiting the gallery just to "do Uffizi" and put a tick on the list along the lines of "been there, done that" (and frankly, if you do, save yourself the money and the bother and free a place for somebody else), you probably need a good half a day. ***We spent about four hours in Uffizi in December 2007, and I want to go back! What remained with me two years on? The initial golden blast of the Giotto's and Duccio's Maestas. The beatifically pretty, serene Madonnas of Filippo Lippi. The antiquity-exploring Botticellis, of course, especially Primavera. And Cranach's Adam and Eve, compellingly seductive, strangely modern and for some reason I can't fathom instantly recognisable as coming from further north. ***Tickets on the door cost 6,50 Euro ( concessions 3,25; free admissions for EU citizens over 65 or under 18 and EU teachers and students of subjects related to the exhibitions).
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