My first pass at the Uffizi was on a Monday and discovered that this wasn’t a good day to tackle Florence’s museums and galleries – most being decidedly shut. The Blonde looked rather pleased; more time for cafés and people watching, less of this ghastly being inside nonsense. She does despair of me sometimes.
So up at the crack of sparrows on Tuesday morning for me (a lazy late espresso in the Piazza della Signoria for the Blonde) and down to the banks of the Arno to join the pre-opening queues. The Uffizi tries to regulate visitors to a steady 600 at a time, which means long waits most of the day (even for the variety of pre-booked tickets on offer). I had to wait a mere half an hour and it’s not such a bad place to wait on line.
The gallery is arranged around the top floor of the Uffizi, a stern, two winged building built to house the Florentine government in the days of the Medici (Uffizi meaning ‘offices’). The majority of the collection is a testament to the wealth of the powerful Medici clan. They commissioned a large chunk of the output of Florence’s Renaissance masters and many exciting pieces are on show here.
The art work is arranged chronologically in a series of rooms linked by a grand ‘U’ shaped corridor which links the wings via a raised gallery next to the Arno. You are sternly encouraged to follow the time line – going back on yourself to revisit is met with severe opposition from the curators.
The sequence begins with serious Gothic art from the Tuscan school of the 13th and 14th centuries; mainly altarpieces and invariably displaying devotional scenes. Being something of a heathen, I hurried through much of this, only pausing to note an interesting tendency to portray biblical figures in contemporary clothing and locations. The Tuscan school clearly didn’t have ‘perspective’ on its syllabus, which must have been something of a frustration to its pupils.
The birth of the Renaissance in Florence is represented in the next set of rooms as artists got to grips with geometry and the paintings begin to become more ‘natural’. Of course, they didn’t give up on the religious stuff (I guess the artists knew which side their bread was butter on) and you pass a steady stream of ‘Madonna con bambinos’ (with bambino being of varying degrees of blondeness and chubbiness) interspersed with the odd pieta, annunciation and adoration of the magi thrown in for good measure.
I’m being flippant here – there are some incredible pieces of art here. I could barely get in the same room as della Francesca’s famous portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino but I did manage to get ahead of the decidedly impolite tour groups and enjoy some precious minutes with Botticelli’s glorious ‘Birth of Venus’ and slightly edgy ‘Primavera’. These rooms (10-15) house most of the highlights – in da Vinci’s unfinished ‘Adoration of the Magi’ one can see how the artist constructed the work and the facial expressions depicted resonate.
And so it goes on. There is a sumptuous octagonal room given over to Medici family portraits and works from further afield mapping the spread of the renaissance across Europe. It is well worth dwelling on the Arno corridor for a short while; it affords great views of the hills outside Florence and the Ponte Vecchio below and to the right. The second corridor kicks off with a classic from Michelangelo – Madonna con bambino with a twist! A rare appearance by Joseph means the bambino is daringly lifted onto a shoulder. I scoff but the vibrancy of this painting will catch your breath.
The final run is through the Medici’s later acquisitions, taking in Caravaggio, van Dyck, Rubens and Rembrandt. I found this section very interesting; subjects broadened out somewhat – you can have too much Renaissance. After a couple of hours I broke and made for the café at the end of the second corridor. Spend a few euros and enjoy the views across the city.
Like any gallery, the Uffizi has its ‘dry’ sections between the highlights but this was the centre of one of the most significant artistic periods in history and it is, overall, well worth the time and effort.
I found the Blonde sitting in the sun with her shades on, a slightly bemused look on her face. She tried to be grateful for the souvenir postcards, but I could tell her heart wasn’t in it. "Time for a glass of vino?"