The Uffizi Gallery is a must-see Florence Museum. If you are planning to visit the Uffizi and want to know what to see then this article is for you. We’ve reached out to our top local guides in Florence and asked them, “What do we absolutely positively have to see when visiting the Uffizi Museum.
This is what they told us…
Sean’s Pro Tip: Planning can be tough. You read a bunch, forget it, then read more. I like to bookmark helpful posts in a folder so I can circle back prior to or during my trip. Consider bookmarking this post and a few other great reads:
Top 12 Famous Artworks, Sculptures, and Paintings that You Shouldn’t Miss at the Uffizi Gallery
Many of us look at museums as places that were built to be museums because that is what we’ve grown up with. For Italians, that is largely uncommon. The Uffizi, for example, were built to be offices by the Medici family. The name literally translates to just that.
The Medici loved art so they filled their offices full of it. Eventually it became so ornate that people began visiting by request as early as the 16th century. In 1765 the last Medici heiress, Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici signed over almost all Medici assets to the Tuscan State in the Patto di Famiglia.
This included the Pitti Palace, Uffizi and the Medicean Villas. You have to imagine that one Medici violin built by Antonio Stradivari, currently in the Accademia Gallery of Florence, would sell for over $16 million. This was a monumental move that made it possible for over 4 million visitors to enjoy masterpieces in the Uffizi each year.
This happened in 1765 and by 1865 the Uffizi Gallery was officially referred to as a museum. Here are the must see masterpieces currently housed in the Uffizi Gallery.
12. Balcony Overlooking the Duomo
The Uffizi Gallery does not just contain art but is art itself. It also has an incredible viewpoint to see some of Florence’s greatest works of architectural art – although the city could even be defined as one large masterpiece as a whole like many other Italian cities.
As you look out the first thing you’ll notice is Brunelleschi’s dome on the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore aka Il Duomo. The dome was the largest in the world when it was built and is still the largest brick dome in existence. The dome itself is larger than that of St. Peter’s Basilica but St. Peter’s dome, by Donato Bramante, is significantly taller in height.
You’ll also see Giotto’s bell tower. This was constructed in the 14th century by Giotto di Bondone. It appears to be part of the cathedral but it is most definitely not. It is separated by just a few feet – enough to walk in between. While the tower was designed by Giotto, it was not finished in his lifetime or that of his successor, Andrea Pisano. Francesco Talenti completed it in 1359. The tower has 414 stairs and a terrific view from on top!
Their are numerous signs and indicators leading to the “Bar” inside the Uffizi. You can follow them for a coffee and incredible viewpoint. Picture featured above.
11. Portraits of the Duke & Duchess of Urbino
Piero della Francesca | 1472 | Oil on Wood | Hall #7
This is a very interesting and peculiar oil on wood painting depicting a very powerful couple, Federico da Montefeltro and Battista Sforza. The Sforza family ruled Milan for hundreds of years. The painting dates back to the late 15th century and is in fantastic condition.
The painting came to life just after the young duchess died. She fell ill at 26-years-old and succumbed to pneumonia. You will immediately recognize her pale skin which may be due to her being noble and avoiding the sun or that those who knew her described her as pale to Piero della Francesca.
It may look odd and cold but it is actually very romantic which is difficult to see today. This is because the original painting had no obstruction between the two figures. The painting is oil on wood and the two panels were connected by a hinge originally. In essence, you’d see no obstruction between the couple and they were able to gaze into the eyes of each other. This style is called diptych. Often put on an alter or even closed like a book.
While portraits of this kind connected by a hinge are not uncommon, this one features a rarity. The artist painted the wood panels on the front and back sides. The backside features a horse-drawn carriage and a unicorn drawn carriage which are allegories of triumph.
The triumph is not from a great battle, but of virtues. This time period was extremely conservative and focused on morals. Their “virtues” are; Justice, Wisdom, Valor, and Moderation are that of the Duke. The Duchess features Faith, Hope, and Charity.
10. The Ognissanti Madonna
Giotto di Bondone | Tempera on Panel | 1310 | Hall # 2
His Ognissanti or Madonna Enthroned was painted by Giotto di Bondone in the late medieval period (Proto-Renaissance) and is on a wood panel. Giotto was one of the most influential artists leading up to the golden era of the renaissance which is why his art receives so much recognition.
Although this is not the first appearance, Giotto is the first western-European artists to depict 3 dimensional figures. What he did was was a catalyst for a new wave of art and considered highly innovative by artists like Botticelli and Michelangelo who came into their prime more than a century later.
He started Ognissanti Madonna the year after he finished his frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel which was his masterpieces and a supreme masterpiece in western civilization. Why was the chapel so important and what does it have to do with Ognissanti?
Many reasons, but most notably was the change in style. The Renaissance is dated to have started in 1300 and Giotto’s chapel was completed in 1305. Without argument, Giotto’s Scrovegni Chapel is the first masterpiece of the Renaissance and it was immediately accepted with high regard. Paintings began to show individuals instead of groups and artists began to take credit.
Giotto must have started Ognissanti at maximum months after finishing the Chapel and came at it with vigor. The painting would come to find it’s home in Florence and inspire many locally. While the painting definitely shares the rigidness of Byzantine art, which can be torturous at times, it shows signs of artistic evolution – specifically the 3-dimensional figures.
Caravaggio | Hall # 90 | Oil on Wood | 1596
Caravaggio was sort of the Quentin Tarantino of the baroque period. He painted grotesque gripping artwork that turned heads. His Medusa is no exception.
Caravaggio was born Michelangelo Merisi and was from Milan. He went by Caravaggio since you really couldn’t go by the name Michelangelo after Michelangelo. He paints dramatic scenes that would have almost definitely made the people of his time feel uncomfortable as they may make you feel uncomfortable today. His parents died at a young age and was an orphan by 16.
You have to imagine how much happened in the almost 300 years between the Ognissanti and Medusa. Ognissanti is considered controversial for its time because it portrays members of a painting as individuals looking in different directions. Medusa has her head chopped off screaming with Pulp Fiction level blood squirting everywhere.
It was commissioned by Cardinal Francesco Maria Bourbon de Monte in 1597 who then gave it to the Grand Duke Ferdinando I de’ Medici as a gift (or maybe re-gift?) It is painted on a quasi-shield since Perseus used a shield as a mirror to see Medusa as he beheaded her.
Location in Uffizi: the Medusa shield in the Hall #90 dedicated to Caravaggio.
8. Venus of Urbino
Titian | 1538 | Hall #83 | Oil on Canvas
The Venus of Urbino was completed by Titian in 1538, commissioned by the Duke of Urbino, Guidobaldo II Della Rovere. The painting was a gift from the Duke to his young wife.
It represented the allegory of marriage; eroticism, fidelity, and motherhood. The eroticism is evident in the representation of Venus, the goddess of love. The dog at her feet represents marital fidelity, while the girl looking through the chest in the background represents motherhood.
Rembrant | Hall # 49 | 17th Century
Rembrandt is a very important figure as he carried the Italian renaissance north to Holland where the Dutch renaissance began. He lived during the 17th century and has two self-portraits. First as a young man and another as a mature man. He followed the path of Caravaggio painting in a chiaroscuro method to draw attention to key dramatic features. You’ll find several Rembrandt paintings housed in the Uffizi including The Old Rabbi.
Location in the Uffizi: Hall of Rembrandt (49)
6. Doni Tondo (The Holy Family)
Michelangelo | 1506 | Oil on Wood | Hall # 3
Doni Tondo or The Holy Family is one of a literal handful of free-standing (panel) paintings Michaelangelo this is the only one that has survived. Commissioned by Agnolo Doni in 1506. The name, Doni Tondo, is very literal. Doni is the last name of the patron and tondo means “round” in Italian – hence the shape of the painting.
The merchant Agnolo Doni commissioned Michelangelo to paint this to commemorate the birth of his child and/or his marriage. It’s a beautiful work of art that commemorates a sort of golden era for Renaissance art in Florence. The frame is also original to the painting which Michelangelo would have likely had designed himself.
Although Michelangelo lived in a heavily documented era, there is a lot of unknowns surrounding this work of art. The frame has 5 figures which are largely unknown. The nudes in the background also hold little significance and their meaning is speculative at best. A major question is if Mary is passing the baby to St. Joseph of visa versa.
This is Michelangelo’s only free standing painting which makes it a unicorn.
5. Medici Venus
Praxiteles | 1st C B.C. | Greece | Marble | Hall of Tribunes
It is likely that Venus, or Aphrodite in Greece, is the most sculpted figure in history. This is largely due to what she represents; love. The Medici Venus is a 1st century BC copy of a Greek sculpture.
The sculpture was taken into ownership by the Medici and attributed to Praxiteles but there is little foundation for that. The base says it was sculpted by the son of Apollodorus but that is not true. Regardless, it is a beautiful sculpture. As you admire it you can connect with many famous historical figures such as Michelangelo, Botticelli, or Lorenzo the Magnificent who undoutedly admired it at close distance.
Leonardo da Vinci & Andrea del Verrocchio | 1475 | Hall #15 | Oil on Wood
The Annunciation is widely accepted as Leonardo da Vinci’s first commissioned painting. Leonardo painted the Annunciation in his early twenties as a young man and it already shows all the tell-tale signs of a “da Vinci”.
The painting features the Angel Gabriel who is communicating to the Virgin Mary that she will conceive and give birth to a son to be named Jesus, “Son of God”.
It would have been greeted with universal acclaim as the style was almost completely unique. Leonardo loved nature and it is very present in this painting. He set a new precedence for spatiality in this painting with his layout of mountains, the stream, and trees. The perception of depth, use of bold colors, and unique details brought da Vinci literally more commissions than he could handle.
I hopefully do not ruin this painting for you but it is difficult not to mention that this painting looks like the angel is taking a photo of the Madonna.. does it not?
Location in Uffizi: Hall #15.
3. Madonna del Cardellino
Raphael | 1506 | Oil on Wood | Hall #66
The Madonna del Cardellino, or Madonna of the Goldfinch, is a work by the master Raphael. It is a wedding gift for his friend Lorenzo Nasi. The Virgin Mary is young and beautiful in this painting wearing red and blue robes. The red signifies the passion of Christ and the blue represents the church.
The painting features the Madonna, mother of Christ, St John as a baby (left), and Jesus Christ (right). John holds a goldfinch which is a symbol of the crucifixion. According to Cristian Dogma, a goldfinch came down to take a thorn from the crown of Christ and was splattered by a droplet of blood. From that point forward, goldfinches have always had a red dot on their breast.
The painting has been on a wild ride from 1548 until 2008. It was broken into 17 pieces during an earthquake in 1548 and restored but you can still see many cracks. Raphael had been dead for some time at this point and the painting was of significant importance.
In 2002 the painting underwent a scientific restoration over the course of 6 years and has been hanging in the Uffizi since 2008. It is now closer to its original condition than it has been since 1548.
2. La Primavera
Sandro Botticelli | 1480s | Tempera on Panel | Hall #10-14
La Primavera, or spring in English, is one of the greatest works of art ever blessed upon the world. That statement goes far beyond its beauty and artistic expression. La Primavera defied the oppression of artistic expression which arguably could have inspired a massive leap forward in art history. Some of the greatest artists that would ever live followed the career of Boticelli.
The Medici Family commissioned the painting. It only exists due to their wealth and clout. The 15th century was the height of the Renaissance in Florence and this would be one of the first paintings to feature a completely pagan scene introduced to the public.
In Rome, people burned at the stake for less but this was Florence and the Medici ruled. The painting symbolizes so much in terms of progress and freedom of expression but also happens to be a masterpiece in terms of artistic ability.
From right to left you have Zephyr, who symbolizes the spring wind, and the nymph Clori. Their daughter, Flora, goddess of flowers, is the spring. In the center, you’ll find Venus as a symbol of love. To the left of Venus are the Three Graces and Mercury.
Botticelli trail blazes with his accuracy in depicting the human body. Much of the reason why he portrays persons in the nude or partially nude is feature his skills.
The painting was commissioned for the Medici whom Botticelli was very close to. The painting is riddled with Medici symbolism and even Medici faces. It is practically a year book. The name Medici means “doctors” in Italian and Mercury was the god of medicine.
Location in Uffizi: Hall of Botticelli (10-14)
1. The Birth of Venice by Sandro Botticelli
The Birth of Venus has become one of the world’s most famous Renaissance masterpieces.It was painted by Sandro Botticelli between 1482 and 1485 for the Medici family. If La Primavera was the first step in freedom of expression then the Birth of Venus was the first big leap.
In the painting you can observe Venus, the goddess of love, standing on a seashell in the center. To the right of her, Zephyr, the god of the west wind is blowing her to the shore. There, Pomona, the goddess of spring, is waiting with a cape to clothe the newborn deity.
Artistically, it is much brighter than La Primavera with a more open landscape behind Venus. Instead of partially clothed, Venus is almost completely nude – risky for the period. The subject is said to be modeled after an Aphrodite statue named Aphrodite of Cnidos but romantics believe it was Simonetta Vespucci – wife of a Florentine trader.
This rumor has been all but dismissed by art critics but I sure do like a good story. Botticelli apparently fell in love with her while painting a commission from her husband and trader, Marco Vespucci. Her likeness is arguably found in many of Botticelli’s works but it is heavily refuted.
The birth of Venus is one of the greatest paintings from the 15th century and likely the most beautiful depiction of Venus in history. Venus is the goddess of love and beauty so that may put this painting in the running for the most beautiful painting ever created.
On a personal note, when I saw this painting for the first time I mentally made the decision to leave a life of banking (Wall Street) and work in tourism.
Location in Uffizi: Botticelli Rooms (10-14)