The Uffizi Gallery is pound for pound one of the greatest art galleries on Earth. It is a collection of Renaissance art which makes it one of the most important collections in Western Civilization. Would you know it started out as an office building for the Medici? Here are some of the most astounding facts about the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.
11 Astounding Facts About the Uffizi Gallery
The Medici, Pazzi, cronies, secret corridors, legendary gifts, and paintings that could get you burnt at the stake make the Uffizi more interesting than its artwork alone. Get ready for some truly astonishing factoids about the Uffizi Gallery that will give you a new appreciation for Florence’s greatest museum.
11. Uffizi Literally Translates to “Offices”
Giorgio Vasari designed and orchestrated the construction of a new building connected to Palazzo Signoria named simply the Uffizi. The building was constructed for the simple purpose of providing ample space for all the departments and agencies needed to run the city of Florence, which makes sense. So, they decided to name the building quite literally the “Offices.”
Although simple, this is one of my favorite facts about the Uffizi Gallery. Many people would romanticize the name, but it just means offices!
10. Has Been a Museum for 250+ Years
The Uffizi opened its doors as a public museum in 1769 which makes it 250 years old! Now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves and say this is an “old” museum. It may feel that way, but compare it to the Capitoline Museum in Rome, which was a year from celebrating its 300th year anniversary as a museum when the Uffizi opened its doors publicly!
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9. Built by the Medici
Giorgio Vasari’s commission of the Uffizi was given to him by Cosimo I dé Medici due to his strong reputation as an artist and architect. The Medici were the defacto leaders of Florence and needed a place to run the government so they decided to take the matter into their own hands.
In the 16th century, Florence had the technical title of “Republic”, but was mostly controlled by the Medici dynasty via cronies. That said, the Medici made an enormous positive impact on Florence, Italy, Europe, and now the world with the introduction of the Renaissance.
8. There is a Secret Passage That Crosses Ponte Vecchio
The most effective way to control a “Republic” is to be very very close to all of its inner-workings. When the Medici commissioned the Uffizi they built it so that it connects with Palazzo Signoria (Palazzo Vecchio today) which sounds reasonable enough. Slightly less reasonable is that they also connect the Uffizi to their own home; Palazzo Pitti.
Ok, that may also seem reasonable as many leaders live and sleep in the very building that they govern from. For the Medici, they lived more than half a mile away across a river! They built the secret passageway over a river which makes this a truly astounding Uffizi fact!
You likely have heard of the Vasari Corridor but did you know that it is about a kilometer long? That is more than 6/10th of a mile. The corridor runs from Palazzo Vecchio, through the Uffizi, over Ponte Vecchio, and into the Pitti Palace. The yellow plain corridor on top of the Ponte Vecchio in the photo above is the Vasari Corridor!
7. The Uffizi is Home to Michelangelo’s Only Free Standing Painting
Many people know Michelangelo as the man who painted the Sistine Chapel but there are some contextual issues with that statement. This is because Michelangelo didn’t consider himself a painter by trade. His comments about painters and paintings make it safe to say that he didn’t appreciate paintings as an art form.
He’s been quoted saying that painters have tricks and second chances when a brushstroke doesn’t happen the way they want it, but sculptors cannot take back a swing of the hammer. That said, he definitely held a paintbrush or two in his day and when he did, Michelangelo did a great job.
Doni Tondo is a painting that hangs in the Uffizi Gallery which happens to be his only known “movable” painting on Earth. The Sistine Chapel is a fresco which would be close to impossible to move without damaging. Doni Tondo is a tempura painting on a wood panel with a glorious frame around it. Again, it is Michelangelo’s only movable painting.
Could there be other paintings out there that he’s done which we don’t know about? Anything is possible but Michelangelo was a superstar of his time so it is unlikely. It would be like asking if Leonardo DiCaprio made any movies in secret that we don’t know about. By the 16th century, the demand for Michelangelo would be so high that his every move was documented.
6. Mud Angels to the Rescue!
In 1966 the Arno River, Florence’s main river, flooded so severely that waters and mud reached the streets of Florence. The local population was completely unprepared for what happened and over 100 people died. There were many collections that suffered losses greater than the Uffizi.
That said, the Uffizi was greatly effected and much was saved thanks to a world-wide effort. Lovers of art and Florence came to the city internationally to help find artifacts in the mud and sewage that covered her streets. They are remembered today as “Angeli del Fango” or Mud Angels!
5. The Uffizi Gallery Loved Napoleon
When many people think Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte they think of a little man with a big ego who tried to take over the world. The French have a more positive point of view on him since he drastically improved Paris culturally and was the last great French military leader. Most people take for granted that France was a military force to be reckoned with for the greater part of the 2nd millennia after Christ.
The French are not alone in their love for Napoleon! Apparently the Uffizi appreciated him greatly unlike the museums of Rome that he stole from. The Uffizi commends him, for good reason, for his patronage of the arts.
4. Napoleon’s Sister Was the Governor of Tuscany
Elisa Baciocchi, the sister of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, governed Florence for a short period of time. She wanted to make Florence more like Paris and convert it to “Italy’s Modern City” but her time in power was cut a bit short so we will have to make due with our modest Florence of today ( ;
3. Almost the Entire Collection, Billions of Dollars in Art, are Donations
Anna Maria Luisa dé Medici was the final member of the dynasty and without male heirs, she decided to donate the entire collection of art and property back to the very city that made it possible; Florence.
This took place in 1737 with what is referred to as “The Family Pact of 1737”. It was easily the most valuable and important donation in the history of Florence and one of the greatest the world has ever seen. The gallery still remained private until the Uffizi opened its door to the public in 1769 and has been a public museum ever since.
2. Millions Visitors Enter Every Year
According to Statista, 2.1 million visitors entered the Uffizi Gallery in 2019. For a small gallery in a small village that is pretty impressive. The Louvre gets close to 10M visitors in the same year but is the largest museum on earth. That is pretty good if you consider the Uffizi’s 140k sqft compared to the Louvre’s
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1. The Mona Lisa Was Once Hung in the Uffizi Gallery
It is close to common knowledge that the Mona Lisa was stolen by a Florentine man in 1911 from the Louvre in Paris. His heroic goal was to bring da Vinci’s painting back to its homeland after being stolen years ago. Little did he know, the Mona Lisa or La Gioconda as it is referred to in Italian, was purchased and its rightful home is in France.
Just because a painting is created by an Italian does not mean it only belongs in Italy. He offered it to the Uffizi Gallery who promptly contacted the Louvre and informed them of the missing whereabouts. Then, for a short time, the Mona Lisa hung on the walls of the Uffizi before returning home to Paris!