When in Rome, do what the Romans do. When in Florence, visit the Uffizi Gallery. At the museum, visitors will find masterpieces from the Renaissance, prints and drawings, and classical sculptures housed within 45 museum halls. A one-day visit is not enough time truly to appreciate the Uffizi Gallery’s vast collection. These are the Gallery’s must-see masterpieces when time is short:
The diptych of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino (1465-1472) by Piero della Francesca is one of the most notable masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance. It depicts Federigo Montefeltro and his wife, Battista Sforza. Similar to classical portrait medals, the painting solemnly presents the two dukes. Their busts dominate the foreground against the landscaped backdrop, so as to accentuate the stateliness of the Urbino court. As a result of the Duke losing his right eye and breaking his nose during a tournament, the rendition in profile was intentional. The diptych is likewise painted on the back with the dukes seated on antique wagons in the company of the Virtues.
Painted by Sandro Botticelli, the Birth of Venus (1482-1485) is probably one of the world’s most famous 15th century Italian Renaissance paintings. Commissioned by Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici (cousin of Lorenzo the Magnificent), the work is derived from Ovid’ Metamorphoses in Latin literature. It depicts Venus born from the seafoam, her hair caressed by the west wind, Zephyr, and the nymph, Chloris, towards one of the Horai, who readies to clothe her with a flowered mantle. Violets are scattered in the meadow, exemplifying love. The painting is the first instance in Tuscany of a work painted onto canvas. Interpretations on Botticelli’s work are numerous. According to Austrian art historian, Ernst Gombrich, the Birth of Venus depicts the fusion of Spirit and Matter, and the euphonious synergy of Idea and Nature.
While Michelangelo was in Florence, sculpting David, he also painted Doni Tondo or the Holy Family (1506-1508). Paintings of the Holy Family were commonplace during the Renaissance, and the “tondo” was a standard work for private clients. The painting was commissioned by one of the leading Florentine families, banker Agnolo Doni, supposedly at the time of his marriage to Maddalena Strozzi. It is the only finished painting by Michelangelo that does not appear on the ceiling or wall. The figures of Joseph, Mary and Child, are grouped so that the revolution of the Madonna gives the composition a spiral progression, later mimicked by many artists. Even the carved and gilded wooden frame is of interest. It features the Strozzi coat of arms, and was designed by Michelangelo, who preferred sculpture to painting.
Bacchus (1596-1597) was painted by Milanese-born Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, better known as Caravaggio. Influenced by Venetian painting, he studied “deep realism” and the partiality for unpretentious and fashionable subjects. Commissioned by his patron, Cardinal del Monte, the work was an offering to Ferdinand I, Grand Duke of Tuscany. Bacchus is seen postured and grasping a cup of wine in his left hand, like a reflected image in the mirror. Trained in the use of oils, Caravaggio frequently employed an elaborate arrangement of mirrors to paint his subjects. After a recent restoration, conservators exposed an outline of a man’s face on the wine carafe, and it is believed to be the reflection of Caravaggio.
Annually, millions of visitors arrive at the Uffizi Gallery Museum to feast their eyes on some of the most remarkable masterpieces that have distinguished the world’s avant-garde movements through the centuries. Currently, a project called “New Uffizi” is in progress to modernize the historical palace-cum-museum, not only to make it easier to navigate, but for better stewardship of the treasures under its roof.
By Dawn Levesque