Uffizi Gallery is one of the most famous museums in the world, where the best works of world painting are kept. Of course, when you get there, you want to see them all, but it is absolutely impossible: one day is not enough to see all the paintings.
Giotto di Bondone ‘Ognissanti Madonna’ (‘Madonna in Maestà’)
This magnificent altarpiece, written by Giotto in 1310 was created for the Florentine Church of Ognissanti, All Saints, so it is often called the “Madonna of Ognissanti”.
Before Giotto, Italian painting strictly followed the Byzantine canons – angular flat figures, alienated expressions of faces, lack of volume and depth. Giotto, retreating from these traditions, gave “humanity” to his characters and thus made a revolution in art. Without Giotto, there might never have been a new movement in culture, philosophy, and art, which we now call the Renaissance.
The folds of the clothes give volume and weight to Maria’s body and a barely noticeable sad smile slides down her face. The figures depicted increasingly resemble real people – for example, the singing angels in the foreground or the Madonna herself, as an ordinary earthly woman pressing her son firmly against her.
Despite the presence of some traditional elements for the painting of that time, such as the golden background, the hierarchy of figures (the Madonna and the baby are larger than the angels and saints), Giotto undoubtedly introduced a number of innovations in painting. He gave a new assessment of the human figure and its place in the surrounding space, thus deeply influencing the development of 14th-century painting.
Although Giotto’s perspective is intuitive and not based on scientific laws to be developed a century later, a revolution in Western art began with this great Tuscan master.
“The Madonna Onyisanti is on display in Hall 2, dedicated to Giotto and 13th-century art.
Simone Martini and Lippo Memmi ‘The Annunciation with St. Margaret and St. Ansanus’
‘The Annunciation with St. Margaret and St. Ansanus’ was painted around 1333 by the Sienese painter Simone Martini and his relative Lippo Memmii for the altar of the Sant’Anzano Chapel in the Siena Cathedral. The signature at the bottom in Latin reads “SYMON MARTINI ET LIPPVS MEMMI DE SENIS ME PINXERVNT ANNO DOMINI MCCCXXXIII” (Simone Martini and Lippus Memmi from Siena wrote me in 1333).
This work, with its refined lines and delicate colors, is considered a masterpiece of Siena Gothic painting. Archangel Gabriel, who bowed to the Madonna, only came down from heaven – his wings are still open, his cloak flutters in the wind. From the mouth of the heavenly messenger come the words of the Gospel, ‘Rejoice, O gracious’ (‘The Lord is with You).
The Madonna seems surprised and frightened by this sudden appearance. Mary’s shy movement and her curved elongated silhouette add grace to the whole composition.
According to traditions of that time, images of biblical scenes were to have a gilded background. The artists, still following the traditional canons of painting, inscribed interesting details in an attempt to give the work some realism.
The marble floor, the archangel’s cloak with a cage motif, a vase with lilies, Mary’s semi-enclosed book and her throne give a sense of real space.
The clothes of the characters depicted are subtly outlined with a smooth decorative line, typical of the Sienese school of painting.
Unlike the Florentine school, which is characterized by monumentality, volume and form, Sienese painting, with its graceful and refined lines and subtlety of colors, is more lyrical. This is what captivates Simone’s Martini work.
Gentile da Fabriano ‘Adoration of the Magi’
The painting, depicting a feudal world in all its brilliance and elegance, is considered a masterpiece of international Gothic.
The theme of Magi’s adoration was a favorite painting subject of the time as it provided an opportunity to demonstrate economic prosperity and cultural superiority.
A crowded, colorful procession fills the entire composition. Luxurious silks, embossed velvet, here and there embedded gold give the feeling that before us a magnificent entourage of courtiers, who came to worship the baby Jesus.
Palla Strozzi’s client himself is present among the lavishly dressed crowd – we can recognize him in the man with the falcon standing behind the back of one of the magi.
Magnificent clothes of characters, exquisite horse harness, exotic animals, a landscape in the background and skillfully carved gilded frame evoke sincere admiration for this masterpiece of Italian painting.
“Adoration of the Magi” by Gentile da Fabriano is on display in Hall 7, International Gothic.
Piero della Francesca ‘Portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino’
‘The Diptych of Federico da Montefeltro and Battista Sforza’ (1465-1472) by Piero della Francesca is considered one of the masterpieces of Italian Renaissance painting. The double profile portrait depicts the Duke of Urbino Federico da Montefeltro and his wife Battista Sforza. Duke Federico, captain of mercenary soldiers, talented military leader and a great patron of the arts, turned medieval Urbino into a highly developed state with a thriving culture.
Paolo Uccello ‘The Battle of San Romano’
The work is the centerpiece of a triptych written by Paolo Uccello around 1438. At present, three large paintings are scattered throughout different museums in Europe: the Uffizi, the National Gallery of London and the Louvre in Paris.
The series illustrates scenes from the Battle of San Romano, which in 1423 brought victory to Florence over its rival Siena.
Most likely, the work was ordered by the rich Florentine family Bartolini. Thanks to the documents of 1492 with the census of the property of Lorenzo the Magnificent, we know for sure that the work eventually passed into the possession of the Medici.
The series of paintings is valuable in that it demonstrates the painter’s experimental work on perspective, which distinguishes Paolo Ucello from his contemporaries.
In the center of the panel, exhibited at Uffizi, is Bernardino Ubaldini della Carda, leader of the Sienese, who is being overthrown from his horse by an enemy spear.
The composition of the painting consists of many figures from different angles. Obviously, the master’s efforts were primarily focused on conveying space through perspective.
Knight’s armor, horse harness and hunting scenes in the background are painted with the detailed accuracy typical of late Gothic.
Paolo Uccello’s work is a transition from the Gothic to the Renaissance: the painter actively uses the revolutionary discovery of the laws of perspective, but in his works, one can still find the fairytale and exquisite decorations of the Gothic.
“The Battle of San Romano has recently been restored and since November 2012 has been exhibited in Hall 7 of the Early Renaissance.
Domenico Veneziano ‘The Madonna and Child with Saints’
The painting was written by Domenico Veneziano between 1445 and 1447 for the altar of the Church of Santa Lucia dei Magnoli in Via dei Bardi, Florence. The limits of this beautiful work of painting were dissected and are now preserved in museums in Washington, Cambridge, and Berlin.
This artwork is one of the first rectangular-shaped altar paintings. The gilded background, typical of medieval polyptychs, is missing. Instead, the artist uses light that falls to the right from above and illuminates the entire composition. The use of light is an absolute innovation for the painting at that time.
The architectural space, depicted according to the latest discoveries of the laws of linear perspective, is full of harmony.
At the center of the composition is the Madonna with the baby sitting on the throne. To her left is Saint Francis and St. John The Baptist, to the right is Saint Zanobi, patron saint of Florence, and Saint Lucia.
The light, pure colors and light used by Domenico Veneziano had a great influence on the work of his disciple and assistant, a famous Renaissance artist, Piero della Francesca.
You can see the ‘The Madonna and Child with Saints’ in Hall 7 of the Early Renaissance.
Fra Filippo Lippi ‘Madonna and Child with Two Angels’
‘Madonna and Child with Two Angels’ is one of the most famous artworks of Florentine master Filippo Lippi, was written around 1465.
Filippo Lippi, an artist of the Carmelite friars of the Priory of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, fell madly in love with a young novice, Lucrezia Buti, who replied to him reciprocated. The couple broke their vows and soon they had a son Filippino, who, following their father’s way of art, also became a great painter.
In the beautiful image of the Madonna, we recognize the beloved artist Lucrezia Buti, this is probably what brought the painting wide popularity.
The Madonna, depicted in the profile, folded her hands in prayer to the baby Jesus, supported by two angels. In the background, a magnificent landscape inspired by Flemish painting opens up. The hair of the Madonna, adorned with a transparent veil and threads of pearls, is full of refinement and sophistication.
The tenderness and touch of the composition as well as the elegance of the Madonna’s headpiece will later serve as a model for many artists, including Sandro Botticelli. The creator of the great masterpieces “Birth of Venus” and “Spring” was not only a pupil of Filippo Lippi, but also the teacher and friend of his son Filippino Lippi.
‘Madonna and Child with Two Angels’ is kept in Hall 8 by Filippo Lippi.
“Allegory of Spring” by Sandro Botticelli (Florence, 1445-1510)
This outstanding work of great Botticelli was written for Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici, cousins of Lorenzo the Magnificent.
Art historians differ on the exact date of the work. It is assumed that the painting was painted between 1477 and 1482.
There is also some difficulty in interpreting the many allegorical symbols. According to the most common interpretation, the painting depicts the reign of Venus, sung by ancient poets and an approximate writer of the Medici court, Angelo Poliziano.
The painting reads from right to left: the Wind-God, Zephyr, in love with the nymph Khloris, catches up with her to force her into marriage. Having repented, he turns her into Flora, the goddess of nature and spring. In the center is Venus, symbolizing the humaneness that reigns over people. The group on the left is three dancing graceful men. The scene is concluded by Mercury scattering the clouds with his magic wand.
Thus Venus, the embodiment of humanity, separates carnal love and materialism (group on the right) from the love of spiritual and moral values (group on the left). By “humanity” was meant the ideal of the human person – moral, confident in his or her abilities and listening to the needs of others.
Botticelli depicted with astounding precision the various varieties of flowers and herbs that could be found on the outskirts of Florence during the spring. The masterful use of colors, the refinement of the figures connected by an inner movement and the poetry of the composition make this work fascinating and unique.
In Halls 10-14, dedicated to Botticelli, you can admire his masterpieces of “Spring” and “Birth of Venus”.
Sandro Botticelli ‘The Birth of Venus’ (the mid 1480s.)
Without a doubt, “The Birth of Venus” is one of the most famous and beloved paintings by everyone. The work, painted by Sandro Botticelli between 1482 and 1485, became a symbol of 15th-century Italian painting.
Lorenzo di Piero Franchez Medici, a cousin of Lorenzo the Magnificent, is considered to have ordered the painting as well as other paintings from The Mythological Cycle of Pallas and the Centaur.
The theme is taken from ancient literature, more precisely from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Naked Venus sails on a seashell, the god of winds fly to her left, on the right, on the shore, Venus meets the nymph of the seasons Ora. Violets bloom under her feet, a symbol of the renewal of nature.
Other literary references include the poem “Stanza” by Angelo Poliziano, a contemporary of Botticelli and the chief poet-neoplatonist from the Medicis’ entourage. Neoplatonism is a philosophical movement popular during the Renaissance, which sought to find common ground between the cultural heritage of the ancient world and Christianity.
The philosophical interpretation of the work according to Neoplatonism is as follows: the birth of Venus is a symbol of the birth of love, the highest virtue and spiritual beauty, which is the driving force of life.
In the pose of Venus, the influence of classical Greek sculpture is obvious: the goddess stands on one leg and chastely covers her nudity. The iconography of Venus is also found in the statue of the famous Venus of Medicine, kept in the Tribune of Uffizi.
While Poliziano was a master of rhyme and poetry, Botticelli was one of the greatest masters of line and drawing. ‘The Birth of Venus’ is also unique as it is the first example of painting on canvas for Tuscany. The use of alabaster dust gives the paints a special glow and durability.
The painting can also be interpreted as an ode to the Medici dynasty – thanks to their culture and talented diplomacy, love and beauty prevailed in Florence.
Botticelli’s ‘The Birth of Venus’ is kept in Halls 10-14, where his other masterpiece, Spring, is also on display.
Michelangelo Buanarroti ‘Madonna Doni’
‘Madonna Doni’ or ‘Tondo Doni’ was written by Michelangelo on his return to Florence from his first trip to Rome, the same period when the genius worked on the famous David sculpture.
‘Tondo Doni’ is the only painting of the great Michelangelo kept in Florence. The work dates from 1506 to 1508 and is considered an absolute masterpiece of Italian art of the early 16th century.
The Tondo, a round painting or bas-relief, was particularly popular in Florence during the Renaissance. The work was commissioned by Agnolo Doni on the occasion of his marriage to Maddalena Strozzi, a member of the ancient Florentine family.
In the center of the composition, the massive figures of Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus are one and the same. The compound position of Mary gives the group a spiral motion and plasticity.
“Madonna Doni” is the only surviving masterpiece by Michelangelo, and, along with frescoes of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, one of the few examples of the pictorial skill of the great sculptor.
“The Madonna Doni is kept in Michelangelo’s Hall 35.
Raphael ‘Mary with the Child’
Raphael was born in Urbino in 1483. His youth was happy and serene. He was handsome and elegant, like his works. Unfortunately, Raphael passed away early, at the age of 37, but even after centuries, his name is used with the epithet “Divine”.
Raphael became acquainted with the Florentine school of painting during his studies under the Umbrian artist Perugino, who had artworks in Perugia and Florence. In 1504, the Dukes of Urbino wrote to the government of Florence to invite the young painter to spend some time in the cradle of the Renaissance. The works written by Raphael between 1504 and 1508 are from the so-called “Florentine period”.
In Florence, Raphael absorbed the latest art of the time.
His work was greatly influenced by his acquaintance with Leonardo da Vinci.
The influence of a brilliant artist-scientist on the young Raphael is reflected in his work ‘Mary with the Child’. The painting was painted in 1506 and restored relatively recently, in 2008.
The pyramidal composition, the play of softly falling light, emotional dialogue between characters are elements borrowed by Raphael from Leonardo’s art.
Despite this, Raphael’s style is obvious: the tenderness and softness of his faces, especially that of the Madonna, the masterful use of colors, the poetic landscape in the background and the deep interplay of the characters.
Over the centuries, the painting has been restored many times, but only after the last work in 2008 did the artwork regains its original splendor.
Today we can once again admire the ‘Mary with the Child’ – one of the most beautiful works of “Divine” Raphael.
‘Mary with the Child’ is on display in one of the new red halls of the Uffizi, Raphael’s Hall 66.
Titian (Tiziano) ‘The Venus of Urbino’
“The Venus of Urbino” was written in 1538 by the order of the Duke of Urbino Guidobaldo II della Rovere. The work is interesting in its different interpretations of a number of symbols depicted on canvas.
It is most likely that the painting is an allegory of marriage. According to one version, the nude woman depicted as Venus is the young bride of Duke Guidobaldo II Giulia Varano. The open sight of Venus, the ancient goddess of love, is directed directly at the viewer. The obvious eroticism of the painting was to serve as a reminder to the young wife of the fulfillment of her marital duty.
The naked body of the woman, painted in warm light colors, contrasts with the dark background. Roses, long considered an attribute of Venus, symbolizing the fertility of women. A small doggie sleeping at the feet of a woman is a symbol of marital fidelity. In the background depicts two maids, occupied by a chest with outfits – a dowry of a young girl.
Thirty years earlier, in 1510, another prominent Venetian painter, Giorgione, wrote ‘Sleeping Venus’. The obvious similarity between the two works is understandable – Titian was a student and a friend of Giorgione.
Titian skillfully uses oil to create a play on color contrasts. In this canvas, Venus, a symbol of love, beauty, and fertility, embodies the ideal of a Renaissance woman.
The “TheVenus of Urbino” is stored in Hall 83, dedicated to Titian’s work.
Caravaggio ‘The Bacchus’
Michelangelo Merisi, all known as Caravaggio, is considered one of the most influential artists in all art history.
Caravaggio was born in Milan, but lived and worked in Rome and Naples, Malta and Sicily. His unique style was formed under the influence of the Venetian and Lombard schools of painting: from the first, he borrowed the masterful use of color, from the second – the maximum realism and preference for “lowly”, “grounded” plots.
“Bacchus”, painted in 1596-1597, was commissioned by his patron, Cardinal del Monte, as a gift to the Grand Duke of Tuscany Ferdinando I.
Bacchus, traditionally portrayed as a beautiful ancient deity, was portrayed by Caravaggio as a simple guy who could be easily met in a tavern or brothel where the artist himself often visited. As in most of the works of the master landscape is absent here because the main task of Caravaggio to convey the human nature of the characters he depicted. It was because of the choice of simple, “lowly” plots that the painter was often subjected to harsh criticism of his contemporaries.
Young Bacchus holds a glass of wine in his left hand, which led some researchers to assume that the painter used a mirror to create the painting. Caravaggio is believed to have used a special optical device, equipped with a prism, as an aid to transfer an image of an existing object on the canvas.
The painter skillfully uses color and oil to achieve the most realistic effect in the image of a fruit basket, young man’s flesh and the transparency of a carafe with wine.
During recent restoration work on the painting, restorers found a picture of a man’s face on a wine decanter. It is believed to be a self-portrait of the master himself.
At the peak of painting traditions of the time, the rebel Caravaggio chose as the center of his work an ordinary man with all his inherent flaws and the shadow of life.
The work of this outstanding Italian artist changed the history of art forever.
Artemisia Gentileschi ‘Judith Slaying Holofernes’
Artemisia Gentileschi, an Italian artist of the 17th century, is one of the most famous and important followers of the Caravaggio school. At a time when the painting was considered a gentleman’s occupation, Artemisia was the first of the weaker sex to be admitted to the Academy of Arts in Florence.
The painter Orazio Gentileschi, a representative of the Caravaggio School and father of Artemisia, was her first mentor. After a high-profile trial against the artist Agostino Tassi on the abuse of Artemisia’s honor, the girl was forced to flee from Rome to Florence.
Artemisia’s works are a reflection of her bitter experience. In her art we meet various mythical and biblical heroines – women strong, militant, unhappy, suffering. The story of Judith is quite often present in the work of the artist. Two paintings on this biblical theme are kept in museums in Florence – ‘Judith beheading Holofernes’ is exhibited in Uffizi, ‘Judith and her Maid’ in the Palazzo Pitti gallery.
‘Judith beheading Holofernes’ is in Hall 90, dedicated to the work of Caravaggio. For the canvas the artist chose the moment when the Israeli Judith, who seduced the Assyrian commander Holofernes, whose army besieged her hometown, puts a sword blade into the neck of the enemy.
The canvas was probably ordered by the Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo II de’ Medici. Because of the cruelty of the bloody scene depicted, the painting was hidden in the corner of one of the rooms of Palazzo Pitti, and Artemisia was paid for her work only after the death of Cosimo II, thanks to the intercession of her friend, the scientist Galileo Galilei. The signature on the bottom of the painting reads: ‘Ergo Artemitia Lomi Fec’.
In Uffizi, you can also admire another work by Artemisia Gentileschi, ‘Self Portrait as Saint Catherine of Alexandria.’. Often the heroines depicted by Artemisia look like herself. In this work, the external resemblance of St. Catherine to Gentileski’s self-portraits is obvious.