Art, Travel & Life in Italy & Europe

Uffizi Gallery must-sees: how to see the highlights and learn something too

uffiziThe Uffizi gallery in Florence is one of the most tiring museums in the world.

You expected me to use another adjective? famous? important? Sure, it’s those things too. But it’s also very big, has virtually no benches to sit down, and crowded (just about all the time). Just walking through at a normal pace, it takes three hours to get through, and then you wonder “what did I see?”.

All that is going to change if you follow my Uffizi Art History Guide – Unanchor Travel Guide – an inexpensive kindle ebook. Below is an earlier version (and inspiration) of this guide.

When I use to take university students to the Uffizi or assign an independent visit to them, I used to give the a list of works that I wanted them to make sure they saw. I’m giving you a map with the room numbers (subject to change as the gallery has been undergoing renovation in recent years), a list of important works, and some questions to ask yourself in front of each. This is best done with a friend or two – talking about art, in front of art, is the best way to learn. At the risk of sounding like an infomercial, let me tell you that if you follow this method, you will come out not too exhausted, and you will have learned something too. PLEASE NOTE: this guide is pre 2012 does NOT cover the newly added sections of the Uffizi Gallery.

Two overall questions to pose when approaching this museum:

1) The Renaissance consists of mostly religious works of art, until you hit the Botticelli Room. Try to identify the stories and protagonists in these pieces. How are stories COMMUNICATED to the viewer? Is there a clear narrative in these works? How do you know – or not know – what is going on?

2) Thematically, start thinking about comparing works a) between different periods or artists; b) of the same subject matter. Look closely at, say, two “Annunciations” or two portraits, and think about their similarities and differences.

Map of the Uffizi gallery with room numbers (pre 2012)

uffizi_map

Must-see works in the museum

 

Room 2: Giotto, Cimabue, and Duccio: Please look carefully at the three large altarpieces in this room. Take the time to compare them and start to see the differences between them. Which one do you think was done latest? Which one best expresses depth and the human form?

Room 5-6: International Gothic. Looking at the two largest works in this room, Lorenzo Monaco’s Coronation of the Virgin and Gentile da Fabriano’s Adoration of the Magi (1423) – what do you conclude are the characteristics of this international gothic style?

Room 7: the first renaissance painters: Paolo Uccello, Battle of San Romano (1430s), Masaccio’s tiny Madonna and child, Masaccio and Masolino’s Madonna and Child with Saint Anne. Do you start to see any progress in the depiction of space and/or emotion? How do these differ from the International Gothic pieces that are close contemporaries?

image: www.wga.hu

Filippo Lippi, Madonna and Child with Angels: www.wga.hu

Room 8: Lippi room: Filippo Lippi, Madonna and Child with Angels: consider the tenderness of expression, look at how volume is heightened using a black outline (Lippi taught this trick to Botticelli). Piero della Francesca, double portrait of the Duke of Urbino and his wife: what can you guess about gender differences in this period, just by looking at this painting? Whose world is more closed, and why?

Room 9: Pollaiuolo. Please look at the teeny tiny panels of Hercules on display in a glass case. These are some of the first highly anatomic studies of the renaissance.

Room 10-14: The big Botticelli Room: In class we will study Botticelli’s Primavera, Birth of Venus, Mystic Nativity, Madonna del Magnificat. Also of interest, all the religious paintings by Botticelli; the large Northern Renaissance Portinari Altarpiece by Hugo van der Goes.

image: www.wga.hu

Baptism, Verrocchio and Leonardo, image: www.wga.hu

Room 15: In this room you’ll find Leonardo da Vinci‘s Annunciation, the newly restored unfinished Adoration of the Magi (examination reveals how he planned and built up painting); the early Baptism of Christ with his teacher Verrocchio (guess which part Leonardo did here). Also in this room, paintings by Perugino.

Hallway: The route now forces you out to the hallway. Check out the “grotesque” decorations on the ceiling and the hallway lined with ancient and modern sculpture. This is an interesting arrangement but for the general viewer you don’t need to stop to look at any of these things in detail. On your left there is a room called the Tribune that you can peek into through three of its entryways. From the hallway check out the view of the Arno and the Ponte Vecchio, go around the corner and head to room 25.

The doni tondo by Michelangelo

The doni tondo by Michelangelo

Room 25: Don’t miss Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo: think about the position the figures are in – is this natural? That is an original frame, incidentally.

Room 26-27: Raphael and the mannerist artists Andrea del Sarto, Pontormo, and Rosso Fiorentino: how do Raphael and his school construct portraits? His contemporaries said he did everything with such ease you could not see the art in it.

Room 28: Titian and Venetian art. Observe the languid pose of Titian’s Venus of Urbino (who is she waiting for? Her husband or her lover?). Consider how the Venetian style (and subject matter) of the early Cinquecento is different than Quattrocento Florentine style; look closely at the handling of paint.

Room 29: Parmigianino’s Madonna of the Long Neck is the most famous example of the Mannerist style. It is slightly unfinished, can you see where? Notice the elongated shapes of womens’ bodies; these are compared to the vases that are so prominent in the painting.

As you follow the path to the exit, there are rooms set up for special exhibits.
If you found this article helpful, please let me know by writing a comment or purchasing the much expanded Uffizi Art History Guide on amazon to follow along in the museum.

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By: arttrav

Alexandra Korey aka ArtTrav is a Florence-based art historian and arts marketing consultant.

  • http://neonpoisoning.blogspot.com/ Robert

    With a trip to Florence coming in January, it is great to get more insight on the city and its attractions. What I would like is an insiders guide to the city. Apart from the museums, plazas and tourist attractions, what is that locals like about their city?

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  • admin

    Glad you find arttrav useful! There are a lot of articles of a more “local” nature on here (ie not about big museums). There are some other blogs listed here: http://www.arttrav.com/about/links/ ; and you could start a discussion with your question on the facebook fan page here: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/pages/arttravcom/105558250210

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  • Joey Clayton

    Very helpful! Me and my wife were getting overwhelmed by all of the exhibits. Admittedly we did not know what we were looking for. I found this while taking a quick break in the cafe and it definitely improved the rest of our visit.

  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    Joey that is the BEST comment I've read in a million years! And via mobile –

    fab!! I'm posting your comment and the uffizi article on the arttrav

    facebook fan page (http://www.facebook.com/arttravcom) cuz I'm so proud ;-).

  • http://twitter.com/_MarcJustin_ Marc Justin

    This is a great mini guide to the grandpa of galleries!

  • Anything Tuscan

    Love this article! It’s such a shame that we all tend to visit museums without actually seeing anything. In Siena Duccio’s masterpiece the Maestà is a great example of this problem; every tourist will have seen it, but nobody seems to remember any of it. More reasons on why Slow Art is worth a try: http://www.mapitout-tuscany.com/2011/04/slow-art.html

  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    HI there anything tuscan
    Glad you enjoyed it. I have a feeling that not every tourist in tuscany sees
    Duccio’s maesta in its entirety inside the museo dell’opera del duomo di
    siena, and it sure is confusing spread apart like that, it’d be easy to
    overlook if you didn’t know its importance. I should write about that…
    thanks for the idea!
    You know that I run slow art in Florence, right? It wouldn’t even BE in
    Italy if i hadn’t done it two years in a row… see here:
    http://www.arttrav.com/florence/slow-art-florence-2011/
    Your article mistakenly links to slowfood, not http://www.slowartday.org, you might
    want to fix that to help promote the event!
    Alexandra

  • Anything Tuscan

    Hi again, no I wasn’t at all aware that it is thanks to you, that Slow Art found its way to italy – well done!! I heard about slow art the first time this spring, but am planning to join in and organize a slow art event next year in Siena or Montalcino. So I’ll definitely be in touch with you before getting started with the organisation next winter. Regarding the link in my blog post  – it’s on purpose to Slow Food (in fact the phrase before the link talks about slow food not slow art) as I think this is another movement well worth knowing. However you are right I should add a direct link to the slow art website too, so far there is only one to the slow art events website in the post. thanks for providing me with the link.  

    Regarding Duccio’s Maestà – I agree, a masterpiece that definitely deserves a post from you! I am planning to write one about it too on http://www.mapitout-tuscany.com, but from the perspective of an art lover. It would be great to also get your much more professional perspective on it! Katja for anything tuscan
    ps. sorry this comment is never ending, but I just checked and the link should be http://www.slowartday.com (NOT .org). 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=24202077 Claudia Castaneda

    Thank you so much for making this. I’ll be accompanying a group of high schooler’s in July and I was about to make my own list of highlights for them, but you’ve already done it! Awesome, thank you so much!!!!!! 

  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    Great to hear you can use it, claudia!

  • Emmnemms

    Im currently in the museum and am super glad I found this! It’s very informative while not being Ioverwhelming . I also like that it makes you think and compare the pieces,perhaps things that I would not have thought about before. I enjoy art but am not terribly educated about it. I like that you didnt need an art degree to understand what you were pointing out . Thanks!

  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    Thank you, i am always thrilled when people comment on this post from inside The Uffizi. I meant it to be’ exactly useful to people like you. Hope you come back to read other things on arttrav… What did you like most in Florence so far?

  • AnnaB

    This is exactly what I was looking for. Thank you very much

  • http://www.facebook.com/susanaird Susan Aird

    Hi Alexandra,

    Do you have any idea of where I might find an art history student who offers a private tour perhaps as good but less costly than the tour offices. I have my Amici della Ufizzi pass already.

    Thanks Susan

  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    If time is limited try Context Travel who can be counted on for good tours, often by grad students or people with an MA or Phd in the field. An ex colleague from SUF, Elizabeth Butler, may be giving tours, if you email me I can try to put you in touch as we are connected by Facebook.

  • SS

    Thanks. Great article. Used it. Loved it.

  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    Thank you Mehe, I am glad to read this. So many people have said it is helpful that I am thinking of expanding it and creating an Unanchor itinerary out of it which will be easier to use in the gallery. You have a really good idea, I will see if I can find the time to do it also for the Bargello, which I know pretty well too. Hope you’ll take the time to look around ArtTrav for other things that interest you and might be helpful for your stay in town. Best regards, Alexandra

  • Zheyi RONG

    Very helpful; it would be better that answers was provided :)

  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    No, answers are not provided because asking the right questions is even more important than knowing the answers :)

  • Gabrielle

    This is great! We are just about to visit the Uffizi coming weekend and your list helps a lot to find what we are looking for, thanks!!