Uffizi Gallery is one of the most relevant museums in Italy, housing some of the most famous paintings in the world, many of which you probably already saw in school books or documentaries.
It is an obligatory stop for everybody passing by Florence, the capital of Tuscany, even if you don’t like museums, you will probably stop here at least to take a picture of the building, as it is a famous tourist sight in the city.
Uffizi Gallery has a huge collection, displayed across 45 rooms, although all artworks are completely unique and deserve attention, in this list we gonna focus on the most relevant ones, to make sure you will know what to see in the Uffizi Gallery.
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What to See in the Uffizi Gallery: 10 Must-See Masterpieces
The History of Uffizi Gallery
The first thing that comes to attention when you get to the Uffizi Gallery is, of course, its building, the outside of it is one of Florence’s most popular attractions on its own.
It was built in 1581 for Cosimo I de Medici, as a place to accommodate the offices of the many guilds and committees of Florence, hence the name “Uffizi” which means “office” in Italian.
The top floor of the building though, was made into a gallery for the Medici’s family guests, and in it, the family decided to display some of the Roman sculptures they had in their private collection.
With time, the number of artworks displayed by the Medici family in the Uffizi building grew, with many masterpieces and jewelry being reallocated in the building. Soon Uffizi became an obligatory stop for anyone doing the Grand Tour.
Uffizi Gallery Masterpieces
1. Birth of Venus – Sandro Botticelli
This masterpiece of Sandro Botticelli is one of the most famous paintings in the world and one of the main reasons for people to visit the Uffizi Gallery.
The painting, as the name already explains, depicts the goddess Venus right after her birth, in the sea from the sea foam, arriving at the shore, a traditional scene in Greek mythology.
The main subject of the painting is Venus herself, standing in a shell, at her left, Zephyrus, the wind god blowing at her, and carrying a female figure that also blows at Venus, some believe this figure represents Aura, the minor deity that represents breeze, others believe she may be Chloris, the nymph. Their blow directs Venus to the shore.
The female figure on her right, floating and carrying an ornament cloak to cover Venus is one of the three Horae, the minor goddesses of the seasons. Her floral dress suggests she represents Hora the Spring.
The painting, which was finished around 1484, was commissioned by Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de Medici, to display in the villa of Castello.
2. Primavera – Sandro Botticelli
Primavera, alongside The Birth of Venus, is, without question the most famous painting of Botticelli and what attracts most of the visitors to the Uffizi Gallery.
It is also considered one of the most controversial paintings in the world, as its meaning is still unknown nowadays. The painting shows many figures, of Greek and Roman mythology, gathering in a garden, however there is no story known nowadays that brought all these figures together.
One of the explanations is that the painting represents one of the poems of Poliziano, the Medici family poet, who may have helped Botticelli in the composition of this masterpiece.
The story of the painting and who commissioned it is unknown, but some believe it was meant to pair with the Birth of Venus, as both depict mythological themes and were displayed together in the Villa of Castello.
Primavera only received its name in 1550, when Giorgio Vasari, a historian, visited the villa of Castello and saw the masterpiece.
3. Bacchus – Caravaggio
Bacchus, as you can imagine, is a portrait of the Wine god Bacchus, also known as Dionysius in Greek Mythology. In it, the god is depicted as very young, reclining and offering a glass of wine to the viewer.
His hair is adorned with grapes and vine leaves, and he wears a loose robe, little effort is made from his side to keep his robe in place, add to this the suggestive way in which the boy looks at the viewer, and you have a rather seductive scene.
There are many discussions regarding this artwork whether it depicts a homoerotic scene, or not, or even if this sexuality refers to Cardinal del Monte, the then patron of Caravaggio, but both theories are questioned and not very accepted.
The Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte was Caravaggio’s first patron, and both artworks displayed at the Uffizi Gallery, Bacchus and Medusa, were commissioned by Cardinal del Monte and later given by him, to the Medici family.
4. Medusa – Caravaggio
One of the most famous paintings of Caravaggio. The artwork we see in the Uffizi Gallery is the second version, painted in 1597, the first version is also known as Murtula and was discovered in the painter’s atelier after his death.
The Greek legend says that Medusa was a Gorgon who could turn into a stone to anyone who looked at her. Perseus, a mythological hero, using his shield as a mirror, managed to sever Medusa’s head with his swords.
Caravaggio’s painting depicts this exact moment when Medusa gets her head severed from her body. A surprised expression stamps her face, and blood pours from her neck.
Painting Medusa’s face on shields was a common practice during the 16 and 17 centuries, so Cardinal del Monte requested the artwork and later gave it as a gift to Fernando I de Medici, probably for his armor collection.
5. Adoration of the Magi – Da Vinci
This artwork was made by Leonardo Da Vinci and was commissioned by the Augustinian monks, who requested a prize for the high altar of San Donato in Scopeto, a church located just outside Florence’s walls.
Leonardo calculated the painting would take around 30 months to be finished, but unfortunately, it was never finished, since Leonardo moved to Milan a year after starting this artwork, but what remains of it can be seen today in the Uffizi Gallery.
The central figure of the painting is Mary and Baby Jesus, kneeling in adoration around them, we see the three Magi offering their gifts to the Child. Surrounding them, a group of people, some on horseback approach them curiously trying to take a glance at the Child.
In the background, it is possible to see some ruins, with two flights of stairs, the ruins seem to be part of a church, but some believe it might represent the Basilica of Maxentius, with workmen working to repair it. The reference for this would be a Roman legend that says that the Basilica would stand until a Virgin gave birth.
6. Annunciation – Leonardo da Vinci
This is considered Leonardo Da Vinci’s first major artwork and was completed in the city of Florence when Leonardo was just an apprentice in the studio of Andrea del Verrochio.
The painting shows the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary and announcing that she would miraculously give birth to the “Son of God”. The flower that the angel carried is a Madonna Lily, representing Mary’s virginity, the flower is also the symbol of the city of Florence.
Little is known about who commissioned this masterpiece or what was its original location, but the painting was brought to the Gallery Uffizi from the church of San Bartolomeo a Monteoliveto in Florence.
7. Madonna of the Goldfinch – Raphael
Also known as Madonna del Cardellino, is a painting made by Raphael, one of the masters of the High Renaissance.
In this painting the central figure shows Mary, sitting with baby Jesus and young John the Baptist. Their positions is very natural and casual, but the figures form a triangle. John held a Goldfinch in his hand, while Christ tried to touch it. This is why the painting received its name.
Madonna of the Goldfinch was a wedding gift from Raphael to his friend, Lorenzo Nasi. Unfortunately, Nasi’s house was destroyed by an earthquake, and the painting was broken into several pieces, although it was then repaired, the damage was still visible, until the modern restoration that started in 2002, after six years, the painting was completely restored and put back in the Uffizi Gallery.
8. Venus of Urbino – Titian
This painting is full of symbolism, it was commissioned by the Duke of Urbino Guidobaldo II Della Rovere, as a gift to his wife, Giulia Varano.
The painting is a sort of teaching model, for his young bride: a mix of eroticism, coming from the young lady laying on a bed completely naked, representing the wife’s obligation towards her husband, accompanying her, is her dog, representing marital fidelity, and in the background, it is possible to see a maid looking down at a young girl, representing the motherhood.
The idea for this artwork comes from a similar painting called The Dresden Venus, whose background is attributed to Titian. Both paintings depict young women completely naked, lying in a very similar position.
9. Judith Slaying Holofernes – Artemisia Gentileschi
This rather aggressive and, maybe, shocking painting tells a passage from the biblical Book of Judith. The story says that Judith, a young widow managed to enter Holofernes’ tent through his desire for her, Holeferne was an Assyrian general who was about to destroy Judith’s hometown, the city of Bethulia.
In the middle of the night, while Holofernes is already heavily drunk, Judith manages to decapitate the general with the help of her maid. His head is taken away in a basket.
Although judging by the lighting and the techniques in this painting, this is not a Caravaggio’s artwork, but made by Artemisia Gentileschi, one of the most accomplished paintings of her time, and the first woman to be a member of the Accademia di Arte del Disegno, in Florence.
10. Doni Tondo – Michelangelo
Doni Tondo is the only finished panel painting by Michelangelo that survived to this day. The panel is also known as Doni Madonna and depicts Mary sitting on the ground, between Joseph’s legs, Joseph is shown in a higher position in the image, as if protecting Mary, he holds the Child while Mary seems to try to gran him.
Michelangelo depicts the Holy Family in a very casual way. In the background, there are some nude figures representing the pagans still unaware of Christian doctrines.
The painting was commissioned by the Florentine merchant Agnolo Doni, in commemoration of his marriage to Maddalena Strozzi a noblewoman from a Tuscany family.