Amerigo Vespucci bridge
We tucked ourselves under an awning and out of the rain as we waited to rendezvous with our guide and the other family that would be joining us. Today was going to be a perfect day to tour the Uffizi Gallery and our friends at LivItaly Tours had hooked us up again with a small group tour lead by one of their fantastic guides. We had the pleasure of meeting Raffaela who arrived with a hearty handshake and buongiorno as she joined us under the awning and out of the rain. Instantly I heard the most fantastic mash-up of accents coming from our guide, her English was excellent with a beautiful Italian accent highlighted by a Boston accent that brought a smile to my face every time it showed itself.
Ticketed and queued
Ticketed and queued up for security our tour of one of the most amazing museums in Italy officially began. Wasting no time, Raffaela stopped us to point out interesting architectural facts along with the never ending amount of art to view. She started coming to the Uffizi as a little girl and eventually studied art and the great masters. Her knowledge was as vast as the collection of art and I have no doubt she could educate you on any piece that is hanging on the wall, as we would soon find out.
Focusing in on one set of artists sounded like a very smart plan in a museum as vast as the Uffizi. Previously the office space of the Medici family, the Uffizi is an amazing piece of architecture on the edge of the Arno river in the centre of Florence. It is an impressively large U-shaped building taking up a wide and steady footprint on the unsteady land near the river. A unique architectural feature of the gallery is the Vasari Corridor. The Corridor is a kilometre long, built for practical reasons, to link the Medici offices to the Palazzo Pitti Galleria, at the time both owned by the family, which today displays Uffizi paintings from the 600’s and 700’s and that of artist self-portraits.
The entrance starts from the second corridor of the gallery, which runs along the Arno River stretching over the old bridge and eventually reaching Palazzo Pitti. The concept from an architectural point of view of an elevated passage at that time was very innovative. The corridor also boasts a spectacular view of the river and the Santa Felicità church.
One-third of the collection
According to our guide only about a third of the collection is on display with thousands of works in storage in the basements below. Hard to believe when every glance you take is another painting. Luckily we had her there to guide us and off we went with a purpose to our first artist.
A continuous stream of information, Raffaela painted her own picture of life in the Renaissance and dispelled myths of how these huge works could come together.
All of these master painters had many apprentices working with them who, as they developed, would be given tasks on some consignments. Backgrounds, clothing and secondary figures could be left to the apprentices with the master stepping in to paint the hands and heads.
Duke and Duchess of Urbino
One of our favourite and fun paintings was the diptych of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino (1465-1472) by Piero della Francesca. One of the first portraits painted in Italy (portraits were previously not acceptable) it displays this handsome couple in profile. The story of the Duke’s severely misshapen nose is that he was blind in one eye and had the bridge of his nose partially removed to be able to have a wider field of vision on the battlefield. The reason for the Duchess’ pale skin was due to the fact that she had died before the portrait was painted.
Moving stealthily through the throngs of people, we followed our guide to end up in the Botticelli room face to face with possibly one of the most magnificent paintings I have ever seen The Birth of Venus. Nothing could have prepared me for its size and scale and seeing this iconic image in its true form.
La Primavera hangs in the room opposite and is said to represent perfection in proportion in every facet of its composure. Another massive painting that fills your field of view from 20 feet away and as you move in closer continues to reveal more and more complexity right down to the over 500 individual plants, 190 of which are flowering plants.
Time was moving on quickly now and despite starting to tire from trying to take it all in we were all determined to see the two biggies, Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci before our time was up.
We had checked Raphael, Rubens, and even Rembrandt along the way but I was eager to see an original Michelangelo in its original frame.
In fact, Doni Tondo is the only finished panel painting of the mature master to survive and is still in its equally fantastic frame from 1504. The colours are outstanding and waiting for an unhampered view was worth the time.
Finally, we crowded our way into the Da Vinci exhibit packed with people. A master class in perspective, our guide drew our attention to his incredible talent with a blurred perspective of distant objects mimicking what we would actually see if we peered into a sun-filled landscape. The master would also take into account where the painting would be hung and could bend perspectives for the benefit of the viewer in order to keep the scene looking balanced and in proper scale. Looking up at a huge piece can sometimes make arms look too short or feet too big and Da Vinci took that into account seamlessly painting masterpieces equal to his great inventions.
Our small group was now exhausted but completely satisfied with our Uffizi experience. The highest of praises have to go to our guide Raffaela and LivItaly Tours for bringing the Uffizi gallery to life. Best of all there is a lifetime of masterpieces to return to next time we are in Florence.