It’s not easy to pick Uffizi Gallery highlights, with its countless works of art that range from the Medieval period to the 18th century. But we’ve done our research, read the critics and put together a list of the exhibits you just can’t miss. These are the paintings that forever left their mark on the world of art, and will leave their mark on you too.
Uffizi Gallery Highlights, Florence, Italy
GIOTTO, Madonna Enthroned with Child and Angels, or Madonna Ognissanti (1310)
In this work painted by Giotto in 1310, we can clearly see that the artist is looking to recreate spatial depth. The revolutionary new technique of perspective, for which Giotto is famous, is used to give depth to the traditional religious scene. The angels and Mary are not flat figures – like the one by Giotto’s predecessor Cimabue or Duccio di Buoninsegna that can be seen in the same room (Hall 2). They are standing in different planes in space, around the three dimensional throne, showing life and volume. A revolutionary work that forever changed the course of Florentine art.
GENTILE DA FABRIANO, Adoration of the Magi (1423)
This is an extraordinary example of International Gothic, the lavishly opulent style that flourished in Europe at the beginning of the 15th century and briefly touched Florence. The quality of this painting would have impressed the Florentines, with the novelty of the crowded landscape and many non religious details that almost marginalise the holy family (notice the exotic animals, the elaborate costumes and details of the decorations). It’s unashamedly opulent and extravagant, a sumptuous painting that surely pleased its commissioner, the wealthy banker Palla Strozzi.
MASACCIO AND MASOLINO, Saint Anne Metterza (1424 ca.)
A fundamental work in the Early Renaissance, this intense painting shows an evolution of style from the more traditional master Masolino to his young pupil Masaccio. While Saint Anne, who is embracing her daughter Mary, is still rendered in the flat Gothic mode, the Virgin and Child, painted by young Masaccio are more animated and substantial. Through his use of light and volume, Masaccio infuses his figures with life.
PAOLO UCCELLO, Battle of San Romano (1436)
A dazzling painting from one of the most original artists of the Early Renaissance. The subject is that of the battle between Siena and Florence fought in 1432, a crowded scene of equestrian knights, pointy lances and shining armour. The artist tries to give rational order to this pandemonium, using geometrical shapes and featureless comic-strip details. Paolo Uccello uses a rational scheme that isn’t in any way naturalistic, but which gives the scene an inventive charm. The “Battle of San Romano”, that stands out among the Uffizi Gallery highlights, is a central piece of a set of three paintings (the other two are in Paris and London).
See the fascinating frescoes in Florence Cathedral by Paolo Uccello.
PIERO DELLA FRANCESCA, Duke and Duchess of Urbino (1467-1472)
Here another master of the Early Renaissance, the enigmatic Piero della Francesca, tries his hand at portrait painting. A genre that will become very popular throughout the Renaissance, The artist brilliantly captures the psychological and physical features of the couple: the ample forehead and elegant pale skin of the duchess and the machiavellian profile of the duke, with his crooked nose showing his authority. These portraits are solemn representations of an ideal reality, with a luminous landscape in the background. One of the Uffizi Gallery highlights, don’t miss it.
FILIPPO LIPPI, Madonna and Child (1460-1465)
One of the highlights of the Uffizi Gallery and one of the triumphs of the Renaissance. This graceful Madonna is dressed in the Florentine fashion, wearing an elegant gown of dark greenish-blue and a string of pearls, suggesting that her beautiful profile might bear the features of the artist’s beloved Lucrezia. It has a devotional air with a touch of sensuality. Filippo Lippi’s painting style made a strong impact on two artists whose work dominated the following decade: Leonardo da Vinci and Botticelli.
LEONARDO DA VINCI, Adoration of the Magi (1481)
One of the early works by Leonardo, sadly left unfinished. The painting’s focus is the Madonna sitting with her infant and the three kings kneeling in the front, forming a stable but spiritually charged triangular space. Behind them, there’s a disorderly mix of haunting figures in dramatic poses. It’s the first time in the history of art that we find such variety and depth in the depiction of human figures. This is Da Vinci’s biggest painting, considered revolutionary at the time. Here he tries his famous ‘sfumato’ technique “without lines or borders, in the manner of smoke or beyond the focus plane”.
Read more about the “Adoration of the Magi” by Da Vinci.
BOTTICELLI, Birth of Venus (1484-86) and Allegory of Spring (1477-82)
Among the Uffizi Gallery highlights, this is one of the most celebrated. An allegorical work in which Botticelli creates an ideal world of beauty, mythological riddles and otherworldly gracefulness. The Goddess of Love is the main actress in both paintings – in the “Birth of Venus” she’s coming ashore on a shell, being born at sea, while in “Primavera” she’s part of a joyful celebration of spring. In both cases Venus represents Beauty as a means to spiritual elevation.
Find out about the meaning of the “Birth of Venus” painting.
MICHELANGELO BUONARROTI, Tondo Doni, Holy Family (1504 ca.)
A round painting that looks like a sculptural work. The vivid colours and sharply drawn figures seem to be carved in marble. Michelangelo used to say that for him painting was a secondary art – even as he was frescoing the Sistine chapel, that he did a year after painting his Holy Family. The high keyed colours were an entirely new way of representing the human body. The poses of the figures are so unnatural, that the expressive power of the picture resides only in its artificiality.
Are you a Michelangelo fan? Find out about his masterpieces you can admire in Florence.
RAPHAEL, Madonna of the Goldfinch (1506 ca.)
A painting which is one of the greatest examples of the High Renaissance. The pyramidal grouping of the Virgin and the two children, the infant Jesus and John the Baptist, remind us of Leonardo’s paintings. But Raphael simplifies the poses and uses bolder colours to create a perfectly balanced scene. All the elements contribute to create harmony and tenderness: Christ’s elegant pose and expression of Christ, Mary’s protective air, the natural landscape in the background. The goldfinch held by Saint John is a symbol of Christ’s crucifixion, and give a touch of drama to the otherwise calm and intimate scene.
TITIAN, Venus of Urbino (1538)
This very earthy Venus will be the first of many reclining nudes in the history of art. In this painting, sensuality emerges thanks to the use of light which creates a fleshy softness. The beautiful, luscious figure seems to glow against the dark background. In the distance two humble figures give a sense of everyday activity to the scene, but don’t distract the viewer’s eye from the real protagonist who gazes at us seductively from the painting. The sleeping dog at her feet is a symbol of fidelity.
CARAVAGGIO, Medusa (1597-1600)
In this impressive painting by Caravaggio, we face a mythical horror. The gorgon Medusa’s head is captured a few moments after being severed by Perseus. Her terrified expression, contracted muscles and open eyes and mouth show she’s still aware. The snakes that make up her hair, writhe in fear. It’s a terrifying scene, made more so by the realistic details Caravaggio uses to intensify the drama. This wooden shield was a gift for the Gran Duke of Tuscany – Ferdinando I de Medici. And the subject is not casual: Perseus killing Medusa represented rational wisdom winning over instinct, and in Florence was the symbol of the Medici winning over the Republicans.
Once you’ve seen the Uffizi Gallery highlights, make sure you read our essential guide to the Uffizi in Florence, so you’re well prepared for your visit!
Book your ticket on the Uffizi only official site.