A visit to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence is a real treat for anyone who loves art. The Uffizi have the most important collection of Italian Renaissance art, including iconic paintings by Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Michelangelo. A treasure trove of masterpieces set in a stunning location: a few steps from Piazza Signoria, overlooking the river Arno.
Here we delve into Florence‘s past to discover some fascinating facts about this extraordinary gallery, that started its life as the private art collection of the Medici family.
Uffizi Gallery – 7 Fascinating facts you should know
1. Where does the name ‘Uffizi’ mean?
The Uffizi, or ‘uffici‘, means ‘offices’ in Italian. That was what this building was designed to be back in 1560, when the Duke of Florence Cosimo I de’ Medici decided to tear down this part of the city, the infamous neighbourhood Baldracca. He wanted to build an smart-looking building for the offices of the city’s magistrates. Cosimo I wanted to have the most important administrative and judicial offices near Palazzo Vecchio, the seat of political power in Florence, while ‘gentrifying’ this area.
2. The Medici family’s private art collection
The Medici were great appreciators of art, and the Uffizi originally contained their art collection. The Medici family is linked to some of Florence’s greatest artists and masterpieces, including Botticelli, Leonardo and Michelangelo to name a few. Financing gifted architects and commissioning art pieces were favourite activities of the family that ruled Florence – and later the whole of Tuscany – for 300 years.
3. A gift from a noblewoman
If today Florence can offer the world such an impressive art collection, it’s thanks to Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici, and the famous ‘patto di famiglia‘, or ‘family pact’. When the last male member of the Medici family – Gian Gastone de’ Medici – died in 1737, Tuscany was given to the Lorena family and effectively became an Austrian province. But Anna Maria Luisa, the sister of Gian Gastone, made sure that the wealth of the Medici, including the Uffizi and Pitti Palace’s art collections, stayed in Florence.
Anna Maria Luisa, the very last member of the Medici, made an historic decision. When she inherited all of the family possession, she issued a decree to make sure all the works of art stayed in Florence.
“I cede, bestow and transfer to His Royal Highness, and his successors, all the belongings inherited from my brother, such as galleries, paintings, statues, jewelry, and other precious things, upon the express condition it be maintained as ornamentation of the State, for public use and to attract the curiosity of foreigners, nor shall it ever be removed or transported outside Florence and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany“.
A few decades after her death (1743), the Uffizi was opened to the public. And today is one of the world’s most famous museums.
4. The remains of a church
The Church of San Pietro Schellaggio was absorbed by the new building. This church, that was an important spot in Medieval Florence, remained partly accessible until the 18th century. Today you can see the remains of the church at 5 Via della Ninna.
5. Street art comes to the Uffizi
With the acquisition of a self-portrait of British street artist Endless, the Uffizi enter the 21st century. Street art is exhibited next to historic masterpieces by Leonardo and Caravaggio. “The montage, a comment on advertising and consumer culture, will become the first piece by a street artist to go on display in the Uffizi“. (The Guardian)
6. The Uffizi on the big screen
Unsurprisingly, a few films have been shot in the Uffizi Gallery: in “Inferno” (based on the novel by Dan Brown) the protagonists escape by running along the Corridoio Vasariano, the elevated passageway that leads from the Uffizi to Boboli Garden and Palazzo Pitti. The thriller “Obsession” by Brian de Palma is set in Florence, with the Uffizi among the chosen locations. And Italian cult director Dario Argento has the protagonist black out in one of the Uffizi’s rooms in his horror film “Stendhal’s syndrome”.
7. The Tribuna, where the Uffizi were born
There’s one room in the Uffizi that you can only see from the outside. It’s the Tribuna, a lavishly decorated octagonal room that is the original nucleus of the Uffizi Gallery. It was Francesco I de’ Medici who came up with the idea to display some works of art on the first floor – above the offices. Florentine architect Buontalenti designed and decorated it. It’s a sort of ‘secular temple’ that celebrates art, with plenty of symbolic decoration: the shape is octagonal (like the baptistry, a sort of sacred space), and the decor recalls the four elements.
=> Learn some interesting facts about Florence Duomo
=> Discover all of Botticelli’s paintings you can see at the Uffizi Gallery.