Guide to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence: Must See Masterpieces & Tips for Visiting
Updated: Jul 2
Here's my complete guide to visiting Florence's famed Uffizi Gallery. I identify and analyze 15 must see masterpieces and give you all the tips and tricks you need to have an efficient visit at the beloved and oft-crowded Uffizi.
Florence is synonymous with the Renaissance period of art history. The Uffizi is its premiere gallery. The Uffizi has the world's best collection of Italian medieval and Renaissance art. The museum is the third most visited site in Italy.
The Uffizi houses seminal works from the 13th to 18th centuries, with a concentration on Renaissance art. Here's where you'll find one of the world's most iconic paintings, Sandro Botticelli's Birth of Venus. If you're an art lover, the Uffizi is a must visit site in Florence.
History of the Uffizi Gallery
In 1560, Cosimo de Medici commissioned Giorgio Vasari, architect and art historian, to construct the Palazzo Uffizi. The Medici were a wealthy banking family that ruled Florence for almost three centuries. The palazzo was originally conceived as a office complex for them.
Cosimo de Medici, the first Grand Duke of Florence, supported early Renaissance artists such as Ghiberti, Brunelleschi, Donatello, and Fra Angelico. Cosimo's grandson, Lorenzo the Magnificent, commissioned works from Botticelli, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci. Michelangelo even designed the Medici Chapel in the Basilica of San Lorenzo.
The Uffizi was first called the Gallery of Statues, since its then private collection consisted mainly of Greco-Roman statues. In the 19th century, many of the Renaissance sculptures were transferred to Florence's Bargello Museum.
Each Medici heir continued to enrich the family collection. In 1743, the last Medici heir, Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici, left most of the family artworks to the Tuscan state.
In 1769, the Uffizi officially opened its doors as a public museum. Many of the works on display are treasures from the original Medici collection. The Uffizi also continues to acquire new artworks.
Must See Masterpieces at the Uffizi Gallery
The Uffizi is a nonstop steady stream of masterpieces. But here are the ones you shouldn't miss:
1. Sandro Botticelli, Birth of Venus, 1486
Sandro Botticelli is the undisputed master of the early Renaissance period. His Birth of Venus is the Uffizi's most famous art work, akin to the Mona Lisa in Paris. Botticelli spent his entire life in Florence and was a friend of the Medici family.
The beautiful Birth of Venus is a dreamlike celebration of beauty and love. It's a lush, richly symbolic, and a groundbreaking piece. It was the first large scale painting of a nude woman in almost 1000 years. The nudity wasn't religious either; it was pagan.
Venus, the goddess of beauty and love, is born fully grown from the foam of a wave. We see an ethereal Venus, half awake and fragile, blown by the Zephyrs. She floats on a shell tended by her maids.
Botticelli was a highly skilled painter and had an understanding of human anatomy. But he also made objectively beautiful paintings with luminous pastel colors. Even Venus' hair is gleaming and highlighted. Venus' nakedness is idealized and innocent, not erotic.
The model for Venus was reputedly Simonetta Vespucci. She was considered the most beautiful woman in Italy.
Vespucci reputedly had a torrid affair with Lorenzo the Magnificent's brother, Guiliano. Botticelli was obsessed with Vespucci as well, frequently painting her image long after her death at just 22. When Botticelli died, his tomb was placed in the Vespucci Chapel near his muse.