Uffizi Gallery

The Uffizi Gallery

One of the oldest galleries in the world

I knew that Italy, especially Florence, would give us opportunities to experience amazing art. My degree is in Fine Art, so I have seen a lot of beautiful Italian works in textbooks. Getting to see some of these works in person was astounding. It's been several years since I've refreshed my knowledge - I was not fully prepared for The Uffizi Gallery.

The Uffizi Gallery in Florence was commissioned to be built by the Medici family in 1560. It opened as an art gallery in 1581, and finally became available to the public in 1737. The museum as we know it today opened in 1769. It contains collections of art from the Middle Ages all the way up to the Modern period. Never have I personally been in such a dense collection of historical artwork.

Many, many research papers, textbooks, and other education works have been written about the art here. Lives have been dedicated to understanding even small works that we were able to see. Needless to say, it was overwhelming. One day is not enough time to really take it all in. With that in mind, I'll skim some of our favorites/highlights

Medusa by Caravaggio

You almost definitely know this one. I guess I had forgotten that it was painted on a ceremonial shield (rather than a canvas or board). It is beautiful and I’m glad we were able to see it. Replicas of the work were available in every form imaginable in every tourist souvenir shop around town, sometimes even respectfully.

Judith Beheading Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi

I think this was Ammi’s favorite of the day. It’s become Tumblr-famous in recent years. Here’s an excerpt from Uffizi’s website:

“The Lord has struck him down by the hand of a woman”. So says Judith, a young Jew from Bethulia, in the bible when she describes her heroic act that freed the people of Israel from the siege by Nebuchadnezzar’s army. Judith went to the encampment of the fierce Holofernes, general of the enemy army, dressed in her best clothes and feigning a wish to forge an alliance. Struck by her beauty, the Assyrian general invited her to a lavish banquet in his tent. After eating and drinking, Holofernes, now drunk, fell asleep on his bed, allowing Judith to seize her chance to draw her scimitar and strike the deadly blow.

— from https://www.uffizi.it/en/artworks/judith-beheading-holofernes

As they say in Chicago, he had it comin’. This was an amazing piece to see, from the skintone to the beautiful treatment of cloth to the spurting blood, it oozed beauty and character.


Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn

We got to see at least two by Rembrandt:

  • Self-portrait (around 1655)
  • Old Man in an Armchair

I have always loved Rembrandt’s work. It’s so dark and unmistakable. Typically when you paint, you start by coating the surface in white gesso (white pigment and a filler like chalk or silica). This creates a better surface for capturing the paint and a base from which to work. From my time in school, I remember reading that he used a dark base. Light isn’t the natural state of things, so he started with darkness then used light as an active element to bring the canvas to life.

Getting to see an original Rembrandt self-portrait was truly a delight.

Laocoön and His Sons by Baccio Bandinelli

This is another work you’ve almost definitely seen, even if you don’t know the name. The original is an Ancient Roman masterpiece that was dug up in 1506. It is believed to date all the way back to AD 80. The original is in the Vatican Museums. This one in Uffizi is a recreation from 1520 by Baccio Bandinelli, the Medici’s favorite artist.

After you’ve walked for hours seeing works of antiquity by old masters, it gets difficult to be overwhelmed. At that point, you’re at best “whelmed”. But this one is astounding to see, even with artistic satiation. It’s huge and striking.

Various Busts (on Herms)

As I mentioned above, this gets exhausting. There are just so many beautiful works that you couldn’t really absorb it all in one day. There were many amazing statues and busts. Some of my favorites were:

  • Socrates
  • Agrippa
  • Emperor Philip the Arab
  • Francesco I de’ Medici
  • Head of a man on a herm, known as Xenocrates
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