The Uffizi is one of the worlds oldest galleries, built in 1560 under Cosimo I de’ Medici; and the architect responsible was Giorgio Vasari. Although there would have been a construction team executing what Vasari had designed, Vasari himself did much decoration and the most exquisite example of this would be the ceilings running along the main hallway of the gallery (See Below). The frescoes were influenced by the discovery of the Grotesques in Rome. The Grotesques are frescoes that were found by archaeologists in the ‘Golden House‘ in Nero. Their name derives from having being found in a basement - a grotto. The structure that stands today was built on top of an earlier site that housed a church, therefore much of the basement (where the toilets now are!) contain ruins.
ŸSala di Giotto: e del duecento
Giotto’s Room: and the 13th Century.
As you enter the Room of Giotto, you are immediately struck by three 10 ft high paintings. The one placed in the middle is by Giotto himself while the other two are by Cimabue and Duccio.
The 3 paintings alike portray the Madonna Enthroned. Cimabue’s was the first to be painted (1275), next came Duccio’s (1285) and then lastly, Giotto’s (1305).
Giotto’s Madonna was painted for and originally placed in the Ognissanti church in Florence. He, as the creator of chiaroscuro, has used this technique and it is clear to see that the use of shade is more advanced than the earlier two, most notably in that you can tell how the drapery falls over Mary’s chest. Furthermore, Giotto‘s gives in to the illusion of space and with the use of the reverse one point perspective, the viewer is drawn into the picture and guided up the stairs to the throne. Also, underneath the throne lies a vase with flowers inside; their iconographical meaning are as follows: Red flower: Passion of Christ, Lily: the flower that archangel Gabriel gave to Mary in the Annunciation and white: Virginity.
Another interesting piece from Giotto in this room is his altarpiece. The saints are only depicted from the waist upwards and this is reference to how the rest of the church would see a priest during service. The priest parts bread and drinks wine behind a table - you only see him from the waist upwards. Thus, Giotto is likening the priest to the saints depicted behind him.
Cimabue’s version recalls the Romanesque churches of Medieval Florence in his depiction of a crypt like structure underneath Mary’s throne. Here, there are two saints underneath looking up towards the ’Queen of Paradise’. Although Cimabue’s painting technique is considered not as true to ‘proto-renaissance’ as Giotto‘s, there is still even in the 1280’s evidence of development in technique. Here we see it in the colour toning on the wings of the angels and a vague attempt at offering perspective - he did not let any of his figures ‘float’ in the same way as Duccio did, they are arranged (albeit simply) one behind another. As with most paintings of this century, there is a lot of gilded gold and even some glass and mirror in the halo of the Christ child and Mary (so that it would reflect light and seemingly glimmer).
Lastly, Duccio’s Madonna (Pictured Right) is clearly the least advanced, however he was froma Sienese school of painters and studied the French gothic style. Henceforth, it could be argued that his depiction (of the Christ child in particular) is the ‘sweetest‘. As I previously touched upon, the angel figures here are not standing on ground, they seem to be floating (but do note, it is not because they are ‘divine’ and can fly. It is because Duccio could not extend the floor into the background).This painting is a prime example of the so called ‘sea sick Madonna’s’. This name derives from the fact that her face is slightly green. The reason for this is pre 20th century restoration and preservation techniques. The technique in particular that is responsible for this is Lime Soda cleaning. At first, the results were a success, until they had realised that even when the Soda is washed away, the residue still bites at the egg tempera; therefore the green undercoat of painting is revealed.
ŸSala del Trecento Senese
14th century Sienese painters
Here we saw the works of Ambrogio Lorenzetti (Presentation in Temple) and Simone Martini (Annunciation).
Lorenzetti’s piece is known to have been ’new’ Gothic art because of its use of both rounded and pointed arches, which in iconography represents both the old and new testament. The perspective of this painting isn’t particularly skilful but Lorenzetti has knowingly painted such bold, big characters in the foreground that it goes without notice.
Simone Martini’s Annunciation (1333) depicts the archangel Gabriel saying ‘Hail Mary, God is with you’. He holds an olive branch to signify peace, as upon arrival her expression is visibly frightened. Martini’s painting technique has been influenced by French art hence the pink cheeks and soft faces.
ŸSala del Gotico Internazionale
International Gothic room.
Gentile de Fabriano‘s 1423 Adoration of the Kings (Pictured Left) was painted alongside early Renaissance art. While the likes of Brunelleschi were researching mathematics in order to produce perfect art, Fabriano remained old fashioned. However, while it is old fashioned and covered in gold leaf, he offers a lot of movement in the background, and landscape. Therefore we say that this style, international gothic, was simply to boast the commissioners wealth and status - it doesn’t necessarily lack skill.
ŸSala di Primo Rinascimento
Early Renaissance room.
This room features the Battle of san Romano, by Paulo Uccello. Uccello was active under Cosimo de’ Medici in the 15th century. This painting had pride of place in the Palazzo Medici in the bedroom of Lorenzo the Magnificent. It portrays a fight with the Sienese people and its main function is to fuel patriotism.
Domenico Veneziano is also among the painters represented here. Veneziano was infamously believed to have been murdered by Andrea del Castagno - it was only proved recently that the latter died before him and thus that is not possible. The culprit for this misinformation is Giorgio Vasari and his sometimes not so reliable Lives. His Mary and Child (1447) depicts St. Francis, Madonna and Child, St Zanobi, St. John the Baptist and St. Lucy.
Lastly to be discussed from this room is the Human Trinity which is St. Anna, Mary and Christ child. This was a collaboration between Masolino and Massacio. These names are their given nicknames, in fact they are both called Thomas and these names characterise their painting technique. Masolino’s nick name means little Tom, and makes reference to the soft, pretty faces he paints; Massacio on the other hand means ‘Big, Ugly Tom’ and the faces he draws are as implied. In the trinity, Masolino paints the faces of the angels while the latter paints the trinity and controversially depicts St. Ana as old.
ŸSala Di Fillipo Lippi
Fillipo Lippi room
Duke and Duchess of Urbino, 1473 by Pierro della Francesca. The Man shown here is not drawn in three quarter profile (the norm) but in full profile. This is believed to be a subtle indication from the artist that he was disliked among the public - his allegiances during fighting were dependent on who paid him the most money and was therefore considered disloyal. The Duchess is painted very pale because she was dead when it was painted. The piece is painted recto en verso and therefore has two sides. The back side (verso) shows cardinal virtues being drawn by white horses (behind the Duke) while brown horses are pulling along the theological values at the back of the depiction of the Duchess.
Adoration of the Magi, 1496 by Fillipo Lippi recalls some elements from Leonardo Da Vinci’s Adoration such as horror vacui - the fear of space (usually used in mannerist paintings); and morti mentali or ‘state of mind’ that shows a variation of expression on faces and in the posture of figures.
Madonna and child with two angels (Pictured Right) also by Lippi shows an attractive Mary that is modelled on a nun he knew and fell in love with. Her gesture represents humility and is a typical pose of friars, monks and nuns.
ŸSala di Antonio e Piero del Pollaiuolo
Antonio and Piero del Pollaiolo room.
Antonio’s two actions of Hercules were part of a wider series of paintings commissioned by the Medici. The Medici commissioned and owned a lot of art work with the subject matter being something other than Christianity. This is because they would have liked everybody else to identify them with beauty and intelligence .
ŸSala di Botticelli
Birth of Venus (1486): The Venus figure was based on a Roman statue in the house of Medici. At either side of Venus Botticelli has portrayed the following: Zephyr the God of Wind with the nymph he transformed into a Goddess (to the left) and a beautiful mistress from Portovenere (to the right). Zephyr is effectively ‘blowing’ Venus to the shore of Portovenere.
Pallas and the centaur (1482): Shows a centaur preparing his bow and arrow to attack while Pallas controls his violent passion and dissuades him from doing so. Her role as the ‘controller‘ echoes the power of the Medici as their symbol of intertwined rings are painted on her clothes.
Primavera (1482): Botticelli’s Primavera was the first in the trio of paintings that I have discussed. They were commissioned by Lorenzo the Magnificent in order to pass on to his cousin as a wedding gift. Primavera shows a beautiful Venus in the middle of the composition while her son, Cupid, is above and blindfolded while aiming for somewhere with a burning arrow (we can assume this was aimed at the couple to be married). To the right of Venus, you can also see Chloris and her transformation from nymph to Goddess, with Zephyr at her side. She is seen emerging from the woodlands with flowers erupting for her mouth and then almost falling into her Goddess form (See Left).
As a trio, the messages to the couple of whom would acquire them were: recreate, avoid infidelity and to get married in the Spring.