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A Brief History of Uffizi Gallery, Florence
The Uffizi: one of the most visited and well-known museums today, adorned with masterpieces, home to exhibitions of international resonance. However, only a few know that this magnificent exhibition space was not born as such and that its rooms – from which history and splendor ooze – were created to fulfill other purposes.
The name itself suggests the original purpose of the building: it was commissioned in 1560 by Cosimo I de’ Medici (1519-1574), the first Grand Duke of Tuscany, to house the “Uffizi,” i.e. the administrative and judicial offices of Florence, in adherence to his decision to move the centers of power away from Palazzo della Signoria and his republican memories. For this reason, the original name of the complex was “Magistrature building,” and its function was also to give a new face to this part of the city.
The Medici – a historic Florentine family – had reached their moment of maximum splendor in those same years, and by the time construction began, their hegemony was by now consolidated, so much so that the power of the family was centered – even materially – within the walls of the building.
To build the Uffizi and create space for the imposing building, countless buildings that were located on the right bank of the Arno were demolished, and therefore the whole district – known as the Baldracca district from the name of a popular and infamous place located there: the tavern of Baldracca – needed a total restoration.
The construction work was carried out by Cosimo I’s trusted artist, Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574), who went down in history more as a biographer than for his artistic and architectural feats. He, therefore, designed the horseshoe-shaped building that can currently be admired, with the portico with Doric columns and an elegant and severe appearance at the same time.
Vasari brilliantly solved the problems imposed by the limited space, adopting solutions of great scenographic impact, such as, for example, the serliana on the Arno, which framed the porticoed square – a new economic and political forum – and the ancient civic space par excellence, Piazza della Signoria.
Once the works were completed, the thirteen Magistracies that governed Florentine production and commerce were transferred to the ground floor of the complex, while the administrative offices and grand-ducal factories, and laboratories were dedicated to making objects of particular value. The building was finally crowned by a loggia, originally open.
However, Vasari’s interventions were not limited to the construction of the building itself, so much so that there is an environment that still bears the name of the artist from Arezzo: the Vasari Corridor. The latter joins – through the Uffizi – Palazzo Vecchio to Palazzo Pitti, passing over Ponte Vecchio and crossing the church of Santa Felicita and numerous adjacent buildings before coming out in the Boboli Gardens.
The Vasari Corridor was built in March 1565 – on the occasion of the marriage of Cosimo’s son, Francesco I, with Giovanna of Austria – with the aim of connecting, through a private route, the grand-ducal apartments located in the Palazzo della Signoria with those that were being prepared in Palazzo Pitti, the new residence of the Medici family, purchased in 1549 by the Duchess Eleonora di Toledo, Cosimo’s wife.
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Upon Vasari’s death in 1574, the works continued under the direction of Alfonso Parigi (1606-1656) and Bernardo Buontalenti (1531-1608), who were responsible for completing the building, connected to the Loggia dei Lanzi in 1580. The scepter of power, at this point, had passed to the cultured and refined Francesco I de’ Medici (1541-1587), Grand Duke, from 1574 to 1587.
We owe him the creation of the Gallery, set up in 1581 on the second floor of the complex and decorated in the area ceiling with delicate “grotesque” motifs, according to a taste spread by Raphael, who drew inspiration from the paintings of the Domus Aurea, which has recently re-emerged.
The heart of the museum was and still is the octagonal Tribune, an enchanting invention of the genius of Buontalenti completed in 1584, an alchemical representation of the Four Elements (mirror of the passion for alchemy nurtured by Francesco I) with its splendid mother-of-pearl dome which resumed the ancient Tower of the Winds in Athens.
It was a room intended to house the treasures of the Medici collections, which is why it became the place par excellence for collecting in the 1500s. Francesco, I also commissioned Buontalenti to build the Medici Theater in the eastern wing of the palace, inaugurated in 1588. Today only the Vestibule on the first floor remains, as in the years in which Florence was the capital of the Kingdom of Italy (1865-1871). It was divided into two volumes to obtain exhibition spaces.
In 1587 a new figure made a foray into the history of Florence: Ferdinando I (1549-1609), brother and successor of Francesco. He gave a strong impetus to the creation of new rooms in the Gallery: in a small room adjacent to the Tribuna, the “Camerino delle Matematiche” was set up, capable of accommodating various scientific instruments, including those that belonged to Galileo Galilei.
Furthermore, it was his idea to transfer the Giovian series to the Gallery, a collection of portraits of illustrious men previously located – at the behest of Cosimo I – in Palazzo Vecchio. The Uffizi thus progressively filled up with works of art and jewels until they composed a priceless collection, so much so as to arouse the attention and interest of foreign rulers and noble travelers on the “Grand Tour.”
All this enormous heritage could have disappeared in the mid-eighteenth century when the main branch of the Medici died out. However, the last direct descendant of the ancient lineage of the great Florentine bankers – Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici (1667-1743) – imposed the famous Family Pact on the new Grand Duke designated by the European powers, with which, in 1737, the Medici inheritance in Florence «for the ornamentation of the State, for the benefit of the public and to attract the curiosity of foreigners,» accompanying the document with a complete and detailed inventory of all the collections.
History of Uffizi Gallery Italy
The Gallery was opened to the public for the first time in 1789 by the will of Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo (1747-1792), who entrusted Zanobi del Rosso (1724 -1798) with setting up the new entrance to the “Museum Mediceum.” This was followed by the reorganization of the Gallery’s collections according to rational and pedagogical criteria, compatible with the new systematic cataloguing criteria of the Enlightenment. With the Kingdom of Italy and the transfer of the Renaissance statues to the new Bargello National Museum, the Gallery gradually assumed the function of an art gallery.
And so we come to the 20th century when the art gallery was enriched with innumerable works from the heritage of churches and convents, as well as from donations and purchases, becoming the magnificent museum that we all know today. In 2022 it will be possible to reaccess the Vasari Corridor, closed since 2016, to be able to carry out modernization, air conditioning, and lighting works.
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