The Uffizi is the greatest collection of Italian Renaissance painting in the world. That’s pretty certifiable truth. But as a museum, as a visitor experience, as a place to go it drives me absolutely bonkers in every way imaginable. Now for big, fancy museums like the Uffizi I tend to complain about the crowds, like I did for the Met, MoMA, and the Louvre. But at the Uffizi, it’s not really even about the crowds (which are, I feel obligated to point out, insane). The things that make the Uffizi unbearable are actually much more about the structure itself: because there’s really only one path you get to follow through the whole museum. One line, one continuous bottleneck from Giotto through to Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo, with a giant cess pool in the middle in the Botticelli room. It’s also about how the climate control is genuinely, really, really terrible. And finally it’s about how there seems to be, on that one-pathway, a perfectly linear progression to Italian Renaissance painting: Cimabue and Giotto lead to people like Simone Martini, who lead to people like Lorenzo Monaco and Gentile da Fabriano. (All of the following images are from wikipedia):
Then there’s good old Fra Angelico, the Lippi of the Fra Filippo and Filippino varieties, followed shortly thereafter by Botticelli, Verrochio, Leonardo da Vinci, and culminating in nice Vasarian fashion with Raphael and the divine Michelangelo.
Now, yes, chronologically that order of events (and painters) is true (for the most part). But in every other means of interpretation its false and lying by omission. Because it was so much more messy that that. And why, oh why are we still using Vasari’s means of organizing artists 450+ years later? Italian Renaissance painting did not start with Giotto. It did not culminate with Michelangelo. And I realize that I’m tripping over my education here and other people might not mind this arrangement as much as I do, but let me tell you it is stale, played, and musty. Vasari was as much fiction as he was fact, there’s no muss, no fuss, and were it not for the fact that the other day I showed you how weird the Renaissance could be (with the post about the Brera in Milan), you would assume–as evidenced by the Uffizi–that Italian painting from 1300-1550 was just a never-ending parade of pretty Madonna and Childs with a lovely mythological scene thrown in for kicks occasionally. UGH. Go home Uffizi, you’re boring.
** Some of the paintings in this post are in rooms that are currently closed for renovations– they’ve been renovating at the Uffizi since basically the beginning of time.