The Uffizi: full of pretty paintings; full of wrong

This photo was taken from the very first time I went to Florence 5+ years ago and the very first time I saw the Uffizi. Ah memories.
This photo was taken from the very first time I went to Florence 5+ years ago and the very first time I saw the Uffizi. Ah memories.

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):

Giotto's Ognissanti Madonna
Giotto’s Ognissanti Madonna
Simone Martini's Annunciation (true facts: seeing this painting my sophomore year of college is what led to me becoming an art historian)
Simone Martini’s Annunciation (true facts: seeing this painting my sophomore year of college is what led to me becoming an art historian)
Lorenzo Monaco made pretty paintings. If he existed.
Lorenzo Monaco made pretty paintings. If he existed.
Gentile da Fabriano. He loved gold.
Gentile da Fabriano. He loved gold.

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.

Filippo Lippi's Madonna
Filippo Lippi’s Madonna
Oh Botticelli
Oh Botticelli
Leonardo!
Leonardo!
Raphael's Madonna and the Goldfinch
Raphael’s Madonna and the Goldfinch
And the Doni Tondo for hte win. Or something.
And the Doni Tondo for hte win. Or something.

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.

Advertisements

9 thoughts on “The Uffizi: full of pretty paintings; full of wrong

    1. At that point, I’d never seen anything so beautiful before. And you can’t tell in that image but there’s a line of embossed text from the mouth of Gabriel to the ear of Mary where it says “Ave Maria Gratia Plena… etc etc” and at the time, I thought that was so clever and amazing that those lines would actually be pictured in the scene. I was just enchanted by the gold and the beautiful forms and (since I wasn’t really raised with religion) there were all these fascinating stories spiraling out from this one. It ignited all my curiosity and I do love it to this day, even if the Uffizi does drive me crazy. I became very emotional the first time I saw it in person.

  1. I agree with you about the layout, some of my favourite pieces are almost at the end of the tour route and I almost want to run through the first rooms & corridors just to get to the good stuff! I know why they do it but I wish there were some shortcuts for those who wanted them! BTW went past it on Thursday and for the first time ever noticed that there was no queue!! Not a single soul was waiting to go in and the security chaps were just hanging around chatting!! December is the month to go!! ;o) Great post!

    1. I’ve seen short, short/no lines near the end of the day too- even in the height of summer! But I love Florence in December, so you’re right, it is the perfect month! The lights are beautiful!

      1. They are aren’t they! Quite subtle too except for one building which is covered in a net of fairy lights – its waaaay over the top but I love it!!! Must take a trip back to Florence in the NY!! :o)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s