Tag Archive: Uffizi

The story of the Medici is truly fascinating. The family of bankers became the rulers of Florence, and through their patronage brought about the Renaissance and  changed the western world forever. It was Cosimo de’Medici who first took control of Florence, commissioning the completion of the great red dome of the Florence Duomo by Brunelleschi. Part 1 of the Medici film concerning Cosimo is found here.

When he suddenly died, his son Lorenzo took charge. He would become known as “Lorenzo the Magnificent”, as he brought about some of the greatest works of art ever through his patronage. It is staggering how many great artists and thinkers came out of Florence at this time, and considering how small Florence is they must have been elbow to elbow with each other. One of the most important Renaissance painters that came about under Lorenzo deMedici was Sandro Botticelli. It was Botticelli who created the first overtly pagan images at a time when the church of the middle ages was still large and in charge, an act that would never have happened had Lorenzo not relaxed the attitude of the city toward ancient “non-church” ideas. This sort of attitude resulted in enormously free creativity in art, as well as in writing and in the sciences. All of it was happening in Florence.

The greatest painting in Florence today is in the Uffizi gallery, once the offices of the Medici palace (the word uffizi means Offices). It’s this painting here by Botticelli from 1486, called “The Birth of Venus”.


The painting is a true masterpiece of Renaissance art. In it, the mythical goddess Venus is blown into the shore on a shell and received into the world on land. The story from mythology is far more detailed (and downright gross but you’ll have to research that yourself). The image is a true celebration of beauty, an exercise in pure pleasure on the part of the artist. Botticelli elongates the figures, adding to their grace and movement. Just look at Venus’ neck… super long, yet he makes it work. Until this time, feminine nudes just weren’t very common, except in images of Adam and Eve from the garden. Here’s a great short video that picks the painting apart:

We must remember that the church in the 14 and 1500’s still held enormous sway even in free-thinking places like Florence, and the reception towards such images as “the Birth of Venus” and Donatello’s “David” was still highly controversial. This painting was a private commission from Lorenzo deMedici, as were many other revolutionary works. Public attitude was another matter. Enter the radical Dominican Monk, Girolamo Savonarola.

In 1490, Savonarola came to Florence. He took residence at San Marco (where his monastic cell is still seen today) and began preaching firey sermons about the last days. To a zealous preacher like Savonarola, Florence was filled with evidence of the devil’s work. Free-thinking was everywhere, as were symbols of vast Medici wealth. He saw they entire city going straight to hell, and made sure that everyone heard the message. He claimed to have the gift of prophecy, and foretold that Lorenzo would die soon (as it turns out, he was right). Savonarola must have been a very persuasive preacher, because he soon held the city in his hand. Even Botticelli, the painter or beautiful “pagan” paintings, fell under his spell. The Medici had no choice but to flee the city and Savonarola took charge of Florence in 1494. He set about cleansing the city and returning it to God.

He held an enormous public burning in the Piazza della Signoria that came to be called “the Bonfire of the Vanities”. Florentines came to cast all kinds of evils into the flames, including books and manuscripts, symbols of wealth, jewelry, ancient relics and statues, cosmetics, fine clothing, mirrors, musical instruments and many priceless works of early Renaissance art. Botticelli cast his own paintings into the flames. No one knows how many works were destroyed by the artist himself, but it must have been truly gut-wrenching for him. His work was his life, yet he feared- as many Florentines did- for his eternal soul and had no other choice. Over the next few years,  public opinion turned on Savonarola. The city was used to Medici wealth and all the benefits it brought, something Savonarola wanted no part of. Eventually, things got so bad that the city revolted, and Savonarola himself was burned at the stake in the same spot as the bonfire. The entire episode was a black eye on the city and took years to recover from. The Medici returned, but under very different circumstances.

Please take the time to watch part 2 of the Medici film, called “The Magnificent Medici”. It is a great movie on all that was discussed here, and really brings to life this crazy time in Florence. Enjoy-




It seems that everywhere you go in Italy there is art, and if you’re inquisitive and observant you’ll find it in some pretty unlikely places. Michelangelo for example, has left his mark everywhere. His major works can be found in all the big museums and the Vatican, his sculptures seen (as copies) all around Florence, and you can walk his architectural design for the monumental dome of St.Peter’s and the plaza at the Capitoline Museum in Rome. It’s a testament to his fame and influence during his lifetime, but also to his personality and work ethic. By all accounts, he was a truly difficult and obstinate person who was tormented by his own creativity. He never married and viewed his art works as his children and heirs. He did however, manage to see many of his works through to completion. That cannot be said of his rival Leonardo.

Leonardo is without question among the most important and fascinating figures in the history of art. For being so famous, he’s tough to come by. Though regarded as one of the greatest painters who ever lived, only 15 of his paintings survive, and many of those are found in other countries, the most famous being the “Mona Lisa” at the Louvre in Paris. So how can this be explained? For one, Leonardo was a chronic procrastinator. He was so fascinated by the natural world around him and in making scientific and artistic discoveries that he just didn’t have the desire to finish projects. Of the 3 Leonardo paintings we’ll see in Italy, only 1 is finished. The others are glorified sketches. Another reason he has so few works is because he made a few huge mistakes (that he considered discoveries) in painting that resulted in the corrosion and disappearance of many works in the last 500 years. The most famous example of this is “The Last Supper”, which is in Milan.

The traditional technique of fresco, where paint is applied to wet plaster and absorbed into the wall when dried, is time consuming and difficult. Michelangelo used fresco in the Vatican, as did Raphael, and their works have stood the test of time. Leonardo was far too impatient, and for the “Last Supper” instead applied an experimental paint similar to tempera (or poster) paint and then varnished the wall to seal it. After only a few years, it was chipping and cracking, and after 100 years it was seen as a total ruin. It was in such bad shape, that the building owners punched a hole in the bottom of the painting to install a new doorway. Since then, it has become one of the most famous paintings in the world and has seen many restorations. (It also survived a direct hit from a bomb in WWII.) Today, it continues to flake and deteriorate, to the point where it’s humidity treated and only a few lucky people get in every day to see it.

One of the most impressive Leonardo works to be seen anywhere is his “Adoration of the Magi” at the Uffizi in Florence from 1481. It’s an incomplete painting with lots of visible sketches, started on commission in Florence and for some reason abandoned. It’s really interesting to see the amount of sketch work that goes into a  finished painting, especially in the perspective of the ruined buildings at the top. It certainly stands out among the finished works around it in the Uffizi,  both for being incomplete and totally intriguing.


Art historians are making discoveries about works like these all the time as technology advances. Leonardo’s “Adoration of the Magi” is a great example. The painting has been in the Uffizi since 1670, but Leonardo died in 1519 and had many followers. How do we know that the painting wasn’t altered or further worked on by someone else? Those kind of questions are continuing to be answered, as seen in this clip.


The were many master painters working at the height of the Italian Renaissance. The big three we’ve already learned about and will see first hand in Italy: Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael.   There are of course many other masters as well. In fact, seeing all the work at museum after museum can be a bit overwhelming. One of the most important other masters whose work we’ll see first hand at the Uffizi in Florence and at the Doge’s palace in Venice is Titian (pronounced Tish-in). Titian was from Venice and was a master of portraiture. He was such a good painter, that he painted the most powerful people in Italy (popes and kings) and received huge commissions  for churches and palaces. He also painted more than a few highly controversial masterpieces. He was better than just about anyone at painting flesh, so at least it’s somewhat understandable that he had an obsession with nudity.

One aspect of all painting made before the 19th century that we tend to overlook are the paints themselves. Artists back then couldn’t just walk down to the corner art store and pick up canvases, brushes and tubes of paint. Instead, they had to locate raw pigments and mix them with oil, they had to make brushes and they had to stretch and prepare canvases. Today, artists take for granted how much work it took to even prepare for painting. In the case of Titian (as well as Michelangelo and Raphael), brilliant colors in the paintings reflect some very wealthy patrons. For instance, deep blues, also known as Ultramarine Blue, are made from a natural blue pigment only found in rocks in an obscure valley in Afghanistan. This video is part 1 of 5 that attempts to recreate a Titian painting using his materials and methods. It certainly sheds light on how difficult it was to be an artist, and makes what Titian accomplished even more impressive. Be forewarned- part 3 explores the whole “obsession part” from the end of paragraph 1. Enjoy.