Florence III: the Uffizi Gallery

Patricia is a museum professional and went to grad school in art history. She’s the reason I know my egg tempera from my tempera grassa. So Florence — all of Italy, really — is her kind of place.  And the Uffizi is the mother ship.   Our conversation in the museum:

Patricia: “That’s one of my favorite paintings ever.”

A few minutes later:  “That’s one of my favorite paintings ever.”

A few minutes later: “That’s one of my favorite paintings ever.”

Me: “How many favorite paintings do you have?”

Patricia, looking at me with Unibomber eyes: “All. Of. Them.”

I made her chose and she settled on Paolo Uccello’s Battle of San Romano, for its power. The battle was an eight hour skirmish between Florence and Siena in 1482, with victory being claimed by both sides.  The painting (actually paintings, since this one is part of a triptych that includes two others – one at the National Gallery in London and one in the Louvre) makes it seem more than it was, since it was a skirmish so minor that no one would have remembered anything about it if not for the paintings.  So minor, in fact, that even with the painting, I couldn’t find (admittedly in my brief on-line quest) the cause of the skirmish. The painting was commissioned by Leonardo Bartolini Salimbeni, a wealthy merchant who had witnessed the battle. But Lorenzo de Medici wanted it so he took it.  Remember that lesson we had back in Pisa? Don’t mess with the Medici.

My favorite was this circa 1597 Medusa by Caravaggio.  I could feel her anger and her pain.  And that she could leap out at me any moment. Sorry about the horrible quality of the photo.

As always, I was more into the art on the building than the art in the building. The Uffizi complex was started in 1560 for Cosimo I de Medici, the first Grand Duke of Tuscany, to use as government offices. Uffizi apparently means “offices” (although according to the Google translator, Uffizi is “uffizi” in English). It’s funny how everything sounds better in Italian. A museum called Office Gallery in the States wouldn’t sound half as posh and tempting.

I was about to write that I worked for the US government for most of my life and never saw offices that even came close to this.  But that’s not true.  If you’ll allow me to digress: I did a stint working for a US senator and while our offices were drably governmental (with the exception of the Carrera marble restrooms), there was the Brumidi Corridors on the Senate side of the US Capitol building (photo credit to the US Architect’s office).

It was designed by Constantine Brumidi, an Italian artist, who was commissioned by Montgomery Meigs to create a space inspired by Raphael’s loggia at the Vatican. Meigs was the Union Quartermaster General who turned Robert E. Lee’s plantation in Virginia into the cemetery now known as Arlington National Cemetery. Before the Civil War, he was Superintendent of Construction for the Capitol appointed, ironically, by Secretary of War (and eventual president of the Confederacy) Jefferson Davis. It’s not quite as opulent as the Uffizi or the Vatican, but I always made an excuse to walk through the Brumidi Corridor, even when it wasn’t the most direct route to wherever I was going.

Back to the Uffizi: its windows frame some impressive scenes.   Like this view of the south bank of the Arno, with the Pitti Palace (another Medici palace) on the hill.

And the Ponte Vecchio:

And the Palazzo Vecchio (although I think this was taken on a terrace):

Judging by the crowd in the room (in an overwhelmingly crowded museum), the most popular part of the Uffizi may have been the Botticelli Room, which houses his Birth of Venus and Primavera.  The model for both Venus and Primavera seems to be the same person, and legend has it that it is Simonetta Vespucci. She was a noblewoman who was the wife of Marco Vespucci, the cousin of Amerigo, and the most famous beauty of her day. She died of tuberculosis at age 22 and it’s said that Botticelli actually painted her from memory for Birth of Venus, which was completed nine years after her death.


I just noticed that Botticelli has a thing for right head tilting.

Whether Simonetta is the model or not is up for grabs, although I’m on the side of those who say she’s not.  I just doubt that her noble and connected family would have put up with her likeness being put out there in the nude, even after — or, perhaps, especially after —  her death.

The other part of her legend is Botticelli’s unrequited love for her. That story goes that Botticelli had a lifelong crush on Simonetta and requested to be — and was — buried at her feet in the Vespucci family chapel in the Chiesa di Ognissanti in Florence.  I don’t know about the love — he’s reputed to have been gay — but I suppose it could have been a Don Quixote-like pure and worshipful adoration from afar.  Botticelli is buried in the Chiesa di Ognissant, but with his own family, since it was his family’s parish church.  Simonetta is also buried somewhere in the church — no one knows where.  But what are the chances that Marco Vespucci would let another man be buried at the feet of his wife, no matter how famous the other man was? I know I’m being a romance Scrooge, but it all makes no sense to me.

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4 Responses to Florence III: the Uffizi Gallery

  1. A day or two in Florence is simply not long enough. I liked your corridor story!

  2. museummutt says:

    Unibomber eyes? Next time we’re going to Arezzo so we can spend hours looking at the Piero della Francesca frescoes!

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