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The Uffizi Gallery: The Best Paintings of the Florentine Renaissance (4:39)

Florence, Italy
Contains mature topics

The Uffizi’s art, with Italian art from the 12th through the 17th centuries, shows us the thrilling leap from medieval to modern, and from Gothic to Renaissance, through works by the greats: Botticelli, Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael.

Complete Video Script

Nearby, the Medici family ruled Florence from this grand palace, the Palazzo Vecchio. Their offices — or Uffizi — were next door. Now, these offices hold the finest collection of Italian paintings anywhere — the Uffizi Gallery.

Each day here, and throughout Europe, frustrated tourists who don't study their guidebooks waste precious hours in museum lines. Meanwhile, travelers who made a reservation by phone or purchase the city museum pass — as we did — are allowed right in.

The Uffizi’s collection — displayed on one comfortable floor, takes you on a sweep through Italian art history from the 12th through the 17th century.

Gilded Gothic altarpieces, like this Annunciation by the Sienese master Simone Martini, must have dazzled the faithful in the 1300s. The stars of the Florentine class of 1500 are all here: Leonardo da Vinci's Annunciation is exquisite. Michelangelo's Holy Family shows he can do more than carve statues. And Raphael, considered a synthesis of the power of Michelangelo and the grace of Leonardo, captures a delicate moment in his Madonna of the Gold Finch. And the collection follows art after the Renaissance with masterpieces like Parmigianino's slippery Lady with the Long Neck.

For me, the Uffizi — like Florence itself — is all about the thrilling leap from medieval to modern — as happened when Europe moved from Gothic to Renaissance. These altarpieces are Gothic — being pre-Renaissance they simply tell their story through symbolism rather than realism. The gold leaf sky isn’t realistic…but it implies a rich and holy setting. The angels are stacked — like a totem pole. Flanking this cross, panels — like painted pages — tell the story of the crucifixion…but with little sense of depth. Yet artists were trying…To show Jesus’ head leaning out…it actually does.

Giotto, while still Gothic, is often considered the first modern painter. Notice the progress. A more realistic setting places Mary and baby Jesus on a throne occupying a believable space. The kneeling angels in front and peek-a-boo saints behind create an illusion of depth.

If the Renaissance was a foundation of our modern world, a foundation of the Renaissance was Classical art. Sculptors, painters, and poets alike turned to ancient work for inspiration.

Two-thousand-year-old Roman and Greek statues like these decorated gardens of the wealthy.

This ancient art was considered the epitome of beauty. Kings made copies. Napoleon stole his favorite pieces. In the 19th century young aristocrats on the grand tour came here and swooned.

In the Renaissance — as in the ancient world — people saw the glory of God in the beauty, order, and harmony of the human body — God’s greatest creation.

Classical statues clearly inspired Sandro Botticelli. For me, his Birth of Venus is the Uffizi’s purest expression of Renaissance beauty. The goddess of love, born from the foam of a wave, is just waking up.

Botticelli combines the beauty of nature and the human body — the hands, wings, and robe mingle with the wind. With Venus’ flyaway hair, the airy spaciousness of the distant horizon, and the flowers — caught at the peak of their beauty, tumbling in slow motion — the world itself is fresh and newborn.

Botticelli’s Primavera or Springtime shows the Renaissance finally in full bloom. The warm winds blow in causing Flora to sprout flowers from her lips. Meanwhile, the figure of Spring spreads petals from her dress…the Three Graces dance… a blindfolded cupid happily sprays his little arrows, and in the center stands a fertile Venus, the classical goddess of love.

Visiting Florence leaves lovers of art and good living with rich memories. And while much of the great art of the Renaissance remains here, the influence of that cultural explosion — the Florentine Renaissance — reverberates throughout the world and for that, we can be thankful.

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