History Of The Uffizi Gallery | Symbol of the Medici Family's Legacy


One of the most important art galleries in the world, the Uffizi Gallery's history dates back to 1560. Today, the Uffizi Gallery is an invaluable part of Italian culture and history, with its exhibitions displaying a variety of artwork from different eras. Visitors can not only appreciate the beauty and skill it took to create these pieces, but also gain insight into the cultural movements that occurred during those times. Uffizi is a must-visit for art aficionados and history buffs alike.

Uffizi Gallery - History

The Origins

16th Century

Cosimo I de Medici commissioned Giorgio Vasari to construct Uffizi as Florence's administrative and judicial center. 13 offices of the Magistrates were transferred to the ground floor of the building, while the first floor housed the administrative offices and workshops of the Grand Duch.

An elevated passage between the new building and Palazzo Vecchio was built. In 1565, on the occasion of the marriage between Francesco I and Joanna of Austria, another passageway was built between the Uffizi and Pitti Palace. The building was completed by Alfonso Parigi and Bernardo Buontalenti after Giorgio Vasari's death.

Francesco I de' Medici, who was the Grand Duke from 1574 to 1587, created the first museum arrangement in the Gallery on the second floor, where iconic Renaissance works by Botticelli and Da Vinci are now displayed.

Uffizi Gallery - History

Office to Museum

17th Century

During the 1700s, Uffizi began to take form into what it is today. Between 1658 and 1679, during Ferdinando's reign, frescoes were painted on the walls of the western corridor.

Between 1696 and 1699, Grand Duke Cosimo III had the corridor that overlooks the River Arno decorated with religious frescoes.

Cosimo III was also responsible for moving some of the most famous ancient statues such as the Medici Venus, the Wrestlers, and the Scythian from the Villa Medici in Rome to Florence. They were all placed in the Tribune by Bernardo Buontalenti.

Uffizi Gallery - History

Uffizi Opens to the Public

18th Century

In 1737, Grand Duke Gian Gastone passed away without any heirs, marking the end of the Medici dynasty. In 1735, the European powers agreed to grant the Grand Duchy of Tuscany to Francis, Duke of Lorraine, who was married to Maria Teresa Habsburg, the heir to the imperial throne.

In 1743, the last Medici, Anna Maria Luisa de Medici signed the Family Pact which bequeathed everything to the state of Tuscany and guaranteed that none of the artwork would leave Florence. The museum as we know it was opened in 1769, although a few works have been shifted to other museums in Florence.

Francesco’s successor, Leopold II, Grand Duke of Tuscany, opened the Gallery to the public in 1769. He commissioned Zanobi del Rosso to create a new entrance to the museum. Giuseppe Pelli Bencivenni and Luigi Lanzi were tasked with rearranging the collection based on rational, education-based logic. In 1779, the Neoclassical Niobe Room was designed by Gaspare Maria Paoletti to house the ancient group of statues depicting Niobe and her children, taken from the Villa Medici in Rome. 

Uffizi Gallery - History

Uffizi Becomes a National Musuem

The Uffizi Gallery underwent major renovations in the 19th century. In 1849, Vittorio Emanuele II declared Uffizi a national museum. During this time, the gallery was enriched with important works of art such as The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli and The Annunciation by Leonardo da Vinci.

Between 1842 and 1856, Leopold II commissioned 28 statues that depicted famous Tuscan figures from the Middle Ages to the 19th century. They were placed in the niches of the colonnade in the square.

Between 1865 and 1871, when Florence was the capital of the Kingdom of Italy the Medicean Theatre in the eastern wing of the building served as the home of the Senate. During this time, the Renaissance statues were transferred to the new National Museum of Bargello, the Gallery was largely used to display paintings. In 1889, the theatre was divided into two to be used as exhibition spaces.

Uffizi also suffered major damages during World War II, but the majority of the artworks were saved due to evacuation efforts.

Uffizi Gallery - History

Renovations and Expansions

20th Century

During this time period, the Uffizi Gallery went through a series of changes. In 1956, architects Giovanni Michelucci, Carlo Scarpa, and Ignazio Gardella rearranged the first rooms of the gallery.

In 1965 Uffizi underwent major renovations and expansions, including a restoration of the Vasari Corridor. In 1991 Uffizi opened the Vasari Corridor connecting Uffizi to Palazzo Pitti across the Arno River.

The Nuovi Uffizi (New Uffizi) renovation project was started in 1989 to renovate and modernize the halls and increase the display space. The lighting, air conditioning, and security systems were updated. The museum stayed open, only closing the rooms as necessary.

On 27 May 1993, the Sicilian Mafia carried out a car bomb explosion in the Via dei Georgofili. Five people were killed in the incident, and parts of the palace were damaged. Five works of art at the Uffizi were destroyed, while another 30 were damaged. Some works were protected thanks to the bulletproof glass casing. The Niobe room suffered the worst damage. While the room, sculptures, and interior have since been restored, its frescos were destroyed beyond repair.

Uffizi Gallery - History

Modern Times

21st Century

In 2006, a project intended to expand the museum's exhibition space from 6,000 sq m to almost 13,000 sq m was completed. This allowed the museum to display many works that had usually been in storage.

The Nuovi Uffizi (New Uffizi) renovation project continued from 2015 to 2017. The project had increased viewing capacity to 101 rooms by expanding into areas previously used by the Florence State Archive.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the museum was closed for 150 days in 2020. Despite the closure, Uffizi remained one of the most visited art museums in the world. It reopened in May 2021 following a renovation that led to the addition of 14 new rooms and a display of additional 129 artworks. The aim of the expansion was to create space for historically underrepresented groups, including women and people of color.

Who was the Medici Family?

The House of Medici, which put Florence on the world map, was a wealthy banking family that made the city a center of power and finance. Rising to power in the 13th century, the Medici family helmed by Cosimo de’ Medici, was known for their patronage of the arts, literature, and sciences.

They were also great patrons of the Uffizi Gallery and played an integral role in its development by commissioning artworks from some of the world’s most renowned artists. The Medici family is credited for transforming Florence into one of the leading cultural hubs of Europe, and their patronage of Uffizi was instrumental in cultivating a rich artistic tradition throughout the city.

Uffizi Gallery - History

The Uffizi building was designed as a U-Shaped structure, resembling a streetscape. The long corridor ends at the River Arno where you can view the Ponte Vecchio through a screen. The architect of the building was Giorgio Vasari, who also designed a unique corridor that would connect Uffizi to the Pitti Palace over the Ponte Vecchio.

Uffizi Gallery is made up of numerous rooms, each displaying different eras and styles of artwork from the Medicis’ vast collection. Uffizi also houses an impressive library containing thousands of books and manuscripts, as well as a theater used to host special events throughout the year. Uffizi is a beautiful example of Renaissance architecture and is one of the most iconic buildings in Florence.

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Q. What is historic about the Uffizi Gallery?

A. Built in 1560 by Giorgio Vasari and commissioned by the Medici Family, the Uffizi is one of the oldest art galleries in the world. Its collection includes a variety of artwork from different eras.

Q. Who was the Medici family?

A. The Medici family was a powerful and influential Florentine dynasty that rose to prominence in the 14th century. They were great patrons of Uffizi, commissioning artworks from some of the world’s most renowned artists and transforming Florence into one of the leading cultural hubs of Europe.

Q. What was the Medici family famous for?

A. The Medici family was a rich banker and art-loving family who funded Renaissance projects in Europe. They frequently hosted artists and commissioned artwork for their palaces and family tombs, including the Medici Chapel, the masterpiece of Michelangelo.

Q. Who are the Medici family today?

A. The last Medici ruler died without a male heir in 1737, ending the family dynasty after almost three centuries. While some descendants of the Medici family are still alive and active in various fields, they no longer hold any formal power or authority. Some members of the Medici family have also been involved in philanthropic activities, and some have continued to maintain a connection with the arts and cultural heritage of Florence.

Q. How long did the Uffizi Gallery take to build?

A. The Uffizi Gallery was commissioned in 1560 and took four years to build. It was designed by architect Giorgio Vasari and built for the Medici family to serve as their administrative offices. Uffizi remained a public office until it was converted into an art gallery in 1584.

Q. What was the Uffizi Gallery before it was a museum?

A. The Uffizi was originally built to be the administrative offices of the Medici family and was called Uffizi, which translates to “offices”. It wasn’t until 1584, nearly 25 years after its completion, that Uffizi was converted into an art gallery.

Q. When did the Uffizi become a Gallery?

A. The Uffizi Gallery was officially opened to the public in 1765. Prior to that, the second floor of the Uffizi building was used as a private art gallery by the Medici family. During the reign of Francesco I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, a gallery was first created on the second floor of the building, arranging the artwork in a museum-like fashion. However, it was not until the mid-18th century that the gallery was opened to the public.

Q. When did the Uffizi Gallery open to the public?

A. Uffizi opened to the public in 1769.

Q. What is the significance of the Uffizi Gallery?

A. The Uffizi is an iconic attraction in Florence, and its long history and impressive collection make it one of the most renowned art galleries in the world. Uffizi has played an integral role in transforming Florence into one of Europe’s leading cultural hubs.

Q. What kind of artwork does Uffizi feature?

A. The Uffizi Gallery features a variety of artwork from different eras, from ancient Greek sculptures to 20th-century masterpieces.

Q. What is the oldest painting in the Uffizi Gallery?

A. The 432 Cross, named after its inventory number in 1890, is considered one of the oldest paintings in the Uffizi Gallery. It is a tempera painting on panel, depicting a crucifixion scene with Mary and Saint John the Evangelist flanking the cross. The painting is believed to have been created by an anonymous Tuscan master born before 1200.

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