Birth of Venus

Famous paintings in Florence

Perhaps the Uffizi’s most famous work, ‘the Birth of Venus‘ is one of those paintings that has achieved a level of fame that serves to obscure the greatness of the original work. Like the ‘Mona Lisa’ or the Warhol ‘Marilyn’ series, our expectations cannot fail to be disappointed, but Botticelli gets incredibly close to justifying the reputation of this work. The alluring Venus standing on her shell is the most remembered aspect, but in person the work delights in its little details– in folds of fabric and floating flowers. Its sheer size and beauty also impresses.

Fra Angelico, ‘Coronation of the Virgin’

One of the most stunning altar-pieces ever created, Fra Angelico’s work offers us an entire compendium of saints, each giving their own unique character and spirit by the master painter of the 15th century. The painting is stunning enough on its own, but when coupled with the detailed engraving work in the gilt this truly becomes a masterpiece. Originally a triptych, this work offers a wealth of details that allow this work to stand out by itself. However, you can see its sisters at nearby San Marco to get an idea of how Angelico conceived of the triptych.

Baccio Bandinelli, ‘Laocoön and his Sons’

Part of the Uffizi’s breathtaking sculpture corridor, Bandinelli’s sculpture work teaches us much of what we need to know about artistic methods during the Italian Renaissance. Based on a Hellenistic sculpture unearthed in 1506, Bandinelli took the ruined original and its description by Pliny the Elder and used it to model a modern recreation for Pope Leo X to give as a gift to King Francis I. Here we have the entire story of the Renaissance in microcosm: an artistic commission from a powerful leader based on a work of antiquity, which is then refashioned for a contemporary audience by a master craftsman.

Parmigianino, ‘Madonna with the Long Neck’

The strange adult-like proportion of the child and the famously long neck present in its colloquial name should work against Parmigianino’s most famous work, yet somehow they seem to imbue the painting with its own unique kind of grace and stillness. In fact, everything in this painting is radical and innovative, from these proportions to its strange perspective, to the highly unusual placement of figures within the painting, showing a painter trying new ways to depict familiar scenes attempted by all the painter’s great predecessors. And the ‘Madonna with the Long Neck’ is proof that a radical new way can lead to a masterpiece being painted.

Raphael, ‘Portrait of Pope Leo X with Two Cardinals’

Raphael’s Portrait of Pope Leo X, who commissioned of many of the gallery’s finest works, is another of the quietly revolutionary works that make the Uffizi worth exploring. Raphael eschews the idealism of his time to show the Pope as he must have been in reality, a ‘warts and all’ approach that would not become prominent for at least another century. Furthermore, the master Raphael has filled the painting with references to contemporary events that mean the work has a new detail to offer on every single viewing.

Unknown Tuscan Master, ‘Head of Christ’

A painting best known due to its inclusion in the introduction of EH Gombrich’s seminal ‘Story of Art’, this early depiction of the head of Christ is a fascinating insight into a neglected period in the history of art. Before idealized naturalism became the defining mode of art for centuries, works such as these were painted. Ornamentation and the depiction of emotion take precedence over realism, giving the work an exciting air of expressionism that would not return to art until the 20th century. To see this work is to see how the history of art could have taken a very different direction indeed.

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