The History of the Uffizi
The Uffizi gallery is a World Heritage Center, and not only for the amazing collection within its walls – the building itself was designed by architect (also, painter and writer) Vasari, to serve as the Medici Family’s offices; the name translates as ‘office’ in English. Finished in 1560, it wasn’t until 1769 that it was open to the public – becoming one of the world’s first modern, art galleries.
The Uffizi is, curiously, shaped like a horseshoe – in part, so as not to impose itself upon a pre-existing street, built to connect the Piazza della Signoria with the River Arno. The horseshoe shape allowed the Medici family to occupy a building that seemed, symbolically, to unite all the main highlights of Florence center; the Arno, the Palazzo Vecchio, the Piazza della Signoria and Brunelleschi’s Duomo.
At first the Uffizi was used by the Medici as an office of Florentine government, until Francis I decided it’d make a fine place to store the family’s ever-expanding collection of private art. The Medici family had a long history of art patronage; Cosimo the Elder had funded Donatello, Fra Angelico and Fra Lippi, among others, and Lorenzo the Magnificent patronized Botticelli, Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo, to name but a few. Still, only the upper floor was adapted to accommodate the art collection; the rest remained government buildings.
By the 18th century, Medici rule was no longer effective, and Florence had gone from a lively metropolis to a city-state struggling to keep up with new, centralized powers, like Britain and France. Finally, the last Medici ruler of Florence, Grand Duke Gian Gastone, died, leaving no heirs.
His sister, Anna Maria Luisa de Medici was not allowed to succeed him – European powers preferred that Maria Theresa Hapsburg, Empress of the Holy Roman Empire, rule Florence. However, Anna Maria did successfully negotiate ‘The Family Pact’, which guaranteed that the Uffizi collection would never be sold, or taken into private ownership, but remain in Tuscany, bequeathed to the people of Florence.
30 years later, the Uffizi opened as a public art gallery. Despite briefly serving as the parliamentary building of the Italian Republic, from 1865-1870, when Florence was the capital of the new Italy, it has been an art gallery ever since. Now, you can discover the treasures of the Uffizi on this Florence tour.