Since closing due to the COVID pandemic, the Uffizi reopened 14 new rooms, which show masterpieces that have not been displayed in quite some time. Here, I’m going to talk about the first seven.
D1 – Plautilla Nelli Corridor.
The new entry to the First Floor begins with the Plautilla Nelli Corridor, named after the first known female Florentine painter of the Renaissance. Nelli entered the Dominican convent of Santa Caterina di Siena when she was fourteen years old. The convent, like its brother institution, the San Marco Monastery, encouraged its initiates to paint devotional works to express their own piety and devote to God. Her Annunciation, which has never before been on permanent display, is above the new entrance.
Nelli keeps several of the conventional iconographies of the Annunciation: Gabriel holds a white lily, a symbol of Mary’s purity; Mary is interrupted while reading and is wearing her typical red and blue mantle; the white dove appears as the holy spirit; the pillar separates Gabriel from Mary, symbolizing the untouchable purity of the Virgin as well as prefiguring Christ’s flogging upon a pillar during his Passion. Yet for all this, Nelli’s Annunciation is unique in its life-like treatment of the figures’ expressions and attention to minute detail.
Living in the sister institution of San Marco, Nelli no doubt was familiar with the works of her predecessor artist, Fra Angelico, specifically, his depiction of Gabriel’s wings in his own Annunciation.
D2 – Andrea del Sarto
Gallery D2 is dedicated to the Florentine artist known as Andrea del Sarto, whose name is derived from his father’s profession as a tailor (sarto is Italian for tailor). Del Sarto was known for being an “artists without errors,” as well as for works that were highly balanced and very formalistic. Perhaps his most famous piece, Madonna of the Harpies (1517), was commissioned by the Sisters of San Francesco de’Macci.
Del Sarto, however, disappointed his patrons by painting St. Francis instead of St. Bonaventure, as was contracted, to the left of the Virgin and Child. It is likely that he chose to do so because of St. Francis’ identification as the “angel of the Sixth Seal.” The Seals, for those who are uninitiated in the cult of the television series Supernatural, are referenced in the Book of Revelation and according to same, as long as the Seals remain sealed, they keep the apocalypse at bay. Chapter Five of the Book of Revelation reveals:
1. And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals. 2. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof? 3. And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon. 4. And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon. 5. And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof. 6. And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth. 7. And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne. 8. And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours, which are the prayers of saints. 9. And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; 10. And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth. 11. And I beheld, and I heard the voice of many angels round about the throne and the beasts and the elders: and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands; 12. Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. 13. And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever. 14. And the four beasts said, Amen. And the four and twenty elders fell down and worshipped him that liveth for ever and ever. (King James Version)
Based on the belief that St. Francis was included as an illusion to the Sixth Seal, scholars have identified the pedestal as the well of Hell. In fact, figures on the base relief of the pedestal have been identified as locusts and allude to chapter nine of the Book of Revelations, believed at the time to have been written by St. John the Evangelist, although modern scholars now debate the authorship. (The work is known as Madonna of the Harpies due to an error by the artist/art historian Giorgio Vasari, who believed that the figures depicted in bas-relief were harpies). Chapter nine of the of Book of Revelations states:
1. And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit. 2. And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit. 3. And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth: and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power. 4. And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree; but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads. 5. And to them it was given that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months: and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, when he striketh a man. 6. And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them. 7. And the shapes of the locusts were like unto horses prepared unto battle; and on their heads were as it were crowns like gold, and their faces were as the faces of men. 8. And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as the teeth of lions. 9. And they had breastplates, as it were breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle. 10. And they had tails like unto scorpions, and there were stings in their tails: and their power was to hurt men five months.
Mary and the baby Jesus are depicted as “closing the mouth” of Hell and stand between the viewers and destruction. Indeed, the smoke referenced in Verse 2, above, appears floating past Mary’s left. On the other side of Mary stands St. John the Evangelist, perhaps writing those prophesies that appear in his Apocalypse.
Del Sarto’s formalism is demonstrated in the statuesque figures, reminiscent of Michelangelo’s depictions of the human form, as well as the use of the pyramid formation used so often by Raphael. Moreover, del Sarto used colors themselves to unify his paintings; as you can see the bluish tint in St. John’s robes is a reflection of Mary’s drapery while the orange and lavender of St. John is also reflected in Mary’s tunic.
The other painting here is Woman with the “Petrarchino” (c. 1528), which some scholars believe is a portrait of either del Sarto’s wife, Lucrezia, or Lucrezia’s daughter from a previous marriage, Maria del Berrettaino. Regardless, the woman is pointing to the verses of two love sonnets written by Petrarch: “Go, Warm sighs, to the cold heart” and “The stars, the sky and the elements complete.”
D3 – Francesco Granacci – Alonso Berruguete
In this room is Francesco Granacci’s Entry of Charles VIII (1518).
This piece depicts the moment King Charles VIII of France entered Florence on November 17, 1494 after invading Italy in September of that year to claim the crown of Naples.
Also in this room is Alonso Berruguete’s Salome (1514), one of only a handful of known paintings from Berruguete’s sojourn in Italy. (Berruguete was Spanish). As its name implies, the work depicts Salome, the step-daughter of Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee who was infamously involved in Christ’s execution, as well as that of John the Baptist. According to the Gospel of Mark, Salome requested that her step-father present her with the head of John the Baptist on a platter.
Berruguete depicts Salome barely holding onto the silver platter with the saint’s dead. The beginnings of the artistic movement known as mannerism can be detected in Salome’s elongated fingers and idealized pose as well as the comparatively large size of the saint’s head. Mannerism was typified by exaggerated and complicated postures; it emphasized art over beauty.
D4 – Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino
Giovanni Battista di Jacopo, known as Rosso Fiorentino (the “red Florentine” on account of his hair), and Pontormo were both students of Andrea del Sarto, and they embraced his mannerist style. They are nicknamed the “different twins” because both discarded the teachings of the classical Renaissance, yet in different ways.
Rosso’s Madonna dello Spedalingo (Madonna with Child and Saints) (1518) is most famous for its reception, not its artistic value. In fact, the patron who commissioned this work, Leonardo Buonafé, the rector of the Santa Maria Nuova Hospital (the “Spedalingo”), actually refused the work when it was presented to him. Buonafé claimed that the saints looked like “devils.” Eventually, he was persuaded to pay 16 of the originally promised 25 florins for the piece.
Although “devilish,” the saints are still identifiable via their conventional attributes: St. John the Baptist wears an animal skin underneath his robes, St. Anthony is depicted in his habit, St. Stephen has a stone on his head, and St. Jerome holds his writings.
Rosso’s Musical Cherub (1521), on the other hand, demonstrates a sweetness to the artist’s style. This piece is probably a fragment of an altarpiece. In fact, reflectographic studies have shown that the black background covers what appears to be a step and part of a building.
Rosso’s “different twin,” Jacopo Carucci, known as Pontormo, was highly influenced by German artist Albrecht Dürer, as indicated in his The Supper at Emmaus (1525), which was commissioned for the guest-room of the Charter House in Galluzzo.
To create depth in his own work, Pontormo shifts two of the figures of Durer’s print to the front of the table. Another major change is the removal of the roasted lamb from the table, which was likely done to allude to the frugal meals enjoyed at the monastery.
The work depicts the moment after his Cruxifixction when Jesus’ disciplines recognize him as he breaks bread and says a blessing over it as told in the Gospel of Luke.
13. And, behold, two of them went that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was from Jerusalem about threescore furlongs. 14. And they talked together of all these things which had happened. 15. And it came to pass, that, while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near, and went with them. 16. But their eyes were holden that they should not know him. 17. And he said unto them, What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad? 18. And the one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answering said unto him, Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days? 19. And he said unto them, What things? And they said unto him, Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people: 20. And how the chief priests and our rulers delivered him to be condemned to death, and have crucified him. 21. But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel: and beside all this, to day is the third day since these things were done. 22. Yea, and certain women also of our company made us astonished, which were early at the sepulchre; 23. And when they found not his body, they came, saying, that they had also seen a vision of angels, which said that he was alive. 24. And certain of them which were with us went to the sepulchre, and found it even so as the women had said: but him they saw not. 25. Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: 26. Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? 27. And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. 28. And they drew nigh unto the village, whither they went: and he made as though he would have gone further. 29. But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them. 30. And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them. 31. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight. (King James Version)
The monochromatic monks depicted in the back sharply contrast with the saints and their colorful robes. The prior (the head monk) of the Charter House for which this painting was commissioned, Leonardo Buonafede, is included as monk within the work; he is the withered monk standing on Christ’s right-hand side.
The (admittedly creepy) floating eye within a pyramid at the top is a symbol of God the Father within the trinity triangle. It was actually the result of a posthumous cover-up of a three-sided face meant to symbolize the Holy Trinity (known as the Trifacial Trinity or tricephalous trinity), which had been banned by Pope Urban VIII in 1628.
Pontormo’s Adam and Eve (c. 1519) as well as his Ten Thousand Martyrs (c. 1529) are also located in this room. The Ten Thousand Martyrs depicts the infrequently explored subject of the legend of St. Achatius.
The legend’s first known reference is in the Catalogus Sanctorum of Petrus de Natalibus, written around 1370-1400. The legend told of a Roman commander, St. Achatius, who was dispatched with nine thousand Roman soldiers against a rebel host that vastly outnumbered them. The night before the battle, an angel appeared to Achatius and his men, telling them if they were to convert to Christianity, then they would defeat the rebel host. The Roman soldiers took the message to heart and converted to the new faith, and thereafter defeating the host the next day. The Roman Emperor, however, later hears about the conversion and leads an army against Achatius and his now Christian army. Although no battle occurs, the Achatius’ men refuse to recant their new faith so the Emperor determines he will torture them. Yet, he cannot. Stones bounce off the men without doing any harm; the whips that were meant to flog them are dashed to the ground. Seeing these miracles, one of the emperor’s other commanders, Theodorus, switches sides and joins Achatius, bringing with him a thousand of his own men, bolstering the Christian army to ten thousand men. The Christians are then crowned with thorns, in mockery of Christ’s own passion, and baptized in their own blood before being led to Mt. Ararat and crucified.
Pontormo’s scene is a synthesis of the two most famous battle scenes known to Renaissance artists: Leonardo’s Battle of Anghiari and Michelangelo’s Battle of Cascina, neither of which were actually completed.
D5 – Sebastiano del Piombo and the Influence of Michelangelo in Rome
Sebastiano del Piombo worked in close contact with Michelangelo, who went as far as securing patrons and commissions for him. His name is derived from his position as keeper of the Papal Seals, which were made of lead (“piombo” in Italian is translated as lead). Del Piombo’s Death of Adonis (c. 1515) was commissioned by Agostino Chigi, a wealthy papal banker. It was damaged in the 1993 bombing of the Uffizi, but its immediate restoration was a symbol of the Uffizi’s own rebirth after the bombing.
The work depicts the moment that Adonis, a figure from Greek mythology and a favorite of the Greek goddess Aphrodite (Venus in Roman mythology), dies from his wounds inflicted by a boar, as told in Ovid’s Metamorphoses:
The youth, in fear of his own life, runs hard, but he is caught: the boar sinks his long tusks into Adonis’ groin; he fells him—and the boy lies prone along the yellow sands. On her light chariot, Venus, who was drawn across the middle air by her winged swans, had not reached Cyprus yet; she heard, far off, the dying boy—his moans. She turned around her white swans and rode back. When, from the heights, she saw him lifeless there, a bleeding corpse, she leaped down to the ground. And Venus tore her hair, and—much unlike a goddess—beat her hands against her breast. She challenged fate: ‘But destiny does not rule all. Adonis, your memory will live eternally: each year they will repeat this final scene— your day of death, my day of grief, will be enacted in a feast that bears your name. “The Metamorphoses of Ovid.” Trans. Allen Mandelbaum.
In the work, Venus (the central figure) is shown distressed, in the posture inspired by the Hellenistic bronze Lo Spinario (now located in the Palazzo dei Conservatori in Rome). While the background depicts Venice (identified with Venus).
Also in this room is Giulio Romano’s Virgin and Child (c. 1520-1530).
Giulio was born in Rome (hence, Romano) and worked under the tutelage of Raphael, whose stylistic influence can be discerned in the tenderness Romano treats his Madonna.
Next to Giulio Romano’s Virgin and Child is Perin del Vaga’s rendition of the same theme. Perin del Vaga worked alongside Giulio Romano in Raphael’s workshop, and the similarities of their styles are immediately apparent.
Another artist showcased in this room is Battista Franco, known as Il Semolei). His work, Battle of Montemurlo (1537-1541) depicts its eponymous battle fought between exiled Florentines under command of Filippo Strozzi and the supporters of Cosimo de’Medici led by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V’s commander Alessandro Vitelli August of 1537. Two months after this battle, the Emperor bestowed on Cosimo his ducal title. The battle marked the end of the illusion that the Medici family worked within Florence’s Republican government to rule. Now, the Medici no longer hid their power behind the facade of Republican institutions, demonstrating to the city’s elite that the Medici no longer needed their support either.
In a glass case separating this room from the next is Allori Alessandro’s Allegory of Human Life.
D6 – Daniele da Volterra and Francesco Salviati
Daniele Ricciarelli, known as Daniele da Volterra, painted The Prophet Elias between 1543 and 1547.
The work was highly influenced by Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel, as evidenced in the Prophet’s musculature. The scene depicts the moment where ravens bring bread to the Prophet Elias (Elijah), as recounted in Kings Chapter 17 in the King James Version of the Bible:
3. Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. 4. And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there. 5. So he went and did according unto the word of the LORD: for he went and dwelt by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. 6. And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening; and he drank of the brook. (King James Version)
This moment prefigures the Last Supper and the Eucharist. Also here is Volterra’s Massacre of the Innocents.
Francesco Salviati’s work is also displayed in this room, including Charity (1545), which Salviati painted during a stay in Florence while he was working on public works for the city.
Salviati’s composition, especially of the figures, was informed by Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo.
Charity, as the key cardinal virtue, was a common theme depicted in Renaissance art, typically through the motif of a breast-feeding mother. The contemporary concept of charity differs drastically from the modern definition of the word. “Charity” is derived from the latin word “caritas.” In Christian ideology, caritas is the highest form of love, i.e. the love shared between God and man, and the manifestation of that love in the form of man’s love of his fellow man. St. Augustine explained:
Then, after this human love has nourished and invigorated the mind cleaving to your breast, and fitted it for following God, when the divine majesty has begun to disclose itself as far as suffices for man while a dweller on the earth, such fervent charity is produced, and such a flame of divine love is kindled, that by the burning out of all vices, and by the purification and sanctification of the man, it becomes plain how divine are these words, “I am a consuming fire,” and, “I have come to send fire on the earth.”St. Augustine, On the Morals of the Catholic Church.
Perhaps not surprisingly, one of Charity’s common attributes is a flame, demonstrating God’s love. Salviati grapples with how love is expressed in his Charity, depicting his figures with an air of sensuality not seen in earlier variations on the theme. Compare Salviati’s work with the earlier Charity painted by Piero del Pollaiuolo in c. 1469.