Florence – The Uffizi Gallery

WE begin our review of the Public Galleries with the Uffizi, as it contains the works of artists from the eleventh to the seventeenth centuries, and thus illustrates the history of art, from the revival to the decline. The limits of this book oblige us to confine our descriptions chiefly to Tuscan, and especially Florentine, art. We hope thus to afford some assistance to the foreigner, who may not have time to acquire a profound knowledge of the subject, and who, at first sight, may find it difficult to discover any merit, still less beauty, in the early native style of painting.

First Corridor

The corridor, extending along three sides of the Gallery, is lined with sarcophagi, statues, and busts, as well as pictures deserving notice, though, with few exceptions, inferior, as works of art, to those contained in the adjoining rooms. We are obliged to omit the numbers on the frames, as they are repeatedly altered, either upon the introduction of new pictures, or in accordance with the plans of succeeding directors of the Gallery. We, therefore, refer the visitor, for the numbers, to the latest printed catalogue, and only select the most important pictures, following, as nearly as possible, the chronological order.

The earliest example of art is a Madonna and Child, by Andrea Rico of Candia, who died about 1105. His works belong to what has been called Byzantine art. The treatment of the subject is conventional. The Child, seated on one hand of the Virgin, clings with a natural movement to her other hand ; though this picture is defective in drawing, the action is not devoid of grace. The outline of the Virgin’s head is traced with care, the nose is long, the eyes half closed, but sweet in expression, and there is a certain dignity in the pose of the head, which inclines to one side ; the colour, however, is brown and coppery, and the outline hard.

The two pictures which bear the name of Cimabue (1240–1302 ?) are only feeble specimens of his school. Though a reformer of the art, Cimabue retained much of the Byzantine manner which prevailed in Italy before he ventured to pass the boundary of traditional rules, and endeavoured to introduce forms more analogous to nature, as well as more classical beauty.

A small picture follows of the school of Giotto, the pupil of Cimabue ; the Ascension of St. John the Evangelist, a subject treated in nearly the same manner by Giotto himself in a chapel of Santa Croce ; this picture formed the predella, or lower part of an altar-piece, painted for the Guild of Silk Merchants, and bears their arms at either end—viz., a Gate, the Porta di S. Maria, which once stood near the Ponte Vecchio, in the quarter where the silk merchants had their residence.

Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane is attributed to Giotto (1266-1336). It was in the year 1276 that Cimabue took Giotto—a boy of ten years of age—from tending sheep in the fields to learn the art of painting. The intercourse with Germany, caused by the influx of Germans in the train of the emperors, as well as the residence of Italian merchants in Germany, had already begun to affect the style of architecture in Italy, when a Teutonic influence became likewise apparent in the art of painting. The approach to classical beauty of form sought by Cimabue became subordinate to a dramatic representation of the story, and a more idealistic treatment Cimabue had attempted to improve the external form, Giotto now endeavoured to impart greater life and movement, and to give expression to thought and feeling.

In this picture, the angel presenting the cup to the Saviour hardly differs from the conventional type in Rico’s picture ; but the countenance of Christ, especially the mouth, is singularly beautiful and meek, whilst His whole action suggests the idea of fervent prayer. St. John has almost a feminine beauty, and he, as well as St. Peter and St. James, is represented in a natural and easy posture of sleep. The background is gold, in accordance with the taste of the period ; the landscape is hard, and the trees and rocks stiff, but the colour of the figures is soft and agreeable. A small grey-headed old man kneeling in one corner, and wearing the simple dress of a Florentine citizen, represents the donator, or the person at whose request the picture was painted. The predella below is divided into two compartments ; in one, Judas betrays the Saviour by a kiss ; in the other, Christ prepares for His crucifixion. In both, the action is natural and full of life, but the shadows are brown, the nose and eyes still elongated ; and the want of perspective in the heads produces flatness and false drawing, especially in the three-quarter face.

A Pietà, or Lamentation over the Body of the Saviour, is by Tommaso di Stefano, surnamed Giottino, or La Scimia della Natura—the Ape of Nature—from his close imitation of all he saw. Great uncertainty prevails regarding the history of Giottino ; but he undoubtedly belonged to the school of Giotto, and flourished about the commencement of the fourteenth century. This distemper’ picture has great merits ; the dead Christ is very noble in expression, and its calm, motionless form gives greater force, by contrast, to the passionate grief of all around. The drawing of the body affords no indication of anatomical science, though, as described by Cavalcaselle, ‘ the Saviour youthful, well-formed, and simply rendered, is a genuine piece of Giottesque nude.’ The most beautiful figures are, one of the Marys, who, with her back turned to the spectator, kisses the hand of Christ with reverence as well as sorrow, and St. John, who contemplates the Saviour with clasped hands. The actions of the hands and heads correspond well, and express the abandonment of grief. St. Benedict and St. Zenobius, with their hands laid on the heads of the persons before them, are fine ; but the countenances of most of the figures are exaggerated, especially that of the Magdalene, at the feet of the Saviour. The background is gilt ; the colour warm and powerful, though with a want of harmony, arising from the violent red of the vermilion, which has apparently stood the test of time better than the other colours, or has been retouched. Giottino was noted for the brilliancy of his lights and the depth of his shadows.

A life-size figure of St. John the Evangelist which follows is also of the school of Giotto.

Art in Tuscany was early divided into two great schools, the Florentine and the Siennese. There is greater action and life in the Florentine ; a deeper sentiment with less variety in the Siennese. In the words of the German art critic, Kugler, The first takes the lead in composition and character ; the second, in the spiritual charm of individual figures.

An Annunciation, the joint work of Simone Memmi (1285—1344) and Lippo Memmi (?-1357), is an example of Siennese treatment. It was painted for the altar of Sant’ Ansano in the cathedral of Siena. The fame of these artists was equal to that of Giotto ; the picture itself was probably wholly by Simone, and Lippo was employed for the decoration. It is thus described by Cavalcaselle :—` The Virgin, in the act of receiving the Angel, and shrinking with a side-long action and with affected softness of motion from him, is rendered with an extra-ordinary exaggeration of tenderness in the closed lids and hardly apparent iris of the eyes. The Angel is presented kneeling in a dress and stole, all engraved with embroidery in relief, and the words issuing from his mouth are given in a similar manner. This is a picture whose affected tenderness might well have had influence on the school of mystic painters.. St. Ansano and Santa Giulitta on either side belong to this picture. In the medallions above the Annunciation are prophets. The panel is vertically split and restored, so that the figure of the Angel is injured.’

A Madonna and Child with Angels is by another Siennese artist, Pietro Laurati, also known as Pietro Lorenzetti (c. 1356) ; a contemporary of the two Memmi, and of the Florentine Giottino. This picture was executed in 1340, but is not a good specimen of the master. Another picture, representing different incidents in the lives of celebrated hermits, is attributed to the same artist, who has treated the subject in a large fresco on the walls of the Campo Santo at Pisa, in both of which he shows a dramatic power, approaching more nearly to Giott othan to his own countryman Simone Memmi.

We return to Florentine art in the Annunciation by Neri de’ Bicci, which, though not of superlative merit, deserves a passing notice, as the work of an artist belonging to a family of painters of some reputation, who lived towards the end of the fourteenth and the beginning of the fifteenth century. Neri – belonged to the third generation, whose works mark a decline in art ; for the Bicci were among the last followers of Giotto. His pictures are flat, pale, and inharmonious in colour. The peacock’s feathers in the angels’ wings are symbolical of immortality. In the Annunciation by Agnolo Gaddi (1396), we return to the flourishing period of the Giottesque school. This artist is a painter of great power, who preceded Neri de’ Bicci by half a century. The predella to the picture is very interesting ; the subjects included in it are the Worship of the Shepherds, the Adoration of the Magi, and the Presentation in the Temple. There is great tenderness and beauty in the female heads.

The Coronation of the Virgin, with St. Francis and St. John the Baptist on one side, St. Dominic and St. Ives on the other, has been attributed to Spinello of Arezzo, but it is hardly worthy of so distinguished an artist, and may have been by the hand of his pupil Gerini. It is defective in drawing, especially in the hands and feet, but there is truth of expression, and the Virgin has a certain loveliness and grace.

The Crucifixion, by Spinello of Arezzo (c. 1333-1440), painted on a gold ground, and composed of small figures, has great variety of expression, and there is beauty in the fainting Virgin. The soldiers to the right, intent on casting lots for the garment, are animated and characteristic.

The next Annunciation is by an artist of the school of Orcagna, one of the most celebrated of Giotto’s followers, who, with a still greater artist, Masaccio, helped to bring the art of painting to the perfection which it attained a century later.

An altar-piece of the school of Giotto represents the Virgin seated on a throne ; she holds a rose, and the Child has a goldfinch in its hand—the bird of sacrifice, called so from the blood-red feathers on its head. There is a certain dignity in these stiff figures : a lily and two angels are below. In the compartments on either side of the picture, are St. John the Baptist and St. Francis, St. Matthew and the Magdalene.

Above the altar-piece are representations in miniature of a Calvary, and the apostles Peter and Paul. Below this altar-piece are three small pictures : a Crucifixion, the Madonna, and St. John ; the two last seated mourning on a rock. They are by Don Lorenzo Monaco (c. 1370-1425).

St. Lawrence is by Zenobio Strozzi (1412-1468), the predella represents the martyrdom of the saint, and St. Lawrence saving the soul of the Emperor Henry II. from demons.’ He carries a white banner with a red cross. Zenobio Strozzi was a miniature-painter and scholar of Fra Angelico.

St. Cosimo and St. Damian, the patron saints of the Medici family, and of the Guild of Physicians, is by Bicci di Lorenzo (c. 1350-1427), the father of Neri de’ Bicci.

In the predella to these pictures is represented a miracle by these holy physicians. According to the legend, a certain man, afflicted with a cancer in his leg, was performing his devotions in the Church of St. Cosimo and St. Damian in Rome, when he fell asleep. The two saints appeared to him in a dream, and, cutting off the diseased leg, replaced it by that of a Moor lately dead, anointing the new leg with celestial ointment, so that the man became whole from that time. This picture was at one time attached to a pilaster of the Florentine cathedral, in whose decorations Bicci di Lorenzo was much employed. The saints of the Guild of Physicians are represented with their box of ointment and their pincers.

The Adoration of the Magi is by Lorenzo Monaco ; though professedly a miniature-painter and illuminator of manuscripts, this Camaldoline friar executed important works, both independently, and assisted by Fra Angelico, who was his junior. He was a pupil of Agnolo Gaddi, and his paintings have a certain affinity with those of his contemporary Parri Spinelli, the son of Spinello of Arezzo. The outlines of both are hard, and there is less skill in the composition than individuality and variety of expression. The colouring of Monaco’s pictures is bright and full, rather than harmonious.

The picture below is by an artist who was the first to introduce historical subjects. Giuliano d’ Arrigo, surnamed Pesello (1367-1446), worked with his grandson, Il Pesellino (1422–1457); and as the younger man imbibed the spirit as well as manner of the elder artist, and only survived him eleven years, their works can hardly be distinguished from one another. The Peselli preceded Botticelli and Credi, and the grandfather began his studies under painters of the school of Giotto. The Adoration of the Magi is mentioned by Vasari as having been executed by order of the Signory, or Government of Florence, for the Chapel of Santa Lucia de’ Magnoli, which still exists in the Via de’ Bardi. This picture contains a portrait of Donato Acciajoli, celebrated in his days as an orator, philosopher, and mathematician, who died in 1478. The figure with a black cap on his head, and his hand on his breast, -in the centre, may be supposed to represent Donato. There is much individuality, life, and variety of action in the thirty figures composing this picture. The weakest part is the Holy Family —a defect not unusual with those artists whose genius lay in portrait ; a landscape background and foreground filled in by dogs, hawks, &c., are all finished with minute attention to detail. The tawny brown colour is unpleasant, but is probably caused in part by time and restorations.

An altar-piece follows by Lorenzo di Pietro, surnamed II Vecchietta (c. 1412-1480), so-called, probably, from his delight in representing old age. He was more highly esteemed by his contemporaries than in later times. This picture, painted in 1447, has been much restored; it represents the Madonna and Child with St. Bartholomew and St. James, and one of the Magi kneeling to the left of the Virgin; St. Andrew, St. Lawrence, and St. Dominic are on her right ; the last also kneeling. It was executed for one Giacomo d’ Andreuccio, a silk merchant, as recorded in the inscription. Below this altar-piece is the portrait of a man in profile, with a black cap, attributed to Antonio Pollajolo. The works of the two brothers, Antonio and Piero, are frequently confounded. The dates of their births are 1429 and 1443 ; they followed in the track of the Peselli and Baldovinetti, improving the practice and use of oil. They also first introduced glazes in their draperies ; a thin transparent warm. colour passed over solid opaque painting, by which the drawing has been already made perfect : the final glazes give brilliancy to the lights and depth to the shadows. This portrait has evidently been a good likeness, in which the painter has given the character as well as features of his sitter. The lips, nostril, and eyes are drawn with great delicacy, and convey the impression of high breeding, with a refined but subtle disposition; reserve, and self-command, rather than courage or great talent.

An oblong panel, probably one of the sides of a cassone, or chest for linen, which formed an important item in the bridal dowry of a wealthy Florentine family, is painted by Piero di Cosimo (1462-1521), a man of eccentric habits, and capricious in the choice of his subjects, which he treated fancifully. He was the boon companion of the artists Mariotto Albertinelli and of Baccio della Porta, before this last became a friar under the name of Fra Bartolommeo. Many of the most remark-able painters of the day, the precursors or contemporaries of Raffaelle, studied under Piero di Cosimo. He lived at a period when a new school of art was springing up, and artists began to abandon the conventional types of an earlier age, whilst discovering the true principles of drawing and perspective. The subject of this picture is the Wedding of Perseus, and the moment chosen, when the hero displayed the head of Medusa, and turned his enemies into stone. The landscape background is agreeable, and there is even a charm in the soft prettiness of colour throughout. The composition, according to Cavalcaselle, is rich ‘ in episode and action, in strange dresses, pan oplies, and other naturalistic details, but the figures are somewhat affected, paltry, and pinched.’ These remarks are equally applicable to the two other pictures by Piero di Cosimo, which also represent subjects taken from classic fable : the Sacrifice to Jove for the safety of Andromeda, and Andromeda liberated by Perseus from the sea monster.

The Coronation of the Virgin by Cosimo Rosselli (1439-1507), the assistant of Neri de’ Bicci, and the master of Piero di Cosimo and Fra Bartolommeo, is painted in full, warm colours, and is carefully drawn; there is beauty and grace, as well as variety of expression, in the surrounding cherubs. Cosimo Rosselli may be considered the link between the last of the de-generate Giottesque school and the new and superior class of art growing into maturity in the fifteenth century.

A battle-piece is by Paolo Uccello (1397-1475), whose greatest work is the portrait of Sir John Hawkwood in the cathedral. This composition is an interesting example of the artist’s earliest attempts at perspective and foreshortening. The failures are more obvious from the attempt being somewhat ambitious ; but, nevertheless, there are proofs of a great step having been made in advance of even contemporary artists. This picture was one of four which adorned the garden of the Bartolini at Gualfonda, near Florence. It is well described by Cavalcaselle : `A daring boldness of action marks the knights and barbed steeds in tilt ; but the conception is more praise-worthy than successful ; and the effect of certain movements such as that of the kicking horse, is ludicrous and grotesque. Again, the foreshortened position of a prostrate steed, presenting his belly and heels, as well as the legs of his fallen rider, to the spectator, suggests the wish rather than the power to overcome a difficulty of no mean kind. Perspective of broken lances, shields, and helmets, is laboriously carried out, and distant episodes of archers, men-at-arms, and dogs, show that Uccello already possessed the art of perspective ; but the spectator has before him the lifeless and wooden models of divers figures, their geometrical substance, without the final dressing that would give life to the form and its action. Added to this, sharp outlines cut out the figures, and the injury done by time and restoration to the colours renders the whole production of less interest to the lover of good pictures than to the critic.”

A Madonna and Child is by Alessio Baldovinetti (1427-1499), supposed to have been a pupil of Paolo Uccello. He was one of those artists engaged in improving the vehicle used in painting, and endeavouring to substitute oil for distemper. To the right of the Virgin are placed St. John the Baptist, St. Cosimo, and St. Damian, with St. Francis on his knees ; to her left, St. Lawrence, his gridiron embroidered on the border of his deacon’s dress ; St. Anthony and a warrior saint ; St. Dominic kneels in the foreground. The heads are feeble, and the colour pale; but the drawing is careful, and the expression of the countenances serious and pleasing.

Next to this is a very fine picture by Cosimo Rosselli : the Madonna enthroned, with the Child at her breast and seated on her knee; her right hand rests tenderly on the head of the youthful St. John the Baptist; on either side are St. James, with his pilgrim’s staff and book, and St. Peter. Angels hold a crown, shaped like a mitre, over the head of the Virgin; flames rest on the back of her throne, to which are also attached cornucopiæ of fruit. The details are finished with the utmost care, and the figures take their place well on the light back-ground. There is a thoughtful expression in the Virgin’s face; her golden hair is bound with a transparent veil, and she wears a pale blue dress and red mantle.

The Madonna and Child by Sandro Botticelli (1447–1510) is a feeble specimen of the master.

Another Madonna and Child, a circular composition, is by Luca Signorelli of Cortona (1441–1523); four shepherds are in the background, and above the picture are three medallions in dead colour, which represent the Saviour and two prophets. The expression of the Virgin is sad but tender, and her attitude is very graceful, though the drawing is not wholly correct. This artist belongs to a later period than the Pollajoli; his first impressions of art were taken from the Umbrian schools, which softened the severe and bold character of his genius. He studied anatomy in Florence, and the impulse he gave to art may be traced from Paolo Uccello to Michael Angelo. Signorelli is said to have painted this’ picture for Lorenzo de’ Medici. It was formerly in the Villa of Castello, near Florence.

The first of two portraits below is attributed to Piero di Cosimo, but rather resembles the manner of Andrea del Sarto. It is fine in expression and chiaroscuro, but has been much repainted : the second, though attributed to an unknown artist, may possibly be by Credi ; it is an excellent picture, remarkable for correct drawing, life, careful finish, and fine colour.

A large picture is by Gerino of Pistoia, of the Madonna and Child, with St. James, St. Cosimo, and Mary Magdalene on their right, and St. Catharine, St. Louis, St. Ives, and St. Roch on their left. Gerino lived early in the sixteenth century, and studied in the school of Perugino, the master of Raffelle. This picture was painted in 1529, when the artist’s powers were declining. It is a feeble production, and only deserves notice because by the hand of one who, in his best days, was considered a worthy representative of the school, and who possessed the qualities of a diligent colourist and a fair copyist of his master (Perugino), as regards type and proportion, drawing and colour.

Christ appearing in the Garden to Mary Magdalene is a youthful production of Andrea del Sarto (1488—1530) : the picture was brought to the Gallery from the Church of San Jacopo tra Fossi. The joy and surprise of the Magdalene is well expressed on her face and in the action of her hands. Though feeble, the colour is very agreeable. The predella has St. Helena with the Cross, St. Jerome, and Santa Rosa with a basket of white roses.

A Madonna and Child with St. Elizabeth, by Mariano Graziadei of Pescia, a pupil of Ridolfo Ghirlandaio, who flourished about the middle of the sixteenth century : this is believed to be his only remaining picture, and was once the altar-piece in the Chapel of St. Bernard in the Palazzo Vecchio.

The Angel of the Annunciation and Madonna which follow a little further down the corridor are by Agnolo Bronzino (1502-i572), a master of the second revival. They are pure in drawing and colour, but insipid.

A spasimo, or Christ bearing his Cross, by Passignano, an artist who died in 1638, has grandeur of expression and correct drawing ; it was executed for the Church of San Giovannino, in Florence.

The Creation of Adam is by Jacopo Chimenti da Empoli, an artist belonging to the latter half of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth century.

The Martyrdom of St. Lawrence, by Cigoli (1559-1613), and the Magdalene by Cristofano Allori (1577-1621), with the same subject by Cigoli, are all pictures of the Revival.

A large Crucifixion by Lorenzo Lippi, a Florentine, belongs to the seventeenth century ; Lippi is better known as a poet than painter, as he composed a poem which obtained some reputation with his contemporaries, called the Malmantile, describing the defence of this small fortified town near Signa, during the war conducted against Florence by the Prince of Orange in 1529.

The remaining pictures in the corridor are not of sufficient importance to detain the visitor.