The Uffizi was built in the 16th century to house government offices. It became a museum in 1765, 250 years ago. It is home to the Renaissance art, most of it from the Medici family collections. The twelve days of Christmas, December 25 – January 6, are high season for tourism in Florence, Italy. There are huge crowds milling around everywhere. The Uffizi is a must-see. It is closed on January 1. On all the other days of the holiday season, long lines stand patiently outside; a helpful table informs passers by, “Waiting time, 3 hours”. How does one get inside? One can book tickets online in advance; there are numerous group excursions. We chose the latter option, with the help of our hotel receptionist. He signed us on as a last-minute addition to a group, and we walked to the gallery on January 2 at the appointed time. Our guide got us together, some ten people total, procured out tickets, took us inside without any waiting. We went to the top floor by lift, though some younger tourists opted for the magnificent stairs. There is a long corridor, with tall windows which provide lovely views of the Arno River and Ponte Vecchio, the Old Bridge. The ceiling is richly decorated by frescoes and portraits; there are lots more portraits of the Medicis all along the sides, as well as some other dignitaries; and there are plenty of beautiful statues. All the spacious halls are to your left, each one simply and clearly designated: Sala di Raffaello; Sala di Botticelli; Sala di Leonardo… Our guide took us on a quick tour, telling us a lot of facts about every artist and every famous painting. “See, she may be a leetle bit pregnant, no problem,” our guide said about Botticelli’s Primavera.
And then we walked around slowly by ourselves, enjoying the pictures. Every single one seems familiar, and yet there is a great difference between seeing a good reproduction and the actual masterpiece. First of all, they are all masterpieces. I was amazed that it is allowed to take pictures of anything, as long as one doesn’t use the flash. My hands shook, so The Birth of Venus came out a little fuzzy. Then I took a grip on myself and walked around taking several photos of many wonderful paintings. The light, the colors, the chiaroscuro, but most of all, those amazing lovely faces. They are all real people who lived several hudred years ago, and they are still here thanks to the Renaissance geniuses. All those Madonnas gaze at us with their serene eyes; they look at the baby with such love that one’s heart aches. I believe that many artists had either a woman they loved as their model while painting, maybe in their mind’s eye; or maybe they painted their own mothers. Raphael’s women have the same eyes as he does, so maybe he inherited them from his mother. One can also see Florence as the background, even in religious paintings. When one walks around for several hours, looking at Beauty itself, there is a feeling of being overwhelmed. We went out with a great multitude of impressions and emotions, with that rare feeling of wonder and awe. How did they do it? Just imagine: painting was considered to be a skill, on a par with sculpture, literature, jewelry, construction. An artist got a commission, to paint a nobleman’s or a woman’s portrait, a picture of Madonna and Child – and he just did it. And they gaze at us many centuries later, preserved for posterity by unimaginable talent.








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