The scene takes place outdoors: in the foreground you can see the Virgin and the archangel Gabriel. Mary is sitting and reading the Holy Scriptures resting on a lectern which is placed over a small altar. The ornamental decorations of the altar are similar to those found in Giovanni and Piero de’ Medici’s tomb (Florence, Basilica of San Lorenzo, Old Sacristy) made by Verrocchio, Leonardo’s first master. Mary holds the book page with one hand while the other one is raised. The angel is kneeling on the soft grass on the other side of the altar raising his right hand and holding lilies with the other one, which are a symbol of purity.
The decision to place the scene outdoors was a novelty in the iconography of the Annunciation. Usually the scene was placed in the so-called hortus consulus, a courtyard or garden surrounded by a fence, a symbol of Mary’s purity. Behind Mary you can se a view of a bedroom. The garden is surrounded by a low wall that opens to a landscape, where you can see several varieties of trees, boats on a river and mountains.
As an artist Leonardo paid a lot of attention on details when it comes to nature, particularly on different species of plants, also present in the garden of the Annunciation. There are many types of flowers presented realistically in minimal details.
There are two types of perspective in the composition. The architecture, the floor and the 15th century lectern have the vanishing point in the center of the panel. The aerial perspective is for the landscape, where Leonardo decided to use the light and fading tones that seem to vanish in the fog in the horizon. The idea was to represent detailed features in the foreground and the distant features less sharp in the background, which gives the observer the illusion of depth.
The characters and the nature are surrounded by bright light that vanishes in the mountains in the background, which is a technique called sfumato, further developed in Leonardo’s later paintings.
Nowadays the work is considered as a collaboration between young Leonardo and the workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio, where Leonardo studied.
The painting dates to the 1470s’, before the Baptism of Christ by Verrocchio, in which Leonardo painted the angels and the landscape. The panel seems to have some perspective errors, which, according to some scholars, would actually depend on viewpoint. For example, Mary’s right arm is longer than the left one and the legs are short compared to torso. However, if the painting is viewed from the right side, the effect of disproportion disappears.
The Annunciation was in the church of San Bartolomeo in Monte Oliveto until 1867 when it was moved to the Uffizi. It is not known whether it was painted for the church.
Two preliminary studies of the angel’s sleeve (Christ Church Library of Oxford, A 31) and Mary’s mantle (Louvre, 2255) confirm that the painting was made by Leonardo.
Leonardo was born in Anchiano in 1452. He was an illegitimate son of notary Ser Piero di Vinci who brought him to Florence in 1469 to give him artistic education.
In 1472 he enrolled to the Compagnia dei Pittori and attended Andrea del Verrocchio’s workshop, participating also in the anatomical research with Antonio and Piero Pollaiolo.
In 1482 Leonardo moved to Milan to serve Ludovico il Moro. He introduced himself as a musician, painter, sculptor, engineer and architect. He painted several works in the court of Moro, among them the Lady with an Ermine and worked on the equestrian monument for Francesco Sforza.
He was a set designer for various court celebrations and studied hydraulic and military engineering. He also devoted himself to physical and natural sciences, as shown in many of his drawings. His most famous work of this period was the Last Supper in Santa Maria delle Grazie (1495 – 1498) where he experimented with tempera on plaster technique instead of the traditional fresco. This resulted in poor state of conservation, which Vasari already mentions in the mid-16th century.
Ludovico il Moro was defeated by the French in 1500 and Leonardo set off to Venice with his friend, mathematician Luca Pacioli and his student Salai. Then he went to Mantua as a guest of Isabella d’Este and painted her portrait. In the same year he returned to Florence, where he painted Madonna and Child with St. Anne (Louvre, cartoon at the National Gallery of London) and the cartoon for the Battle of Anghiari (1504-1505) for the Salone dei Cinquecento in Palazzo Vecchio.
He was commissioned by the Gonfaloniere of the Florentine Republic, Pier Soderini, who had also commissioned Michelangelo, who was working with the Battle of Cascina. Leonardo experimented with ancient encaustic technique, which turned out to be unsuccessful. Therefore, the project was not completed and today only some drawings have remained of the lost cartoon, such as the Tavola Doria.
Leonardo traveled to Urbino, Pesaro, Rimini and Cesenatico where he continued to study hydraulics, cartography and fortifications, but in 1505 he returned to Milan. He made several trips between Lombardy, Florence and Rome and continued his science research, but he was never commissioned by the Vatican, which favored the works of Raphael and Michelangelo.
Disappointed Leonardo left Italy in 1517 to take refuge in the castle of Cloux, near Ambroise in France, under the protection of Francis I, who gave him an annual pension. He brought numerous paintings with him, like Mona Lisa, which he painted in Florence in 1503. In France he continued his anatomical and scientific studies of which he left many drawings.
Leonardo died in 1519.
The Uffizi gallery was established in 1560 when Cosimo I Medici, the Duke of Tuscany, wanted to put together the Florentine offices and magistrates (hence the name uffici, offices) in a single building, to have a better control over them.
The work was entrusted to Giorgio Vasari and the construction started the following year. The building was designed in U-shape, consisting of a long east wing, a short corridor overlooking the Arno river and a short west wing, forming classic pattern of a Tuscan loggia. The entrance of the gallery is situated right next to Palazzo Vecchio, the house of the dukes.
The first museological exhibition was organized by Francesco I, the Grand Duke of Tuscany from 1574 to 1587. Thanks to the architect Buontalenti and the initiative of Ferdinand II, the gallery became a representation site, decorated by Antonio Tempesta, where the artworks were conserved as well as the series of the portraits of the Illustrious Men which were placed next to the portraits of the Medici family.
The overall space consists of 8000 square meters and forty-five rooms, all in the third floor, where the art collection includes some of the greatest masterpieces of Italian and European art, such as Giotto’s Maestà di Ognissanti, Simone Martini’s Trinity, the altarpieces of Duccio, Gentile da Fabriano and Mantegna, the Annunciation and Adoration of the Magi by Leonardo Da Vinci, many works of Botticelli, among them the Venus and the Spring, Raphael’s Madonna della Seggiola and Madonna of the Goldfinch, Tiitan’s Venus of Urbino, Caravaggio’s Bacchus and Rubens’s Triumph of Henry IV.
Ferdinand II wanted to add other rooms in the gallery: the room of Mathematics, a terrace and the armory. Between 1696 and 1699 the Grand Duke Cosimo III ordered the decoration of the corridor overlooking the Arno river with frescoes of religious subjects and he sent to Florence some of the most famous examples of ancient statues conserved in Villa Medici of Rome. In this occasion was built the Sala della Niobe, where the ancient sculptures were placed. Other self-portraits of ancient and contemporary painters were acquired and placed in the Vasari Corridor. Cardinal Leopoldo de Medici added to Uffizi his collection of graphic art and created the cabinet nowadays known as the department of drawings and prints.
After the extinction of the house of Medici due to lack of heirs, in 1737 Anna Maria Luisa de Medici donated the treasures of the Uffizi gallery to the city of Florence, so that the collection would always stay where it was created. In 1769 the Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo opens the gallery to the public. In the 1770s’ Uffizi was seen as a advantaged laboratory for the studies of art history and for preparation of art, thanks to the work of Luigi di Lanzi and Giuseppe Pelli Bencivenni.
During the Kingdom of Italy, the renaissance statues were moved to the new museum of Bargello and the gallery was gradually taking the function of Pinacoteca. More and more visitors came, and the magistrates were transformed to public archives.
In 1900 the gallery acquired the painting collection of the Arcispedale of Santa Maria Nuova, including artworks such as the Portinari Triptych of Hugo van der Goes, from the church of Sant’Edigio. In the beginning of the 20th century the gallery reinforced the collection by acquiring many works of the 14th and 15th centuries from churches and other religious institutes, which were still absent in the museums historical framework.
The first renovation of Uffizi’s rooms dates back to 1956, when the architects Giovanni Michelucci, Carlo Scarpa and Ignazio Gardella renewed the rooms with light tones of colors that highlight the wooden ceiling. In 1969 the gallery purchased the collection of Contini Bonacossi including Giovanni Bellini’s St. Jerome, Cima da Conegliano’s St. Jerome, Francesco Francia’s St. Francis, Savoldo’s Mary Magdalene, Tintoretto’s canvases and Velazquez’s Waterseller of Seville and Portrait of Philip IV of Spain.
In 2006 the Uffizi galleries started the architectural restoration work, adjustments of the implantation and new layouts for the rooms. The museum remained always open and with the reform of the Italian museum system in 2014 the museums of Palazzo Pitti and Boboli Gardens were joined to the Uffizi.