The painting represents the Holy Family with Mary sitting on the ground and St. Joseph is behind her holding the baby Jesus who is reaching to his mother.
Mary is turning her upper body towards the characters behind her, which was a typical depiction for Florentine Mannerism, known as “serpentina”.
Behind Joseph on the right you can see St. John, recognizable for his brown robe and the cross resting on his shoulder. In the background there are young athletic naked men sitting and leaning on a low wall which is dividing them from the landscape behind them. This wasn’t the first time naked characters were used in the depiction of the Holy Family, as Luca Signorelli had already painted the same subject adding naked characters.
The meaning of the painting is still discussed even though the presence of St. John, Jesus, the angels and the prophets may recall the subject of baptism.
The figures are strong and muscular, like the ones Michelangelo painted later in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (1508 -1512) while the colors are vibrant and bright, especially those in Mary and Joseph’s robes giving plasticity to the characters through chiaroscuro effect.
According to Vasari the painting was commissioned by Florentine merchant Agnolo Doni, who was also portrayed together with his wife Maddalena Strozzi by Raphael (Uffizi Gallery, 1505- 1506) during their stay in Florence.
In the mid-16th century the painting was still in the house of Doni in Via San Niccolò, where also Francesco Bocchi saw it in the end of the century (1591). In the 17th century the painting was moved to the Uffizi Gallery and in 1677 Giovanni Cinelli described it in Tribuna hall.
Michelangelo painted the work between 1506 and 1508 and certainly after January 1506 when the antique marble statue of Laocoon was discovered in Rome. Michelangelo, who assisted the recovery, was inspired by the historic statue and painted the nude figures behind Joseph based on the figure of Laocoon. Also other his characters were inspired by the ancient artworks Michelangelo studied in Rome.
If the meaning of the work is to represent baptism, the painting could date back to 1507, when Agnolo and Maddalena Doni’s daughter Maria was born.
The work is Michelangelo’s only remaining painting in Florence and it is still in its original wooden carved frame, which was probably designed by Michelangelo himself and perhaps carved by Marco and Francesco Del Tasso.
It is decorated with five heads depicting Christ at the top, two prophets on the sides and two angels at the bottom. There is also Strozzi family’s coat of arms with three crescent moons.
There are various copies of the work, such as the one by Francesco Bachiacca in Florence, or the version in rectangular form by Flemish artist (Cambridge (USA), Fogg Art Museum). There are also many etchings, like those made in the 18th century kept in the Prints and Drawings department of the Uffizi Gallery (no. 10024).
Michelangelo was born in 1475 near Arezzo but in 1487-1488 he was already in Florence studying in the workshop of Domenico Ghirlandaio.
Around 1489 he was introduced to the Medici family under the guidance of Bertoldo di Giovanni. He saw the antiques collection that Lorenzo the Magnificent kept in his garden in San Marco, which was a meeting place for the friends of Lorenzo, among them Neoplatonic artists, writers and philosophers like Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandol and Agnolo Poliziano.
In this period he made the Battle of the Centaurs and Madonna of the Stairs (Florence, Casa Buonarroti).
After Lorenzo the Magnificent’s death (1492) and the fall of the Medici family, Michelangelo left Florence and went first to Venice and then in Bologna. There he sculpted the marble angel, St. Proculus and St. Petronius for the Basilica of San Domenico. He was influenced by the works of Jacopo della Quercia, whose art he had studied in San Petronio.
Between 1496 and 1501 he went to Rome, where he sculpted the Bacchus (Florence, Museo Nazionale del Bargello) for cardinal Riario, who sold it to Jacopo Galli. He made the Pietà of St. Peter (1498) which is often admired for its grace, the beauty of the Virgin and the naturalness of the dead Christ.
Michelangelo returned to Florence in 1501.There he sculpted the David (1501-1504), an emblem for the republican freedom the city had achieved and he worked on the Battle of Cascina in the Salone dei Cinquecento of Palazzo Vecchio. He worked next to Leonardo Da Vinci, who was painting the fresco of the Battle of Cascina. The two works were never completed.
He sculpted St. Matthew for the new cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and painted Tondo Doni for Agnolo Doni (Florence, Uffizi Gallery) which is his only completed panel.
In 1505 Pope Julius II called him to Rome to work on his tomb in St. Peter’s cathedral. The project took longer than expected going on over forty years and the final work was much reduced compared to the original idea. Michelangelo had many disputes and disagreements with the pope and he returned to Florence before being called back by Julius II. The pope ordered him to suspend the work with the tomb and to dedicate himself instead to the decorations of the Sistine chapel with the Stories of Genesis, Sibyls and Prophets (1508-1512).
The new pope after Julius was Leo X Medici who commissioned Michelangelo the decoration of the Castel Sant’Angelo chapel, although he mainly ordered him to work in Florence. He projected the façade of the basilica of San Lorenzo and in 1520 the tombs of the Medici family, Giuliano Duke of Nemours and Lorenzo Duke of Urbino, in Sagrestia Nuova of San Lorenzo.
In 1525 the new pope Clement VII commissioned him the construction of the Biblioteca Laurenziana in Florence, where Michelangelo was also planning other projects at the service of the Republic and against the Medici family.
He got caught but obtained a pardon from pope Clement VII Medici and continued to devote himself to Florentine projects. In 1534 he left Florence for good and moved back to Rome. There he met young Tommaso Cavalieri with whom he fell in love with and to whom he dedicated many poets and drawings. In this period he also met Vittoria Colonna, who became a close friend. In the meantime he was working on the frescoes of the Sistine chapel with the Last Judgment, which he completed in 1541.
Under pope Paul III Farnese Michelangelo decorated the Paolina chapel in the Vatican with the Crucifixion of St. Peter and the Conversion of St. Paul (1546-1550). After the death of Antonio da Sangallo the Younger (1546) he was selected as the main architect of the Farnese family.
In his later years he worked mainly as an architect. He adjusted the Piazza del Campidoglio, designed the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica and redesigned the basilica by recovering Donato Bramante’s project. In the 1560s’ he designed the Porta Pia.
He continued to sculpt famous works like Pietà of Rondanini (Milan, Castello Sforzesco, 1555-1559) Pietà of Palestrina (Florence, Galleria dell’Accademia) and Pietà of the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Florence.
Michelangelo was also an excellent writer and his letters were published in 1875. Since 1534 he had been composing his famous Rimes, sonnets.
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.