To name the most wonderful picture in the Uffizi would be a very difficult task. At the Accademia, if a plebiscite were taken, there is little doubt but that Botticelli’s “Primavera” would win. At the Pitti I personally would name Giorgione’s “Concert” without any hesitation at all; but probably the public vote would go to Raphael’s “Madonna della Sedia”. But the Uffizi? Here we are amid such wealth of masterpieces, and yet when one comes to pass them in review in memory none stands out as those other two I have named. Perhaps Botticelli would win again, with his “Birth of Venus”. Were the Leonardo finished ... but it is only a sketch. Luca Signorelli’s wild flowers in No. 74 seem to abide with me as vividly and graciously as anything; but they are but a detail and it is a very personal predilection. Perhaps the great exotic work painted far away in Belgium—the Van der Goes triptych—is the most memorable; but to choose an alien canvas is to break the rules of the game. Is it perhaps the unfinished Leonardo after all? If not, and not the Botticelli, it is beyond question that lovely adoring Madonna, so gentle and sweet, against the purest and bluest of Tuscan skies, which is attributed to Filippino Lippi: No. 1354.
The Uffizi II: The First Six Rooms
Lorenzo Monaco—Fra Angelico—Mariotto Albertinelli turns innkeeper—The Venetian rooms—Giorgione’s death—Titian—Mantegna uniting north and south—Giovanni Bellini—Domenico Ghirlandaio—Michelangelo—Luca Signorelli—Wild flowers—Leonardo da Vinci—Paolo Uccello.
The first and second rooms are Venetian; but I am inclined to think that it is better to take the second door on the left—the first Tuscan salon—and walking straight across it come at once to the Salon of Lorenzo Monaco and the primitives. For the earliest good pictures are here. Here especially one should remember that the pictures were painted never for a gallery but for churches. Lorenzo Monaco (Lawrence the Monk, 1370-c. 1425), who gives his name to this room, was a monk of the Camaldolese order in the Monastery of the Angeli, and was a little earlier than Fra Angelico (the Angelic Brother), the more famous painting monk, whose dates are 1387-1455. Lorenzo was influenced by Taddeo Gaddi, Giotto’s godson, friend, pupil, and assistant. His greatest work is this large Uffizi altar-piece—he painted nothing but altar-pieces—depicting the Coronation of the Virgin: a great gay scene of splendour, containing pretty angels who must have been the delight of children in church. The predella—and here let me advise the visitor never to overlook the predellas, where the artist often throws off formality and allows his more natural feelings to have play, almost as though he painted the picture for others and the predella for himself—is peculiarly interesting. Look, at the left, at the death of an old Saint attended by monks and nuns, whose grief is profound. One other good Lorenzo is here, an “Adoration of the Magi,” No. 39, a little out of drawing but full of life.