Before I got to Florence, the only thing I knew about the city was its two most famous art galleries, the Academia Gallery and the Uffizi Gallery. That being said, I was unsure about which type of art was in each gallery. I literally just googled “the two famous galleries in Florence,” got the names, and put them on my list of places to visit. In retrospect, this was probably the wrong way to approach the situation. To help you avoid the same mistakes I made when perusing famous art museums, I wanted to break down each gallery and tell you which one I would revisit, and which one is kind of meh. Short disclaimer: I am by no means an art expert. Consider me a representative of those of us who like to look at artwork, but have really no clue what’s going on in paintings (you know if you belong in this category).
The first gallery I visited was the Uffizi. This is one of the oldest, most well-known galleries in the world. It has more Renaissance paintings than I could ever count as well as a large statue collection containing both original works and replicas. The gallery flows well and I never felt like I had to double back to check that I viewed every room. Also important to note is the sheer size of this gallery. It has two floors, both of which are long and are jam-packed with artwork. I’d say you need a solid 3 hours to explore this gallery, especially if you have an interest in artwork from the Italian Renaissance (there are other time periods represented here of course, but it’s most well known for it’s Renaissance collection). Perhaps the most famous painting on display here is Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus.”
While I enjoyed the Uffizi gallery, there were a few aspects of my visit that somewhat dulled my enthusiasm. The first being the huge line I had to stand in before I could actually enter. The gallery only lets in a certain number of people per time slot (I think it’s every 30 minutes), so if you’re serious about wanting to see the gallery, get there when it opens so you don’t waste the majority of your morning standing in line.
Second, the plaques for each piece of art often only described where a piece had been collected from and who painted/sculpted the work. Having little to no knowledge of the extensive list of saints, I felt a bit out of the loop when each painting’s description gave me no more information than “Saint Sebastian’s Martyrdom” and other such phrases. Who is Saint Sebastian? Why did he die? Who’s the person over there shooting at him? I googled certain saints when I got back to my room, but when you’re in the gallery it’s hard to enjoy some of the art when you have absolutely no backstory on what’s being portrayed.
Lastly, for those of you who absolutely abhor religious artwork from way back in the day, this gallery is not for you. Each piece of art is beautifully preserved and shows immense talent, but there are a lot of “Madonna with Child” pieces and “Adoration of the Magi,” etc.
The second gallery, the Academia, is a bit smaller than the Uffizi, but still boasts an impressive collection of artwork, including an entire room devoted to statues. You probably know the Academia because it’s home to Michelangelo’s “David.” Yes, it does in fact have an entire room devoted to it (which is actually necessary because it is HUGE). Like the Uffizi, the Academia Gallery has an extensive Renaissance collection, meaning you’ll also see many “Madonna with Child” motifs here as well. Although it’s smaller, the line to get in isn’t nearly as long as the line for the Uffizi.
What I really enjoyed about the Academia was that the plaques for the paintings usually gave historical context to the work I was viewing. I felt like I knew more about what each piece of art represented, be it a painting, sculpture, or artifact, and I came away feeling like I’d just experienced a very interesting history lecture (as in, the descriptions were clearly worded and gave just the right amount of information). The Academia also had more temporary exhibits, which helped disperse the Renaissance-era artwork for me and displayed artifacts from various time periods that demonstrated the growth of the Italian state. Among these temporary exhibits were old manuscripts (which I loved), tapestries, and wrought gold and silver pieces. Also, “David” was amazing to see. As I said, I’m not super in tune to the art world, but even I could tell that Michelangelo made a masterpiece. The detail on the hands alone was absolutely incredible.
With all that laid out for you, I’d say that if you’re not a huge fan of art museums, but you want to visit one of Florence’s famous galleries, the Academia is probably the best choice for you. Both are 12 Euros, so there’s no monetary competition there, but I just felt like the Academia was more “viewer friendly” than the Uffizi. However, if you’re in Florence for more than three or four days, visiting both galleries wouldn’t be a bad thing. In the end, it’s all up to personal preference. When I return to Florence, I’ll definitely visit the Academia again to oogle “David” a little more and see what new temporary exhibits it has on display.
Phew! That was a long post, but I really wanted you guys to know what was in each gallery. Let me know your thoughts, especially if you’ve visited either gallery, and feel free to share this post on Facebook and other social media platforms.