The long awaited new Botticelli rooms at the Uffizi opened in mid-October after being closed for fifteen months. The heavy dark planked ceiling is gone and the Early Renaissance master’s works are now spread across three rooms with white walls and brighter lighting. While most paintings are still covered in glass, it is less obtrusive. Glare has been minimized.The most famous works, the Birth of Venus and Primavera, are given generous space and recessed into gallery walls.
In the new layout, all Botticelli’s works have been restored and given more space. There is a fresh feeling like a newly constructed home compared to the old dark and crowded spaces. While you can’t actually smell the new paint, you can still see the marks of the suction cups used to place the glass in front of the Birth of Venus.
A special treat is the addition of an enormous 1481 Annunciation fresco after significant restoration work. Painted for a local hospital that took in orphans and nearly twenty feet wide, it follows the traditional model with one unusual element. In its center, between a concerned angel Gabriel and apparently none too pleased and aristocratic Virgin Mary, we get a peek into the bedchamber of a wealthy Florentine home. Just across the room, one can see the more familiar Botticelli Annunciation of 1489, whose Virgin Mary seems to be both shy and about to dance.
Overall, the designers have done a wonderful job of improving crowd control. There is much more space around each work, not only the most popular. Even on a crowded day (i.e. just about every day), it is possible to get a clear, relatively unobstructed view of Primavera and the Birth of Venus. There are no dark corners. In addition to well placed spotlights, filtered light enters the galleries from above.
The redistribution and rethinking of the Uffizi’s entire collection continues to be a work in progress. But already the number of rooms devoted to the main collection has doubled. Among the new rooms on the second main hall that are now open are new Perugino and Ghirlandaio rooms with attractive olive green walls.
Unfortunately, for the time being Leonardo da Vinci has been banished to the lower level, not far from Raphael. Those seeking Leonardo’s Annunciation will have to locate it in a very dark room off the main corridor. After your struggle to get a good look in the tight little gallery, one can jostle fellow visitors to get a space on the nearby sofa.
Despite these temporary inconveniences, step by step the new rooms continue to open and with each success, it is clear that the Uffizi is heading in the right direction.
[P.S. If you are looking for Artemesia Gentilleschi’s famous Judith and the Head of Holofornes, it is in an exhibition in Rome until May.]