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The first room off to your left after you climb Vasari's monumental stairs (room 2; room 1 houses Roman reliefs) presents you with a crash course in the Renaissance's roots. It houses three huge altarpieces by Tuscany's greatest late-13th-century masters. On the right is Cimabue's Santa Trínita Maestà (1280), still rooted in the Byzantine traditions that governed painting in the early Middle Ages -- gold-leaf crosshatching in the drapery, an Eastern-style inlaid throne, spoonlike depressions above the noses, highly posed figures, and cloned angels with identical faces stacked up along the sides. On the left is Duccio's Rucellai Maestà (1285), painted by the master who founded the Sienese school of painting. The style is still medieval but introduces innovations into the rigid traditions. There's a little more weight to the Child and the Madonna's face has a more human, somewhat sad, expression.

In the center of the room is Giotto's incredible Ognissanti Maestà (1310), by the man who's generally credited as the founding father of Renaissance painting. It's sometimes hard to appreciate just how much Giotto changed when he junked half the traditions of painting to go his own way. It's mainly in the very simple details, the sorts of things we take for granted in art today, such as the force of gravity, the display of basic emotions, the individual facial expressions, and the figures that look like they have an actual bulky body under their clothes. Giotto's Madonna sways slightly to one side, the fabric of her off-white shirt pulling realistically against her breasts as she twists. Instead of floating in mysterious space, Giotto's saints and angels stand on solid ground.

Room 3 pays homage to the 14th-century Sienese school with delicately crafted works by Simone Martini and the Lorenzetti brothers. Here is Martini's Annunciation (1333). Mary, who in so much art both before and after this period is depicted as meekly accepting her divine duty, looks reluctant at the news of her imminent Immaculate Conception. Pietro and Ambrogio Lorenzetti helped revolutionize Sienese art and the Sienese school before succumbing to the Black Death in 1348. Of their work here, Ambrogio's 1342 Presentation at the Temple ★ is the finest, with a rich use of color and a vast architectural space painted with some understanding of perspective -- whose depiction is usually thought of as a 15th-century Florentine "discovery."

Room 4 houses the works of the 14th-century Florentine school, where you can clearly see the influence Giotto had on his contemporaries. Rooms 5 and 6 represent the flourishing of International Gothic, still grounded in medievalism but admitting some of the emergent naturalism and humanist philosophy into their highly decorative works. Gentile da Fabriano's Procession of the Magi (1423) is especially resplendent, and loaded with detail and caricature.

In room 7, the Renaissance proper starts taking shape, driven primarily by the quest of two artists, Paolo Uccello and Masaccio, for perfect perspective. On the left wall is Uccello's Battle of San Romano (1456), famously innovative but also rather ugly. This painting depicts one of Florence's great victories over rival Siena, but for Uccello it was more of an excuse to explore perspective -- with which this painter was, by all accounts, obsessed. In the far corner is the only example of Masaccio's art here (he died at 27), the Madonna and Child with St. Anne, which he helped his master, Masolino, paint in 1424. Masaccio's earthy realism and sharp light are evident in the figures of Mary and the Child, as well as in the topmost angel peeking down.

In the center of room 8 is Piero della Francesca's Portrait of Federico da Montefeltro and Battista Sforza, painted around 1465 or 1470 and the only work by this remarkable Sansepolcran to survive in Florence. The fronts of the panels depict the duke of Urbino and his wife, while on the backs are horse-drawn carts symbolic of the pair's respective virtues. Piero's lucid style and the detailed Flemish-style backgrounds need no commentary, but do note that he purposefully painted the husband and wife in profile -- without diluting the realism of a hooked nose and moles on the duke -- and mounted them face to face, forever gazing into each other's eyes.

The rest of room 8 is devoted to Filippo Lippi, with more than half a dozen works by the amorous monk who turned out rich religious paintings with an earthy quality and a three-dimensionality that make them immediately accessible. His most exquisite Madonna here is the Madonna and Child with Two Angels (1455-66) -- also a tender portrait of his mistress, Lucrezia Buti. Nearby are a few works by their illegitimate son, Filippino. Room 9 is an interlude of virtuoso paintings by Antonio del Pollaiolo, plus a number of large Virtues by his less-talented brother, Piero. These two masters of anatomical verisimilitude greatly influenced the young Botticelli.

The walls separating rooms 10 to 14 were knocked down in the 20th century to create one large space to accommodate the resurgent popularity of Sandro Filipepi -- better known by his nickname, Botticelli ("little barrels") -- master of willowy women in flowing gowns. Fourteen of his paintings line the walls, along with works by his pupil (and son of his former teacher) Filippino Lippi, and by Domenico Ghirlandaio, Michelangelo's first artistic master. But most flock here for just two paintings, Botticelli's Birth of Venus and his Primavera (Allegory of Spring). Though in later life Botticelli was influenced by the puritanical preachings of Savonarola and took to cranking out boring Madonnas, the young painter began in grand pagan style. Both paintings were commissioned between 1477 and 1483 by a Medici cousin for his private villa, and they celebrate not only Renaissance art's love of naturalism but also the humanist philosophy permeating 15th-century Florence, a neo-Platonism that united religious doctrine with ancient ideology and mythological stories.

In the Birth of Venus, the love goddess is born of the sea on a half shell, blown to shore by the Zephyrs. Ores, a goddess of the seasons, rushes to clothe her. Some say the long-legged goddess was modeled on Simonetta Vespucci, a renowned Florentine beauty, cousin to Amerigo (the naval explorer after whom America is named) and not-so-secret lover of Giuliano de' Medici, Lorenzo the Magnificent's brother. The Primavera is harder to evaluate, since contemporary research indicates it may not actually be an allegory of spring influenced by the humanist poetry of Poliziano but rather a celebration of Venus, who stands in the center, surrounded by various complicated references to Virtues through mythological characters. Also check out Botticelli's Adoration of the Magi, where the artist painted himself in the far right side, in a great yellow robe and golden curls.

Room 15 boasts Leonardo da Vinci's Annunciation, which the young artist painted in 1472 or 1475 while still in the workshop of his master, Andrea del Verrocchio; however, he was already fully developed as an artist. The solid yet light figures and sfumato airiness blurring the distance render remarkably lifelike figures somehow suspended in a surreal dreamscape; view it from the lower-right to appreciate his mastery of perspective. Leonardo helped Verrocchio on the Baptism of Christ -- most credit the artist-in-training with the angel on the far left as well as the landscape, and a few art historians think they see his hand in the figure of Jesus as well. The Adoration of the Magi, on which Leonardo didn't get much beyond the sketching stage, shows how he could retain powerful compositions even when creating a fantasy landscape of ruinous architecture and incongruous horse battles. The room also houses a Pietà that shows Perugino's solid plastic style of studied simplicity. (This Umbrian master would later pass it on to his pupil Raphael.)

Alas, visitors are no longer permitted in room 18, the Tribune, where mother-of-pearl discs line a domed ceiling; antique statues, such as the famous Medici Venus (a 1st-c.-B.C. Roman copy of a Greek original), are housed; and Medici portraits wallpaper the room. The latter include many by the talented early baroque artist Agnolo Bronzino, whose portrait of Eleonora of Toledo, wife of Cosimo I, with their son Giovanni de' Medici (1545), is particularly well worked. It shows her in a satin dress embroidered and sewn with velvet and pearls. When the Medici tombs were opened in 1857, her body was found buried in this same dress.

Room 19 is devoted to both Perugino, who did the luminous Portrait of Francesco delle Opere (1494), and Luca Signorelli, whose Holy Family (1490-95) was painted as a tondo set in a rectangle, with allegorical figures in the background and a torsion of the figures that were to influence Michelangelo's version (in a later room). Room 20 is devoted to Dürer, Cranach, and other German artists who worked in Florence, while room 21 takes care of 16th-century Venetians Giovanni Bellini, Giorgione, and Carpaccio. In room 22 are Flemish and German works by Hans Holbein the Younger, Hans Memling, and others, and room 23 contains Andrea Mantegna's triptych of the Adoration of the Magi, Circumcision, and Ascensio (1463-70), showing his excellent draftsmanship and fascination with classical architecture. Room 25 is overpowered by Michelangelo's Holy Family (1506-08), one of the few panel paintings by the master. The glowing colors and shocking nudes in the background seem to pop off the surface, and the torsion of the figures was to be taken up as the banner of the Mannerist movement. Michelangelo also designed the elaborate frame.

Room 26 is devoted to Andrea del Sarto and High Renaissance darling Raphael. Of Raphael we have the Madonna of the Goldfinch (1505), a work he painted in a Leonardesque style for a friend's wedding, more vivid than ever after a 2009 restoration. Also here are important portraits including Pope Leo X with Cardinals Giulio de' Medici and Luigi de' Rossi and Pope Julius II, as well as a famous Self-Portrait. Del Sarto was the most important painter in Florence in the early 16th century, while Michelangelo and Raphael were in Rome. His consciously developed Mannerist style is evident in his masterful Madonna of the Harpies (1515-17).

Room 27 is devoted to works by Del Sarto's star Mannerist pupils, Rosso Fiorentino and Pontormo, and by Pontormo's adopted son, Bronzino. Fiorentino's Moses Defends the Daughters of Jethro (1523) owes much to Michelangesque nudes but is also original in the use of harsh lighting that reduces the figures to basic shapes of color.

Room 28 honors the great Venetian Titian, of whose works you'll see include a warm full-bodied Flora and a poetic, somewhat suggestive Venus of Urbino languishing on her bed.

Tiny rooms 29 and 30, ostensibly honoring works by several Emilian artists, are totally dominated by late Mannerist master Il Parmigianino, who carried the Mannerist movement to its logical extremes with the almost grotesquely elongated bodies of the Madonna of the Long Neck (1534). Room 31 continues to chart the fall of painting into decorative grace with Paolo Veronese's Martyrdom of St. Justine (1573), which is less about the saint being stabbed than it is a sartorial study in fashion design.

Room 32 is a nice break provided by the dramatic and visible brush strokes that boldly swirled rich, somber colors of several lesser works by Venetian master Tintoretto. All the better, as these must see you through the treacle and tripe of rooms 33 to 34, stuffed with substandard examples of 16th-century paintings by the likes of Vasari, Alessandro Allori, and other chaps who grew up in Michelangelo's shadow and desperately wished they could paint like him. (Note: They couldn't.)

Room 35 features the taffeta, cotton-candy oeuvre of baroque weirdo Federico Barocci. Continue right past that exit staircase, because they save a few eye-popping rooms for the very end.

Room 41 is all about Rubens and his famously ample nudes, along with some works by his Flemish cohorts (Van Dyck, Sustermans). Room 42 is a lovely side hall flooded with sunlight and graced by more than a dozen Roman statues that are copies of Hellenic originals, most of them of the dying Niobids.

Pay your respects to Rembrandt in room 44, where he immortalized himself in two Self-Portraits, one done as a youth and the other as an old man. If you need to pause for breath, prices at the Uffizi's terrace cafe are no worse than in the piazza below. It's a nice spot to catch a new angle on the Palazzo Vecchio's façade.

Downstairs is a space used to house temporary exhibitions that, at their best, provide some added context to the permanent collection, but at worst are just a way to slap a few more euros onto your entrance fee. However, it's certainly worth visiting the space devoted to Caravaggio and the Caravaggeschi. Caravaggio was the baroque master of chiaroscuro -- painting with extreme harsh light and deep shadows. The Uffizi preserves his painting of the severed head of Medusa, a Sacrifice of Isaac, and his famous Bacchus. Caravaggio's work influenced a generation of artists -- the Caravaggeschi (painters who followed his style) included Artemisia Gentileschi, the only female painter to make a name for herself in the early baroque. Artemisia was eclipsed in fame by her less talented father, Orazio, and was the victim in a sensational rape trial brought against Orazio's one-time collaborator. It evidently affected her professional life; the violent Judith Slaying Holofernes is featured here, in all its gruesome detail.

The precise configurations of the other rooms here are in flux, but look out for other European students of Caravaggio, including Matthias Stomer, Francesco Rustici, Nicolas Regnier, and Guido Reni, perhaps best known for his collaboration with Annibale Carracci on the Farnese Palace in Rome, but also noted for his paintings betraying the influence of Caravaggio. His rendering of a triumphant David admiring the slain head of Goliath, upon your exit, is a fitting tribute to your conquest of this overwhelming gallery -- because that's it. The Uffizi is finished. Navigate the (at last count) five gift shops and then treat yourself to a cappuccino alfresco. You've earned it.

Reserving Tickets for the Uffizi & Other Museums

You should bypass the hours-long ticket line at the Uffizi Gallery by reserving a ticket and an entry time in advance by calling Firenze Musei at tel. 055-294-883 (Mon-Fri 8:30am-6:30pm; Sat until 12:30pm) or visiting www.firenzemusei.it (you may need to have patience with their website, however). You can also reserve for the Accademia Gallery (another interminable line, to see David), as well as the Galleria Palatina in the Pitti Palace, the Bargello, and several others. There is a 3€ fee (4€ for the Uffizi or Accademia, where a reservation is essential); you can pay by credit card.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.