Although built by and named after a rival of the Medici—merchant Luca Pitti—in the 1450s, this gigantic palazzo soon fell into Medici hands. It was the Medici family’s principal home from the 1540s, and continued to house Florence’s rulers until 1919. The Pitti contains five museums, including one of the best collections of canvases by Raphael in the world. Out back are elegant Renaissance gardens, the Boboli (see below).
Galleria Palatina ★★: No gallery comes closer to Mark Twain’s description of “weary miles” in “Innocents Abroad” than the art-crammed rooms of the Pitti’s Galleria Palatina. Paintings are displayed like cars in a parking garage, stacked on walls above each other in the “Enlightenment” method of exhibition. Rooms are alternately dimly lit, or garishly bright; this is how many of the world’s great art treasures were seen and enjoyed by their original commissioners and collectors.
You will find important historical treasures amid the Palatina’s vast and haphazard collection. Some of the best efforts of Titian, Raphael, and Rubens line the walls. Botticelli and Filippo Lippi’s “Madonna and Child” ★ (1452) provide the key works in the Sala di Prometeo (Prometheus Room). Two giant versions of the “Assumption of the Virgin,” both by Mannerist painter Andrea del Sarto, dominate the Sala dell’Iliade (Iliad Room). Here you will also find another Biblical woman painted by Artemisia Gentileschi, “Judith.” The Sala di Saturno (Saturn Room) ★ is stuffed with Raphaels and a giant panel by his teacher, Perugino; next door in the Sala di Giove (Jupiter Room) you’ll find his sublime, naturalistic portrait of “La Velata” ★★, as well as “The Ages of Man” ★. The current attribution of the painting is awarded to Venetian Giorgione, though that has been disputed.
Appartamenti Reali: At the “Royal Apartments,” you get an excellent feeling for the conspicuous consumption of the Medici Grand Dukes and their Austrian and Belgian Lorraine successors—and see some notable paintings in their original, ostentatious setting. The rooms earned their “Royal” label because Italy’s first king lived here for several years during Italy’s 19th-century unification process—when Florence was Italy’s second capital, after Turin—until Rome was finally conquered and the court moved there. Much of the stucco, fabrics, furnishings, and general decoration is in thunderously poor taste, but you should look out for Caravaggio’s subtle “Knight of Malta” ★ canvas.
Galleria d'Arte Moderna ★: The Pitti’s “modern” gallery has a fairly good collection, this time of 19th-century Italian paintings with a focus on Romanticism, Neoclassical works, and the Macchiaioli—a school of Italian painters who worked in an “impressionistic style” before the French Impressionists. If you have limited time, make right for the major works of the latter, in Sala 18 through 20, which displays the Maremma landscapes of Giovanni Fattori ★ (1825–1908).
Galleria del Costume & Museo degli Argenti: The Pitti’s pair of lesser museums—the Costume Gallery and Museum of Silverware—combine to show that wealth and taste do not always go hand in hand. Unless you’re a scholar or true aficionado of such things, they are in no way worth the admission price, but if you already have the cumulative ticket, pop in to spend some time among the Medici’s over-the-top gold and jewel-encrusted household items. One thing you will notice in the Costume Gallery is how much smaller Florentines were just a few centuries ago.