After living in Florence for a while, it’s easy to become a bit desensitized to all of the priceless artwork at every turn. I’ve been to most of the major attractions, and to be honest don’t make a habit of returning regularly, unless there’s an aperitivo involved.
The Vasari Corridor has always intrigued me though. Closed off to the public for years, it was reopened in 1973 but is only available by appointment. Now that I think about it, it’s relatively easy to book a tour, but to me it seemed out of reach, maybe just because it looks so… out of reach. It was one sight in Florence on my mental bucket list that I still hadn’t seen, so when Context Italy invited me to come along on a tour of the Vasari Corridor led by Alexandra Lawrence (one of the best!), I was seriously excited.
The Vasari Corridor is almost a kilometer long and houses an impressive collection of self-portraits, making it the longest portrait gallery in the world. Visitors to the Uffizi wouldn’t know which of the many doors opens not onto another room, but to the long winding passageway that snakes along the Arno river, over the Ponte Vecchio, and leads all the way to Palazzo Pitti. From this door we descended a staircase, arched-ceilings covered in frescoes, and were on our way.
The collection includes self-portraits from the 17th century through to modern day, and new additions are regularly added. It’s fascinating to see how the concept and style of these self-portraits change, and how the way that artists see and represent themselves changes throughout the centuries.
Another amazing thing about the corridor is it’s unique view on the city. Built in 1564 by Giorgio Vasari by order of Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici, it’s purpose was to allow the Duke to move between home and work undisturbed (and unharmed) by the public. As you look down on shoppers on the Ponte Vecchio, and out on the Arno as you’ve never seen it, you feel the full effect of your priviledged position.
When we reached Palazzo Pitti and exited through the Boboli Gardens, it struck me that I now had to make my way home to the other side of the river – this time among the masses. Humility is a virtue and I’m all for equality, but I can tell that I would get used to that quiet stroll above the Ponte Vecchio maybe a little too quickly.