Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-7ccbd9845f-dzwm5 Total loading time: 0.381 Render date: 2023-01-28T14:57:01.287Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

The 2012 Josephine Waters Bennett Lecture: The Eighteenth-Century Invention of the Renaissance: Lessons from the Uffizi*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 November 2018

Paula Findlen*
Stanford University


This essay explores the role that the eighteenth-century Uffizi gallery played in the invention of the Renaissance. Under the Habsburg-Lorraine rulers, and especially during the reign of Grand Duke Peter Leopold (r. 1765–90), changes to the Medici collections and the gallery’s organization transformed an early modern cabinet of curiosities, paintings, and antiquities into a space in which a historical narrative of art, inspired by rereadings of Giorgio Vasari’s Lives, became visible in a building he designed. A succession of Uffizi personnel was increasingly preoccupied with how to see renaissance, and more specifically Tuscan rinascita, in the collections. The struggles between the director Giuseppe Pelli Bencivenni and his vice-director Luigi Lanzi highlight how different understandings of the Renaissance emerged in dialogue with antiquarianism and medievalism. At the end of the eighteenth century the Uffizi would definitively become a museum of the Renaissance to inspire new forms of historical writing in the age of Michelet and Burckhardt.

Copyright © 2013 The University of Chicago Press

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)



My thanks go first to Elizabeth Cropper for the invitation to give this lecture at the Renaissance Society of America in Washington, DC, in 2012, and to Erika Suffern for making the experience so enjoyable. Carole Paul and Catherine Soussloff offered crucial advice in the early phases of developing this project. Long ago, Peter Miller encouraged me to explore the eighteenth-century history of museums further; more recently, Renato Pasta has shared his far greater knowledge of Pelli Bencivenni with me. I want especially to thank two historians who have most influenced my understanding of the Italian Renaissance: Katharine Park, who first introduced me to the subject as an undergraduate and inspired my interest in cabinets of curiosities; and Randolph Starn, whose own passion for the history of art and museums encouraged me to pursue this subject in graduate school. Thanks also to Lynn Hunt and Roger Hahn, for showing a Renaissance historian why the eighteenth century matters; and my colleague Jim Sheehan for sharing his knowledge of the modern art museum.


Acidini Luchinat, Cristina, ed. Treasures of Florence: The Medici Collection 14001700. Munich, 1997.Google Scholar
Anderson, Jaynie. “Count Francesco Algarotti as an Advisor to Dresden.” In Il Collezionismo a Venezia e nel Veneto ai tempi della Serenissima. ed. Aikema, Bernard, Lauber, Rosella, and Seidel, Max, 275–86. Venice, 2005.Google Scholar
[Anon.] “Le musée de la Renaissance.L’Artiste ser. 1, vol. 10 (1835): 6667.Google Scholar
Baldacci, Valentino, ed. Le riforme di Pietro Leopoldo e la nascita della Toscana moderna. Florence, 2000.Google Scholar
Banti, Alberto M. Il Risorgimento italiano. Bari, 2004.Google Scholar
Barocchi, Paola. “La storia della Galleria degli Uffizi e la storiografia artistica.Annali della Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa. Classe di Lettere e Filosofia, ser. 3, vol. 12 (1982): 1411–523.Google Scholar
Barocchi, Paola. Studi vasariani. Turin, 1984.Google Scholar
Barocchi, Paola, and Bertelà, Giovanna Gaeta. “Lanzi, Pelli e la Galleria fiorentina (1778–1797).Prospettiva 62 (1991): 2953.Google Scholar
Barocchi, Paola, and Giovanni Gaeta Bertelà, eds. Collezionismo mediceo: Cosimo I, Francesco I e il Cardinale Ferdinando. Documenti 15401587. Modena, 1993.Google Scholar
Barolsky, Paul. Why Mona Lisa Smiles and Other Tales Told by Vasari. University Park, 1991.Google Scholar
Berti, Luciano. Il Principe dello Studiolo. Francesco I de’ Medici e la fine del rinascimento fiorentino. Florence, 1967.Google Scholar
Bettinelli, Saverio. Risorgimento d’Italia nelli studi, nelle arti e ne’ costume dopo il Mille. 2 vols. 2nd ed. Bassano, 1786.Google Scholar
Bickendorf, Gabriele. Die Historisierun der Italienischen Kunstbetrachtung im 17. und 18. Jahrhundert. Berlin, 1998.Google Scholar
Bjurnström, Per, ed. The Genesis of the Art Museum in the Eighteenth Century. Stockholm, 1993.Google Scholar
Bonnard, George A., ed. Gibbon’s Journey from Geneva to Rome: His Journal from 20 April to 2 October 1764. London, 1961.Google Scholar
Bullen, J. B. The Myth of the Renaissance in Nineteenth-Century Writing. Oxford, 1994.10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198128885.001.0001CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Burckhardt, Jacob. Der Cicerone: Eine Anleitung zum Genuss der Kunstwerke Italiens. Basel, 1855.Google Scholar
Burckhardt, Jacob. Beiträge zur Kunstgeschichte von Italien. Das Alterbild — das Porträt in der Malerei — die Sammler. Berlin, 1898.Google Scholar
Butters, Suzanne. The Triumph of Vulcan: Sculptors’ Tools, Porphyry, and the Prince in Ducal Florence. 2 vols. Florence, 1996.Google Scholar
Caneva, Caterine, Alessandro Cecchi, and Antonio Natali. The Uffizi: Guide to the Collections and Catalogue of All Paintings. Boston, 1992.Google Scholar
Capecchi, Silvia. Scittura e coscienza autobiografica nel Diario di Giuseppe Pelli. Rome, 2006.Google Scholar
Ciletti, Elena. “The Extinction and Survival of the Medici.” In Women and Art in Early Modern Europe: Patrons, Collectors, and Connoisseurs. ed. Lawrence, Cynthia Miller, 227–37. University Park, 1997.Google Scholar
Cochrane, Eric. “The Settecento Medievalists.Journal of the History of Ideas 63 (1958): 3561.10.2307/2707951CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cochrane, Eric. Florence in the Forgotten Centuries, 1527–1800: A History of Florence and Florentines in the Age of the Grand Dukes. Chicago, 1973.Google Scholar
Conticelli, Valentina. “Guardaroba di cose rare et preziose”: lo studiolo di Francesco I de' Medici: arte, storia e significati. Lugano, 2007.Google Scholar
Contini, Alessandra, and Maria Grazia Parri, eds. Il Granducato di Toscana e i Lorena nel secolo XVIII. Florence, 1999.Google Scholar
Cristofani, Mauro. “1778: un anno di corrispondenza fra Giuseppe Pelli Bencivenni e Luigi Lanzi.Prospettiva 108 (2002): 9395.Google Scholar
Della Valle, Guglielmo. Lettere sanesi sopra di un socio dell'Accademia di Fossano sopra le belle arti. 3 vols. Rome, 1782–86.Google Scholar
Diaz, Furio. Il Grand Ducato di Toscana. Turin, 1976.Google Scholar
Febvre, Lucien. “How Jules Michelet Invented the Renaissance.” In A New Kind of History from the Writings of Lucien Febvre. ed. Burke, Peter, trans. Folca, K., 258–67. New York, 1973.Google Scholar
Febvre, Lucien. Michelet et la Renaissance. Paris, 1992.Google Scholar
Ferguson, Wallace K. The Renaissance in Historical Thought. Cambridge, MA, 1948.Google Scholar
Fileti Mazza, Miriam. Storia di una collezione: dai libri di disegni e stampe di Leopoldo de' Medici all'età moderna. Florence, 2009.Google Scholar
Fileti Mazza, Miriam, and Bruna M. Tomasello. Galleria degli Uffizi 1758–1775: la politica museale di Raimondo Cocchi. Modena, 1999.Google Scholar
Fileti Mazza, Miriam, and Bruna M. Tomasello. Galleria degli Uffizi. Un laboratorio culturale per Giuseppe Pelli Bencivenni. Modena, 2003.Google Scholar
Fileti Mazza, Miriam, Ettore Spalletti, and Bruna M. Tomasello. La Galleria “rinnovata” e “accresciuta.” Gli Uffizi nella prima epoca lorenese. Florence, 2008.Google Scholar
Findlen, Paula. “The Museum: Its Classical Etymology and Renaissance Genealogy.Journal of the History of Collections 1 (1989): 5978.10.1093/jhc/1.1.59CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Findlen, Paula. “Possessing the Past: The Material World of the Italian Renaissance.American Historical Review 103 (1998): 83114.10.2307/2650776CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Findlen, Paula. “The Modern Muses: Collecting and the Cult of Remembrance in Renaissance Italy.” In Museums and Memory. ed. Crane, Susan, 161–78. Stanford, 2000.Google Scholar
Findlen, Paula. “The Renaissance in the Museum.” In The Italian Renaissance in the Twentieth Century. ed. Grieco, Allen, Rocke, Michael, and Fiorella, Superbi, 93116. Florence, 2002.Google Scholar
Findlen, Paula. “Ereditare un museo. Collezionismo, strategie familiari e pratiche culturali nel Cinquecento.Quaderni storici 115 (2004): 4581.Google Scholar
Findlen, Paula. “Uffizi Gallery, Florence: The Rebirth of a Museum in the Eighteenth Century.” In The First Modern Museums of Art: Eighteenth-Century Culture and the Formation of an Institution. ed. Paul, Carole, 95133. Los Angeles, 2012.Google Scholar
Gaehgens, Thomas W., and Louis Marchesano. Display Art History: The Düsseldorf Gallery and Its Catalogue. Los Angeles, 2011.Google Scholar
Gage, Frances. “Exercise for Mind and Body: Giulio Mancini, Collecting, and the Beholding of Landscape in the Seventeenth Century.” Renaissance Quarterly 61.4 (2008): 1167–207.Google Scholar
Gauna, Chiara. La Storia pittorica di Luigi Lanzi: arti, storia e musei nel Settecento. Florence, 2003.Google Scholar
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. The Flight to Italy: Diary and Selected Letters. Trans. Reed, T. J.. Oxford, 1999.Google Scholar
Grasman, Edward. All’ombra del Vasari. Cinque saggi sulla storiografia dell’arte nell’Italia del Settecento. Florence, 2000.Google Scholar
Gregori, Mina. “Luigi Lanzi e il riordinamento della Galleria.” In Gli Uffizi (1983), 2: 367–93.Google Scholar
Grosley, Pierre Jean. Observation sur l’Italie et sur les italiens, données en 1764, sous le nom de deux gentilhommes svédois. 2 vols. Rev. ed., London, 1774.Google Scholar
Haskell, Francis, ed. Saloni, gallerie, musei e loro influenza sullo sviluppo dell’arte dei secoli XIX e XX. Bologna, 1979.Google Scholar
Haskell, Francis. Patrons and Painters: A Study of the Relations between Art and Society in the Age of the Baroque. New Haven, 1980.Google Scholar
Haskell, Francis. History and Its Images: Art and the Interpretation of the Past. New Haven, 1993.Google Scholar
Haskell, Francis. The Ephemeral Museum: Old Master Paintings and the Rise of the Art Exhibition. New Haven, 2000.Google Scholar
Heikamp, Detlef. “Zur Geschichte der Uffizien-Tribuna und der Kunstschränke im Florenz und Deutschland.Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 26 (1963): 193268.10.2307/1481600CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Heikamp, Detlef. “La Tribuna degli Uffizi come era nel Cinquecento.Antichità viva 3 (1964): 1130.Google Scholar
Heikamp, Detlef. “Le Musée des Offices au XVIIIe siècle: un inventair dessiné.L’Oeil 169 (1969): 211.Google Scholar
Lanzi, Luigi. Storia pittorica della Italia dal Risorgimento delle belle arti fin presso al fine del XVIII secolo. Ed. Capucci, Martino. 3 vols. Florence, 1968.Google Scholar
Lanzi, Luigi. La Real Galleria di Firenze accresciuta e riordinata per commando di S. A. R. l’Arciduca Granduca di Toscana. 1782. Ed. Fragini, Gabriella, Novello, Chiara, and Romei, Aurora. Reprint, Florence, 1982.Google Scholar
Lanzi, Luigi. Taccuino di Roma e di Toscana (1778–79 circa). Ed. Levi, Donata. Pisa, 2002.Google Scholar
Lanzi, Luigi. Lettere a Mauro Boni 17901809. Ed. Pastres, Paolo. Udine, 2009.Google Scholar
MacGregor, Arthur, and Oliver Impey, eds. The Origins of Museums: The Cabinet of Curiosities in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Oxford, 1985.Google Scholar
Mancini, Giulio. Considerazioni sulla pittura. Ed. Marucchi, Adriana. 2 vols. Rome, 1956.Google Scholar
Meijers, Debora J. Kunst als Natur. Die Habsburger Gemäldegalerie in Wien um 1780. Vienna, 1995.Google Scholar
Michelet, Jules. Renaissance. In Oeuvres complètes, ed. Paul, Viallaneix vol. 7. Paris, 1978.Google Scholar
Millar, Oliver. Zoffany and His Tribuna. London, 1966.Google Scholar
Natali, Antonio. “Il secolo dei ‘primitivi.’” In Il fasto e la ragione. Arte del Settecento a Firenze. ed. Sisi, Carlo and Spinelli, Riccardo, 1322. Florence, 2009.Google Scholar
Pasquinelli, Chiara. La galleria in esilio. Il trasferimento delle opere d'arte da Firenze a Palermo a cura del Cavalier Tommaso Puccini (1800–1803). Pisa, 2008.Google Scholar
Pasta, Renato, ed. Scritture dell’io fra pubblico e private. Rome, 2009.Google Scholar
Pelli Bencivenni, Giuseppe. Efemeridi. Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale, Florence N. A. 1050, I and II, 80 vols. 17591808. Serie I, vols. 1–30 and Serie II, vols. 1–18, ed. Pasta, Renato: Scholar
Pelli Bencivenni, Giuseppe. Saggio istorico della Real Galleria di Firenze. 2 vols. Florence, 1779.Google Scholar
Pelli Bencivenni, Giuseppe. Catalogo delle pitture della Regia Galleria. Gli Uffizi alla fine del Settecento. Ed. Mazza, Miriam Fileti and Tomasello, Bruna. Florence, 2004.Google Scholar
Pelli Bencivenni, Giuseppe. “Lettera di un dilettante sopra alcuni quadri del Granduca di Toscana (1777).” In Gli scritti di Giuseppe Pelli Bencivenni. Anagrafe storica. ed. Mazza, Miriam Fileti and Tomasello, Bruna M., 149–96. Florence, 2005.Google Scholar
Perini, Giovanna. “Dresden and the Italian Art Market: Ignazio Hugford and Giovanni Ludovico Bianconi.The Burlington Magazine 135 (1993): 550–59.Google Scholar
Pomian, Krzysztof. Collectors and Curiosities: Paris and Venice. 15001800. Trans. Elizabeth Wiles-Porter. Cambridge, 1990.Google Scholar
Pomier, Edouard. “From the Renaissance to the Enlightenment… through Antiquity: The Beginnings of the European Network of Museums.” In Finding Europe: Discourse on Margins, Communities, Images ca. 13th – ca. 18th Centuries. ed. Molho, Anthony, Curto, Diogo Ramada, and Koniordos, Niki, 314–34. New York, 2007.Google Scholar
Potts, Alex. Flesh and the Ideal: Winckelmann and the Origins of Art History. New Haven, 1994.Google Scholar
Previtali, Giovanni. La fortuna dei primitivi. Dal Vasari ai neoclassici. 1964. 2nd ed., Turin, 1989.Google Scholar
Riall, Lucy. Risorgimento: The History of Italy from Napoleon to the Nation State. London, 2009.10.1007/978-1-137-05797-6CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rossi, Massimiliano. Le fila del tempo. Il sistema storico di Luigi Lanzi. Florence, 2006.Google Scholar
Settis, Salvatore. L’Italia S.p.A. L’assolto al patrimonio culturale. Turin, 2002.Google Scholar
Spalletti, Ettore. La galleria di Pietro Leopoldo. Gli Uffizi al tempo di Giuseppe Pelli Bencivenni. Florence, 2010.Google Scholar
Starn, Randolph. “A Historian’s Brief Guide to New Museum Studies.American Historical Review 110 (2005): 6898.10.1086/531122CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Starn, Randolph. “How the Museum Never Became Modern: A Postmodern Tale.” In The Nineteenth-Century Process of “Musealization” in Hungary and Europe 17 (2007): 2942.Google Scholar
Tauber, Christine. Jacob Burckhardts Cicerone: eine Aufgabe zum Geneissen. Tübingen, 2000.10.1515/9783110929096CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tiraboschi, Girolamo. Storia della letteratura italiana. 4 vols. Milan, 1833.Google Scholar
Tribby, Jay. “Florence, Cultural Capital of Cultural Capital.The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation 35 (1994): 223–40.Google Scholar
Turner, A. Richard. Inventing Leonardo. Berkeley, 1994.Google Scholar
Gli Uffizi. Quattro secolo di una galleria. Ed. Barocchi, Paola and Ragionieri, Giovanna. 2 vols. Florence, 1983.Google Scholar
Valentini, Anita, ed. Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici Elettrice Palatina. Florence, 2005.Google Scholar
Vasari, Giorgio. Vite de’ più eccellenti pittori, scultori e architetti scritte da Giorgio Vasari pittore e architetto aretino corrette da molti errori e illustrate con note. Ed. Bottari, Giovanni. 3 vols. Rome, 1759–60.Google Scholar
Vasari, Giorgio. Vite de’ più eccellenti pittori, scultori e architetti scritte da M. Giorgio Vasari pittore e architetto aretino in questa prima edizione sanese arricchite più che in tutte l’altre precedente di rami, di giunte e di correzioni. Ed. Valle, Guglielmo della. 2 vols. Siena, 1791–94.Google Scholar
Voltaire, . Oeuvres complètes. Ed. Moland, Louis. 50 vols. Paris, 1877–85.Google Scholar
Wandruszka, Adam. Pietro Leopoldo. Un grande riformatore. Florence, 1968.Google Scholar
Whitehead, Jane S. “‘The Noblest Collection of Curiositys’: British Visitors to the Uffizi, 1650–1789.” In Gli Uffizi (1983), 1:287307.Google Scholar
Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

The 2012 Josephine Waters Bennett Lecture: The Eighteenth-Century Invention of the Renaissance: Lessons from the Uffizi*
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

The 2012 Josephine Waters Bennett Lecture: The Eighteenth-Century Invention of the Renaissance: Lessons from the Uffizi*
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

The 2012 Josephine Waters Bennett Lecture: The Eighteenth-Century Invention of the Renaissance: Lessons from the Uffizi*
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *