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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*
Affiliation:
Stanford University

Abstract

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.

Type
Studies
Copyright
Copyright © 2013 The University of Chicago Press

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Footnotes

*

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.

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