Let’s face it: Renaissance art can be a hard sell to kids. But my husband and I didn’t want to miss the Uffizi Gallery, unquestionably one of the world’s great museums, a treasure-trove of—you guessed it—Italian Renaissance art. (What else would you expect inside a former Medici palace in Florence?) Fortunately, we found a strategy that clicked: We made our visit to the Uffizi into a treasure hunt.
Here’s how it worked: In the earlier rooms, you’ll see painting after painting of the classic Madonna and Child pose, each artist giving his own distinctive take. We asked our youngsters to study them all (kids like looking at pictures of kids anyway) to see how through the ages the babies began to look more realistic. We also pointed out the flat, stylized backgrounds of the earlier paintings so that they could see how the scenes became deeper and more natural as painters developed the art of perspective.
A new theme starts in rooms 10 to 14, the Botticelli rooms—the highlight of the Uffizi for most visitors, me included. In the mid-1400s, classical mythology had become a popular subject, and so we looked for pictures of Venus, the goddess of beauty—which pointed us straight to the Uffizi’s ultimate masterpiece, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. (Consider whether or not you want to tell them its nickname, “Venus on the Half Shell,” because once you tell them they won’t ever think of it as anything else.) We found ourselves even more engrossed by Botticelli’s Allegory of Spring, or Primavera, which depicts Venus in a citrus grove with Cupid hovering suggestively over her head. Outside the room, look for Botticelli’s Adoration of the Magi, in which many figures are Medici portraits (the man in the yellow robe at the far right is Botticelli); compare it to Leonardo da Vinci’s unfinished Adoration in room 15. To carry on the Venus theme, check out the Greek statue Venus of the Medici in beautiful room 18 with its dome of pearl shells, and a couple of voluptuous Titian Venuses in room 28.
In rooms 23 to 25, get the kids to notice how art began to embrace storytelling by looking for episodes in the life of Jesus—Correggio’s Rest on the Flight to Egypt; Andrea Mantagna’s Epiphany, Circumcision, and Ascension; and, in room 25, Michelangelo’s magnificent Holy Family.
Speaking of Michelangelo, it’s too bad you have to pay another admission fee (and wait in line) to enter the Galleria dell’Accademia, Via Ricasoll 60, where the only thing the kids will want to see is Michelangelo’s colossal statue of David. We cut our losses, looked instead at the inferior copy outdoors in the Piazza della Signoria, and then headed out to St. Mark’s Museum, Museo di San Marco; Piazza San Marco 1. Originally a Dominican convent, its bleak, bare cells are decorated with frescoes by the mystical Fra Angelico, one of Europe’s greatest 15th-century painters. You’ve been telling the kids for years not to write on the walls, but oh, if they could create scenes like these, you’d let them paint their hearts out.