During a restoration of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, a team of construction workers happened upon an astounding discovery: a pair of frescoes — works painted quickly in watercolor on wet plaster — dating back as early as the 1600s. The paintings, depicting members of the wealthy banking Medici family, are thought to have been covered up in the 18th or 19th century, their existence hidden and unknown until now.
It’s fitting that the portraits would turn up at the Uffizi: the Italian Renaissance art museum was originally built as an office building for Florence’s magistrates and operated as a storage facility for the Medici’s extensive art collection.
The larger and more impressive of the two frescoes, attributed to the circle of Italian Mannerist painter Bernardino Poccetti, is a life-sized portrait of Cosimo II de Medici, the fourth duke of Tuscany and a patron of Galileo. At his feet are two women sitting beside a lion and a wolf, allegories of the cities of Florence and Siena.
“It was normal to have paintings of rulers over the doors in government offices and this one shows the young Cosimo showing off Florence’s conquest of Siena,” Uffizi director Eike Schmidt told the Times.
The second, smaller fresco is a tondo portrait of Cosimo’s father and predecessor, Duke Ferdinando I de Medici. Both paintings were likely plastered over when the rooms changed use. In another room, the team found several 18th century paintings featuring plant motifs on the walls and on the vault of the ceiling.
The Uffizi’s restoration, completed during the museum’s six-month closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, promises more than newly-unearthed treasures. The ambitious project will add over 21,000 square feet of space, freeing up 43 rooms on the ground floor and in the basement. When it reopens in May, visitors will also be able to visit the Medici family’s 16th-century horse stables under the museum grounds.
The frescoes will be on view to the public in the west wing of the Uffizi Gallery starting May 4.