The world-renowned Uffizi Galleries in Florence have reopened to the public, following a year of sporadic covid-related closures and the remapping of new rooms.
“There is a great thirst for culture,” remarked the director Eike Schmidt. “We hope that the recovery can be solid and permanent. We are optimistic.”
Since 1998, the ‘Nuovi Uffizi’ project has gradually renovated the museum, which is housed in a complex sixteenth-century building originally designed by Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574). The latest instalment in the project includes a 2,000 square metre exhibition space containing never before displayed works.
Visitors can explore 22 new rooms on the ground floor and basement, with a hall dedicated to self-portraits by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680), Marc Chagall (1887-1985) and Renato Guttuso (1911-1987). There are 13 new rooms on the first floor that exhibit 129 works from the high and late Renaissance of central and northern Italy.
One of the first visitors at the grand reopening on Tuesday was furloughed office worker Giacomo. “I wanted to be one of the first people to return to the Uffizi,” he declared. “I wanted to spend some time with the Birth of Venus. I’ve been thinking about the painting a lot.”
Like many museums across the world, the Uffizi’s visitor numbers dramatically declined last year from 4.4 million in 2019 to 1.2 million in 2020. The spread of coronavirus caused numerous nationwide lockdowns in Italy, which forced public buildings to close their doors and deterred vital tourism. “We’re waiting for the return of the Americans,” explained Schmidt. “When the moment arrives, we will also be ready to welcome the European tourists.”
But when international tourists finally return to the Uffizi, some will be restricted by their new social media rules. Those wanting to post photos of the museum’s collection online for commercial purposes, such as Instagram influencers, will need to pay a monthly fee. Uffizi representatives say the policy will only apply to those using the artworks “to sell jeans” for example, rather than visitors posting for “personal and private use“.
This is an about-turn for the museum, which had previously encouraged social media stars to post photos of the museum. In July 2020 visitor numbers rose by 27% after Italian influencer Chiara Ferragni, who has 23 million followers on Instagram, posted an image of herself stood in front of ‘The Birth of Venus’ by Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510). During the pandemic, the Uffizi was also one of the first major cultural institutions to join TikTok.
Speaking about the museum’s striking modernisation in recent years, Schmidt said “as we get closer to the contemporary age, it’s very important that paradigms have shifted, and so have our paradigms shifted.”