‘Eternalizing Art History’: NFTs of six Italian masterpieces exhibited in London

Last week, Unit Gallery in London opened a pioneering new exhibition titled ‘Eternalizing Art History: From Da Vinci to Modigliani’, featuring six NFTs from major Italian museums. The objects exhibited are authorized digital copies shown on screens and mounted in handmade replicas of the original frames. The buyer of the works receives both the physical components (the screen, a built-in drive that generates the image, the replica frame and a certificate of authenticity) as well as the digital elements (the NFT and a unique login to the app).

The original six paintings which have been digitally transformed include two works by Leonardo da Vinci, Head of a Woman and Portrait of a Musician, Raphael’s Madonna of the Goldfinch, Caravaggio’s Bowl of Fruit, The Kiss by Francesco Hayez and Head of a Young Lady by Amedeo Modigliani. Each work is available in a series of nine, with prices ranging between €100,000 and €250,000. The museums who own the original paintings are the Pinacoteca di Brera and the Ambrosian Library in Milan, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and the Complesso Monumentale della Pilotta in Parma.  

Those involved in the project have indicated that a primary aim is to bring the works of art to a much wider audience, and the original paintings chosen are ones which could not be lent for an exhibition due to their fragile condition. As a result, 50% of the money raised from the sale of these NFTs will go to the conservation of the original paintings. The remaining 50% will be split between the Unit Gallery and the tech company involved in the creation of the digital artworks, Cinello.

Joe Kennedy, the director of Unit Gallery, told Artnet News that there had been “overwhelming interest” in the digital artworks so far, and that he expected both institutions and private buyers to purchase them. Kennedy also made it clear that the digital works are “not intended to compete with the original paintings” and that “they act as a storytelling tool which ensures these iconic works live on through new generations of art enthusiasts and only enhances the magical experience of viewing the original painting in person”. But not everyone seems to agree with Kennedy. Serena Tabacchi, Cinellos’ partnership manager, claimed the experience of viewing the original and digital versions were indistinguishable.

This is not the first time museums have offered NFT versions of iconic art works. The British Museum has recently sold reproductions of Turner and Hokusai pieces as NFTs, which art critic Bendor Grosvenor has condemned in The Art Newspaper, writing: “Sure, you can call your Turner NFT “art” if you like, but only in the same way a £5 note is art because it has a portrait of the Queen on it.” Whatever your opinion on the world of digital art, it is evidently popular, with events such as the “Immersive Van Gogh” experiences attracting many.

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