A Relationship worth Celebrating

A Relationship worth Celebrating 

An exciting exhibition, titled ‘Islam and Florence, Collecting Art, from the Medici to the 20th Century’, signals that change is under way at the renowned Uffizi Gallery in Florence, as William Ward, its global media consultant, explains

Given that the Uffizi Gallery in Florence houses the best collection of Renaissance art in the world, its past directors can, perhaps, be forgiven for maintaining their focus over the years on the masterpieces by Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Michelangelo, along with others, that hang on the interior walls of this glorious, historic building.

A Corridor in the Uffizi Gallery


Yet all that changed three years ago when the gallery’s newly appointed director, Professor Eike Schmidt, decided that the time was ripe to begin focussing more on curating outstanding temporary exhibitions. 

Fast forward to today and the Uffizi’s current exhibition, titled ‘Islam and Florence, Collecting Art, from the Medici to the 20th Century’, is the latest example of this highly successful strategy and one of the gallery’s highlights of recent years.

Curated by Professor Giovanni Curatola, Italy's leading expert on Islamic art and history, the show runs until September 23, 2018, across the Uffizi and the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, as well as a couple of other minor locations.

William Ward, the Uffizi’s global media consultant, explained that the move to create a more dynamic calendar is just one of several decisions taken by Prof. Schmidt that are revolutionising operations at the Uffizi.

“Professor Schmidt has also renovated some of the most important rooms in the gallery, including the rooms featuring Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Michelangelo and Raphael, rehanging the paintings behind the latest kind of protective, reflection-free glass, bringing about major changes in the way that the pictures are displayed,” he said. 

The Museum of the Treasury of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany in Palazzo Pitti


Other strategies adopted by Prof. Schmidt include a decision to tackle the long-running problem of touts who scam customers by luring them to fake websites and selling them tickets for the Uffizi at inflated prices.

“The director’s somewhat unusual, but effective plan for addressing the issue was to stand outside the gallery with a loudspeaker and warn prospective visitors against buying from touts,” Ward told Artscoops. “He informed them exactly how much the tickets should cost and advised them to only buy tickets from the official website, which is www.uffizi.it.”

While these and the many other innovations signal that change is under way at the Uffizi, they certainly do nothing to detract from its majestic charm, rich history and status as one of the world’s leading galleries.

Designed by the architect Giorgio Vasari, and built between 1560-1580, the gallery stands proudly in the historic centre of Florence, while holding its own against the Louvre, Paris, the National Gallery, London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York, and the Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, for prestigious works displayed. 


Palazzo Pitti viewed from the Boboli Gardens

However, while these and other international museums feature an eclectic mix of work, the Uffizi is focused overwhelmingly on Italian art.

“This is partly because the Renaissance took place in Florence, so the Uffizi didn’t much need to buy from outside and also due to a cultural tendency here to be somewhat inward looking and self-sufficient,” Ward explained. 

Another trait that sets the Uffizi apart from other leading galleries is its age, which, while adding to its attractions in many ways, inevitably presents challenges, including those of a logistical nature.

The Internal side of the Loggiato of the Uffizi Gallery


“The Uffizi is U-shaped, which can make the process of moving from floor to floor more complicated than in some buildings,” Ward said. “Another challenge it faces is that the gallery’s location in central Florence means there is not much room for expansion – although Prof. Schmidt has found some ingenious solutions to doing so. This means that we have to think very creatively with little space.”

In recent years, the Uffizi has merged with two other historical gems – the Palazzo Pitti, which also contains a highly impressive art collection, and the magnificent Boboli Gardens – in a move that could help to ease the problem of space constraints. Somewhat fittingly, the three entities are linked by the legendary – and currently inaccessible - Vasari corridor that spans the Arno atop the Ponte Vecchio. The passageways are lined with portraits of famous Renaissance painters and, while currently closed to visitors, Ward tells Artscoops that there are plans to reopen it in the future. 


The Island of the Boboli Gardens


Against this backdrop of change, Ward describes the Uffizi’s ‘Islam and Florence Exhibition’ as fascinating on many levels.

“First it illustrates beautifully that Florence was already a hub of trade and cultural activity in the 12th and 13th centuries, doing business with developing Islamic centres, such as Damascus and Cairo, and, later on, other regional cities, including Istanbul and Jerusalem,” he said. “Surprisingly, this has rarely been discussed locally, primarily, I think, because Italy, in general, and Florence in particular, already has a glut of fantastic art, and has never found the time or energy to highlight culture riches from elsewhere. It’s simply not been part of the national narrative.”

The exhibition, Ward continued, represents an attempt to celebrate the relationship, giving it full status and honours, while compensating for the lack of acknowledgment to date.

Illustrating the pivotal part that Florence played in interfaith and intercultural exchange over the centuries, the retrospective showcases an array of art and objects from the archives that ranges from sumptuous carpets to ornate vases, in a true, first-time display of East meets West. 


‘Islam and Florence, Collecting Art, from the Medici to the 20th Century’
June 22 – September 23, 2018
Galleria degli Uffizi
info: www.uffizi.it
Museo Nazionale del Bargello
info: www.bargellomusei.beniculturali.it 

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