Foreign hires rattle Italy’s art world

The controversial shakeup of Italy’s top museums has divided art experts across the country, with the ex-director of Florence's Uffizi Gallery particularly bitter about losing his job to a German.

Foreign hires rattle Italy's art world
Culture Minister Dario Franceschini is seeking radical reforms to promote the country's art collection. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/

Seven foreigners are among the 20 new directors appointed by the government to run some of the world’s most popular museums in a bid to lift their patronage and performance.

Antonio Natali, who has run the renowned Uffizi Gallery in Florence since 2006, was particularly bitter about being replaced by 47-year-old German art historian, Eike Schmidt.

“It was clear that they wanted to turn the page,” Natali told the Florence daily, La Nazione. “So there was no possibility for me to be reconfirmed.”

Then in a swipe at his foreign replacement, he said: “I knew I would not win the bid for the Uffizi when the government statistics office told me I could not change my name to Anthony Christmas. ”

Culture Minister Dario Franceschini is seeking radical reforms to promote the country's art collections, by expanding opening hours, renovating buildings and developing new products.

Among the 10 men and 10 women appointed by the culture minister are 14 art historians and four archaeologists. Of the 20 appointees, 13 are Italian.

Art critic Philippe Daverio was scathing about the government’s appointments, saying they were “absurd choices”.

“These are not the top names,” Daverio told Italian daily Corriere Della Sera. “These decisions reveal a government that has thrown in the towel.”

Tomaso Montanari, a critic and art professor at the University of Naples Federico II, expressed dismay over the government’s failure to utilize experts inside its own culture ministry.

“The cultural ministry’s administration has no one ready to manage a museum?” Montanari said.

“First you have to make the museums function and then look for directors. They have instead started with the ‘generals’ without thinking of the ‘troops’.”

But Adriano La Regina, the president of the National Institute of Archeology and Art History, said it was the “right move”.

“Finally, particular criteria will be adopted even by us,” La Regina said. “We live in a world without barriers in the culture sector.”

Achille Bonito Oliva, professor of art history at La Sapienza University, said: “For once merit had been recognized. All the appointments are of the highest level.”

While Schmidt will run the famous Uffizi Gallery, another German, Cecilie Hollberg, 48, will head the city's Accademia Gallery.

The Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan will be headed by a 59-year-old Briton, James Bradburne.

With these 20 appointments “the organization of Italian museums will turn a page and recover from decades of delay,” said Franceschini

Despite boasting works by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Caravaggio, Italy fails to attract the number of visitors that are seen in top museums abroad like the Louvre and the British Museum.

“We are turning a page,” said Franceschini. “With these appointments, Italy’s museums will make up for lost decades. It is a historic step for Italy and its museums that will establish the basis for a modernisation of our museum system.” 

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La Bella Vita: Free Italian museum tickets, Sanremo, and real spaghetti carbonara

From seeing Italy's best sights for free to avoiding crimes against Italian food, new weekly newsletter La Bella Vita offers you an essential starting point for eating, talking, drinking and living like an Italian.

La Bella Vita: Free Italian museum tickets, Sanremo, and real spaghetti carbonara

La Bella Vita is our regular look at the real culture of Italy – from language to cuisine, manners to art. This new newsletter will be published weekly and you can receive it directly to your inbox, by going to newsletter preferences in ‘My Account’ or follow the instructions in the newsletter box below.

The cold weather and grey skies mean February is the month when I’m most tempted to stay at home and keep warm, preferably with an Italian hot chocolate. But it’s a shame to stay in when there’s so much to do and see in Italy, even at this time of year.

Carnival season officially kicks off this weekend, bringing much-needed colour and joy to towns and cities across Italy at what would otherwise be a pretty dull time of year. The most famous Carnival of all is of course in Venice, and this year’s edition promises a return to its former grand scale after three years of limited celebrations.

If you’re thinking of attending this year, here’s our quick guide to the events and what to expect:

Venice Carnival: What to expect if you’re attending in 2023

A masked reveller wearing a traditional carnival costume In St Mark's Square, Venice

The 2023 Venice Carnival will start with a floating parade down the Grand Canal on February 4th. Photo by Andrea PATTARO / AFP

Another reason to get out and about this weekend is Domenica al Museo or ‘free museum Sundays’, when museums and other sites open their doors ticket-free on the first Sunday of every month.

As admission to major historical monuments and museums in Italy often costs upwards of €15 per person, there are big savings to be made and the free Sundays scheme is understandably popular among both tourists and residents.

Free entry applies to hundreds of state-run museums, archaeological parks and monuments, including world-famous sites like the Colosseum, Pompeii, Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia, the Reggia di Caserta and Trieste’s Miramare Castle. See further details in our article:

What you need to know about Italy’s free museum Sundays

There is however at least one good reason to stay in and watch some Italian TV: The Sanremo Music Festival returns on Tuesday, February 7th, and it will likely be the main topic of conversation all week.

If you’re a fan of Eurovision, you’re pretty much guaranteed to love it. But some people don’t find the appeal of the show immediately obvious, to put it mildly.

So what is it about the festival that pulls together an entire nation, regardless of whether they fall into the ‘love it’ or ‘hate it’ camp? We looked at just why this 73-year-old song contest is such an Italian institution.

Why is the Sanremo music festival so important to Italians?

In the latest international Italian food controversy, Italian media reacted with anger and dismay this week to a recipe published in the New York Times for ‘tomato carbonara’, which recommended adding tomato sugo along with the eggs, and replacing pork cheek and pecorino with bacon and parmesan – an adaptation which was described as “provocative”, “disgusting”, and a “declaration of war”.

For anyone who doesn’t want to traumatise their Italian dinner guests or risk sparking a diplomatic incident, here’s the classic recipe plus a look at the rules to follow when making a real Roman-style carbonara:

The ten unbreakable rules for making real pasta carbonara

However, you might be surprised to hear that adding cream – or tomato – to your carbonara recipe isn’t actually the worst food crime you could commit according to Italians.

From fruity pizza toppings to spaghetti bolognese, an international study revealed which of the most common international ‘adaptations’ are seen as most and least offensive.

RANKED: The 11 worst food crimes you can commit according to Italians

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Is there an aspect of the Italian way of life you’d like to see us write more about on The Local? Please email me at [email protected]