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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Why Friday the 13th isn’t an unlucky date in Italy

Unlucky for some, but not for Italians. Here's why today's date isn't a cause for concern in Italy - but Friday the 17th is.

Why Friday the 13th isn't an unlucky date in Italy

When Friday the 13th rolls around, many of us from English-speaking countries might reconsider any risky plans. And it’s not exactly a popular date for weddings in much of the western world.

But if you’re in Italy, you don’t need to worry about it.

There’s no shortage of strongly-held superstitions in Italian culture, particularly in the south. But the idea of Friday the 13th being an inauspicious date is not among them.

Though the ‘unlucky 13’ concept is not unknown in Italy – likely thanks to the influence of American film and TV – here the number is in fact usually seen as good luck, if anything.

The number 17, however, is viewed with suspicion and Friday the 17th instead is seen as the unlucky date to beware of.

Just as some Western airlines avoid including the 13th row on planes, you might find number 17 omitted on Italian planes, street numbering, hotel floors, and so on – so even if you’re not the superstitious type, it’s handy to be aware of.

The reason for this is thought to be because in Roman numerals the number 17 (XVII) is an anagram of the Latin word VIXI, meaning ‘I have lived’: the use of the past tense apparently suggests death, and therefore bad luck. It’s less clear what’s so inauspicious about Friday.

So don’t be surprised if, next time Friday 17th rolls around, you notice some Italian shops and offices closed per scaramanzia’.

But why then does 13 often have a positive connotation in Italy instead?

You may not be too surprised to learn that it’s because of football.

Ever heard of Totocalcio? It’s a football pools betting system in which players long tried to predict the results of 13 different matches.

There were triumphant calls of ho fatto tredici! – ‘I’ve done thirteen’ – among those who got them all right. The popular expression soon became used in other contexts to mean ‘I hit the jackpot’ or ‘that was a stroke of luck!’

From 2004, the number of games included in Totocalcio rose to 14, but you may still hear winners shout ‘ho fatto tredici’ regardless.

Other common Italian superstitions include touching iron (not wood) for good luck, not toasting with water, and never pouring wine with your left hand.