Italian court overturns appointment of museum directors

A plan from Italy's Culture Ministry to revive its museums by hiring international experts has hit an embarrassing setback, after a court overturned some of the appointments made in a high-profile recruitment campaign.

Italian court overturns appointment of museum directors
Culture Minister Dario Franceschini pictured in December 2016. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said on Thursday that he would appeal the decision from a Lazio administrative court, adding that he was “speechless” after the ruling.

“The world has seen Italian museums change in two years and now the Lazio administrative tribunal annuls the appointment of five directors. I have no words, and it's better that way…”

The court threw out five of the 20 appointments made in 2015, including directors of cultural sites in in Naples, Taranto, Reggio Calabria, Mantua and Modena. The appointments were made as part of a move to revive Italy's struggling museums by bringing in foreign expertise.

Only one of the five was a foreigner: Austrian art historian Peter Assmann, who was hired to manage Mantua's Ducal Palace.

Other foreign hires – including Eike Schmidt, the German director of Florence's world famous Uffizi gallery – were spared in the ruling, however the judges called into question the decision to hire foreigners to run Italian museums as well as other aspects of the hiring process including transparency of the process and the evaluation criteria used.

The Culture Ministry refuted these claims, saying the recruitment had been carried out “in accordance with not only European and national law but also with the highest international standards, as recognized by the International Council of Museums”.

What's more, the ministry credited the overhaul with an increase of 7.5 million annual visitors to the country's museums in 2016, compared to three years earlier.

READ MORE: Italy hunts for more foreign directors in museum shake-up

Before the shake-up under Matteo Renzi's government in 2015, only native Italians were able to apply for jobs running cultural sites.

Franceschini's high-profile reform plan saw the ministry recruit overseas to find new directors for some of the country's under-performing cultural treasures, in a bid to boost cultural revenue and visitors by bringing in foreign expertise. Renzi on Thursday described the plan as one of the choices he “was and remains most proud of” from his time as PM.

Hundreds applied for the roles, though some art experts criticized the move. Eike Schmidt's predecessor at the Uffizi gallery, Antonio Natali, appeared particularly bitter at the replacement.

“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,” said Natali, apparently suggesting that the choice to bring in foreigners was tokenism or a PR move.

At the time, Culture Minister Dario Franceschini said that with the 20 appointments, “the organization of Italian museums will turn a page and recover from decades of delay”.

READ ALSO: Why you've never heard of Italy's best museumWhy you've never heard of Italy's best museum
Photo: Gengish Skan/Flickr

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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.