Why Italy’s culture minister is furious with Florence’s Uffizi museum

Italy's new culture minister Gennaro Sangiuliano railed at Florence’s Uffizi museum after it remained closed over this week's public holiday.

Uffizi Museum, Florence.
The entrance of the Uffizi museum in Florence, Tuscany. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

A public spat has erupted between Italy’s new culture minister, Gennaro Sangiuliano, and the director of the Uffizi museum after the famed galleries remained closed on Monday, October 31st, disappointing thousands of tourists.

The Uffizi shut its sculpture and painting galleries on Monday despite the presence of many tourists in the city for the long weekend (or ‘ponte’) ending on All Saints’ Day, a national bank holiday.

Although the Uffizi is normally closed on Mondays, some Italian museums hold special openings on days when many tourists are expected in town, including over the early November holidays.

The museum was open again on Tuesday, but Italian Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano, who took up his post last month under the new government, said the closure was a “very serious” matter and demanded to know why the museum was not kept open.

“It does not escape your intelligence that a closure of this kind, in addition to constituting a loss of income, represents damage to the image of the Uffizi Galleries and the entire national museum system,” Sangiuliano wrote on Wednesday.

The Uffizi’s German director, Eike Schmidt, shot back, thanking the minister for “speaking with great candour” before explaining the museum’s constraints, from work contracts to outside contractors, and saying requests to the culture ministry for more staff being denied “for years”.

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In the case of the Uffizi and other state museums, staff hiring is the responsibility of the ministry, wrote Schmidt, who has headed the institution since 2015.

Schmidt also added that he was “just as shocked” as Sangiuliano, but, he said, the government must intervene.

“Unfortunately, the problem of understaffing is endemic throughout virtually the entire national museum, library and archival landscape: it is now unsolvable without a sharp and decisive intervention from the centre, reversing the established practice of recent years,” Schmidt wrote. 

The Uffizi display some of the greatest masterpieces of Italian art, including works from Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Caravaggio and Titian.

Some 1.7 million people visited the Uffizi in 2021, according to the museum – more than Rome’s Colosseum, the ruins of Pompeii and the Vatican Museums.

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Falling Christmas decorations cause ‘irreversible damage’ to Italy’s Verona Arena

The Verona Arena, one of Italy’s most iconic landmarks, was closed to the public after a giant steel Christmas decoration collapsed while being taken down on Monday.

Falling Christmas decorations cause 'irreversible damage' to Italy's Verona Arena

The accident happened in the late morning of Monday, January 24th but was only revealed to national media late in the evening. 

Verona’s Archaeology and Fine Arts Superintendent, Vincenzo Tinè, told Ansa that the steel comet fell to the ground as it was being lifted out of the amphitheatre.

The structure – 82 metres in length and weighing around 78 tons – reportedly defaced a section of the arena’s stands, with Tinè describing the damage to the venue as “irreversible” earlier on Tuesday. 

Local police sealed off the area immediately after the accident, and prosecutor Alberto Sergi was reportedly set to launch an official inquiry into the collapse.

Repair works were expected to take weeks, and it wasn’t known how long the arena would remain closed to the public.

Well-known figures from Italy’s art world commented on the accident, with controversial art critic Vittorio Sgarbi saying the steel comet, which has been used as part of the building’s Christmas decorations since 1984, should “never be let into the arena again”.

A Roman amphitheatre dating back to around 30 AD, the Verona Arena is widely regarded as one of the best-preserved ancient buildings of its kind.

To this day, the building is used as a venue for some of the most important large-scale opera performances in the world.