A public spat over staffing has erupted between Italy’s new culture minister and Florence’s Uffizi museum, after the famed galleries were closed over a holiday, disappointing thousands of tourists.
The Uffizi shut its sculpture and painting galleries on Monday despite the presence of many tourists in the Renaissance city on a long weekend due to Tuesday’s national holiday, All Saints’ Day.
Although the Uffizi is normally closed on Monday, some museums hold special openings on days when many tourists are expected in town, such as over the extended holiday weekend.
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 “very serious” 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 Nov. 3.
The Uffizi’s German director, Eike Schmidt, shot back, thanking the minister for “speaking with great candor,” before providing a detailed explanation of the museum’s constraints, from work contracts to outside contractors, including requests to the culture ministry for more staff being denied “for years”.
In the case of the Uffizi and other state museums, the staff hiring is the responsibility of the ministry, wrote Schmidt, who has headed the institution since 2015, in a statement.
Schmidt said he was “just as scandalized” as Sangiuliano, but, he said, intervention from the state was needed.
“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 center, reversing the established practice of recent years,” Schmidt wrote.
The Uffizi on the banks of the Arno River display some of the greatest masterpieces of Italian painting, including 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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