Italy’s fresh new idea to combat COVID-19

In front of Botticelli’s Venus, people take selfies. David’s manhood in close-up. Bottlenecks forming on the way to the popular Duomo’s summit.

Florence was dealing with overtourism during the halcyon prepandemic period. And at the heart of it all was the Uffizi Gallery, one of the world’s most renowned museums.

At its peak, 12,000 visitors a day came in, most of them speeding past the Renaissance paintings to take selfies with the major names: Botticelli’s Venus, Michelangelo’s Holy Family, and Titian’s Venus of Urbino.

Furthermore, so many visitors were acting poorly that the Florentine authorities were forced to implement a good behaviour programme, Enjoy Respect Florence, with penalties of up to €500 (US$608) for those found picnicking outside, sitting on, or graffiti-ing monuments.

Of course, the pandemic has put an end to all of this. However, before travel resumes, the director of the Uffizi needs to ensure that things will not revert to their previous state. Is there a way to be certain of that? Visitors are being diverted away from Florence.

This is where the Uffizi Diffusi project comes in. It’s a reimagining of Italy’s “scattered hotel” model, in which individual “rooms” are housed in various houses throughout the village.

In this initiative, artworks from the Uffizi’s deposit will be displayed throughout Tuscany, transforming the country’s most famous region into one large “scattered” museum.

Around Tuscany, towns and villages are now nominating buildings that could be used as exhibition spaces.

The idea came to Uffizi director Eike Schmidt during the 2020 lockdown, and he’s spent most of the time the museum has been closed working out new locations and artwork pairings, according to CNN Travel.

What is the goal? He hopes to “develop a new form of tourism,” adding that it will “land culture in people’s everyday lives” for locals.

He went on to say, “Art can’t exist on major galleries alone.”

“We need multiple exhibition spaces throughout the area, especially in the places where art was created.”

Schmidt isn’t the first artist to lend artwork to a group. In 2019, on the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death, he sent a landscape drawing by the artist to his hometown of Vinci.

He also claims that a 2019 exhibition in Anghiari on the 15th-century Battle of Anghiari, in eastern Tuscany, quadrupled the previous record for visits to the local museum.

“The Uffizi is not an isolated museum in the middle of nowhere,” he said at the time, describing the Vinci project as a “special opportunity to see this drawing and then move out into the landscape” depicted in the work of art.

Schmidt has hinted that the new Uffizi Diffusi project would include “at least 60, maybe even 100 exhibition spaces” across Tuscany, including a villa once owned by the Medici family in Montelupo Fiorentino, half an hour west of Florence; port city Livorno; belle epoque spa town Montecatini Terme; and Careggi, where another Medici villa once stood.

Other towns willing to be a part of the project have begun offering properties, including the art nouveau coastal town of Viareggio (pictured above), Seravezza (where there’s another Medici villa), and Lucca, which is offering its Palazzo Ducale, the town’s seat of power since the 14th century.

It’s not just the exhibition spaces that are having a makeover. Schmidt added that the initiative is also a “opportunity for certain works to be revived.”

The art, on the other hand, has a serious purpose. As Florence prepares for a resurgence of mass tourism, Schmidt hopes that the Uffizi Diffusi project will relieve the pressure, promising works by “well-known names” to help disperse the crowds.

“It’s also critical at a local level,” he told CNN, “creating new jobs and stable employment.”

He also said that he wants to get Tuscans closer to their roots, claiming that the new “cultural structure is too dependent on overseas tourism.”

Locals often visit the Uffizi in search of works by artists from their own villages. However, the overall experience could distract from their enjoyment of the one painting they came to see, or the painting may be in storage rather than on display.

The Uffizi Diffusi seeks to return art to its origins, linking people directly to their ancestors.

If you’re visiting Florence, don’t worry about missing out on the art; there’s plenty to go around.

Schmidt told CNN, “We already have over 3,000 pieces of art on display in the Uffizi — that’s enough.”

“In a calmer, more intimate atmosphere, the Uffizi Diffusi will bring to light works of art that no one can see right now.”

The project’s first step is expected to begin this summer.