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June 7, 2020

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Italian masterpieces without the masses

THE Uffizi Galleries, the most-visited museum in Italy, is open after three months of the COVID-19 lockdown, delighting art lovers who don’t have to jostle with throngs of tourists thanks to new social distancing rules.

Uffizi Director Eike Schmidt said the government-ordered museum closures translated to a million fewer visitors and 12 million euros (US$13.2 million) in lost revenue.

Now, no more than 450 people at a time can enter the Uffizi’s many galleries, which feature some of the art world’s greatest masterpieces.

Consequently, visitors are no longer required to elbow their way through crowds to admire masterpieces like Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus.”

First in line at the Uffizi was Laura Ganino, who was studying in Florence when the lockdown commenced in early March and will soon leave the Tuscan city, as Italians are now free to travel around the country.

Schmidt said foreign tourists aren’t expected to visit Italy again in large numbers until next year.

Ganino took advantage of the smaller number of visitors. Crowds, she said, pose “an obstacle between me and what I’m observing.”

Right behind her in line was Patrizia Spagnese, from Prato in Tuscany.

With crowds, “I get distracted, I tend to tire easily,” she said.

Along with her husband, she’s been eager to savor the rare experience of breathing room in the Uffizi, which she had never seen in its entirety despite several visits to Florence.

Schmidt said social distancing heralds a new era for art museums.

Devoid of large crowds, art lovers can better “feel the emotions these works of art always transmit,” he said.

Visitors to the highly popular Vatican Museums, which reopened two days before Uffizi, will also experience viewing opportunities rarely available in the past.

These include enjoying Michelangelo’s frescoed ceiling in the Sistine Chapel without competing with throngs of foreign tourists.

As an added bonus, visitors can see recently restored works by Raphael, painted shortly before his death in 1520.

Art scholars long thought these paintings were the work of someone else. The restoration process, however, made clear they couldn’t have been painted by anyone but the Italian master.

Two female figures, each with one bare breast and serving as allegorical representations of justice and friendship, decorate one of the Hall of Constantine’s walls.

The Vatican had planned to unveil the restored work of Raphael at an international convention of art experts in April, but the event was cancelled because of the pandemic.

Instead, rank-and-file art lovers visiting the Vatican rooms decorated by Raphael will have a much clearer view of Raphael’s masterpieces, created with oil-based paint — very unusual for that time.



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