By Gonzalo Sánchez / Rome / The Uffizi Galleries in Florence remain under lock and key due to the coronavirus pandemic but on Sunday opened their doors to some of its Spanish artwork in a virtual guided tour on Facebook.
“We want to open a window to the Spanish culture and naturally the relationship between our countries,” museum director Eike Schmidt tells Efe via video.
The Uffizi, one of the most important art galleries in Italy, has a vast collection of Spanish art in its hallways and rooms treasured by the House of Medici and later the House of Habsburg Lorraine, who ruled Tuscany from 1734 until 1859.
The corridors of this museum in the heart of the historic city of Florence are empty of tourists because of the government restrictions on movement and gatherings in Italy.
But those on social media can every Sunday get a glimpse of some of Uffizi’s collections from the Spanish Golden Age, including pieces by Velázquez, Berruguete, El Greco and Zurbarán as well as later works by Goya.
It also harbors several hundred drawings from Baroque and the Spanish Renaissance periods.
It comes part of the museum’s Uffizi in Castellano initiative.
“These designs are generally less known because in order to conserve them they must be stored away from the light and we only show them every five years. Art aficionados can make new discoveries,” the director adds.
The other aim of the virtual gallery is to highlight the cultural links between Spain and Italy, two of Europe’s worst-affected countries by the coronavirus pandemic.
The first work to be explored was the Virgin and Child by Sevillan Bartolomé Esteban Murillo. It is a symbolic choice given the painting was completed in 1650, a year after Seville lost half its population to a plague.
They were difficult years for Murillo in a city in full economic and social decline, but despite the situation he was able to create a masterpiece that was later “possibly” acquired by the Grand Duke of Tuscany Fernando III and brought into his collection.
Nowadays the piece hangs in the Mars Room of the grandiose Palazzo Pitti and its story is detailed in the virtual tour by expert Alejandra Micheli.
Murillo, who trained in late naturalism and was a master of Baroque style, gave Mary an almost melancholic look as she holds the Baby Jesus, who looks on with an element of — it could be said — curiosity.
Each weekend the Uffizi will explore a different Spanish artist.
Among the next examples, the director says, will be the three works by Francisco de Goya, including Portrait of a Bullfighter, as well as the famous self-portrait by Velázquez.
In 2019, the Uffizi Galleries welcomed around 4.4 million visitors. It was a time of normality, but now with the quarantine measures in place across the nation the museum is closed off. But it refuses to keep its contents completely behind closed doors.
Like many other museums, it has taken its collection to the digital world, allowing its followers to tour its halls via videolink.
“Art is not an island where you can withdraw and close your eyes but rather it should be a catalyst for life. It would be wrong to close the doors and stop interacting with the public,” the director says.
While the Uffizi’s hallways are screened to people’s mobile phones, Schmidt is one of the only people allowed in the museum, along with the guards.
He says the halls are host to an acoustic vacuum without the tourists and visitors.
From the outside, the sound of sirens creeps into the museum every 10 to 15 minutes. (April 19, 2020, EFE/PracticaEspañol)
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