Major museums in Italy look towards the future

Italian leading museums and cultural sites are laying down plans for post-lockdown phase these days, according to strict safety protocols to avoid coronavirus contagion, and hoping in a new relationship with visitors.

The Italian government set May 18 as the first possible day for them to open their doors again since early March, yet many are still in a preparatory stage, while others decided for a gradual restart.

In the capital, Rome’s major Capitoline Museum on Tuesday welcomed their first visitors, who were allowed to enter only after having their temperature measured by scanners and their hands sanitized at the entrance.

To enjoy the Capitoline’s varied art collection, they also had to respect social distancing inside, as required by the protocols.

One section of another prominent Italian museum, the Boboli Gardens of the Uffizi Galleries in Florence will reopen on Thursday.

“The Gardens are a true open air museum … with its extraordinary botanic heritage, and an architectural landscape hosting a collection of some 300 statues of classical, Renaissance and Baroque periods,” the Uffizi Direction stated in announcing the date.

The main Uffizi Gallery — hosting priceless artworks by masters such as Giotto, Caravaggio, Botticelli, Michelangelo, and Rembrandt — will restart in a second phase, no official date yet set.

And Director Eike Schmidt stressed there would be “no triumphalism” once reopened.

“Culture and visual arts play a fundamental role for human beings, as such it is right to reopen museums,” Schmidt told Xinhua in an interview.

“Yet, the months ahead will still require sobriety, for the human losses suffered by the families and by the whole country.”

Stretching over some 13,000 square meters, the Uffizi was “privileged compared to smaller museums” in terms of capacity to adapt to safety protocols, according to the director.

Beside, it underwent rearrangements recently that would now help provide visitors a high-quality visit while ensuring their safety at the same time.

“One example is the room housing Botticelli’s works: once, it had one entrance and one exit only, and paintings were very close to each other… it would have been extremely hard to implement social distancing and manage the flows in this situation,” Schmidt explained.

“Thanks to the rearrangements, once we restart, it will be instead quite easy to allow 15-20 visitors in front of the major works, and have them respect the right safety distance.”

In northern Milan, Renaissance Maestro Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper — one of the most famous paintings in the world — will also reopen in a later phase.

Hosted in the Dominican Church and Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, not far from the bustling city center, the ancient masterpiece is the first and most relevant among Italy’s cultural sites enlisted by UNESCO as World Heritage.

Emanuela Daffra, director of Lombardy Region Museum Pole to which the Last Supper belongs, said they might be ready for June 3, although they could not yet put it as an official date.

The hall housing the Last Supper is relatively small, and due to the great fragility of the work, it requires only small numbers inside at the same time. Some 35-40 visitors were allowed every 15 minutes before the pandemic, but now, when reopened, “we have decided to let only 5 people enter at a time,” the director said.

She stressed the next phase will also require them, as every museum’s management, to develop a different relationship with their own visitors.

“Forecasts are difficult to make now, yet in the short term we expect to mostly have visitors from Milan and the surrounding Lombardy region, and later from the other Italian regions once allowed (from June 3),” Daffra told Xinhua in an interview.

“They may be approached in a different way, more intimate and confidential, compared to foreign visitors.”

Yet, she pointed out foreign visitors will be crucial for the future of Italian museums in the medium term. “In this perspective, we will have to focus on intercultural knowledge even more than before,” Daffra suggested.