Florence’s Uffizi gallery has become Italy’s most visited cultural site for the first time following years of innovation under the German-born director Eike Schmidt during which it has even branched out into contemporary art.
Once a slow-changing bastion of tradition, it was announced on Monday that the institution famous for its Renaissance masterpieces had last year leapt past Rome’s Colosseum, the ruins of Pompeii, the Vatican Museums and other well-known sites in terms of visitor numbers, attracting 1.7 million visitors last year, according to Il Giornale dell’Arte. The Colosseum was second with about 90,000 fewer visitors.
Under Schmidt’s direction, the Uffizi changed the way it sells and schedules entry tickets, added more modern pieces to its collection, celebrated female artists, displayed works from its permanent collection in regional Tuscan museums, upped its game on social media, opened previously closed- off parts of its sprawling complex and weighed in on contemporary social topics.
“We’re on the way up again,” Schmidt, an art historian who has held his role since 2015, said in a television interview on Monday. “This is a good sign for the future.”
The Uffizi can trace its roots back to the 16th century, starting with the family collection of the Florentine political and banking dynasty, the House of Medici. As such, its collection includes many of the best known works of Renaissance masters including Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio, and Raphael.
Under Schmidt the Uffizi has worked to broaden its scope to include more female artists and those from under-represented social cultural, and racial groups. In December, for example, the director unveiled a special exhibit aimed at highlighting the violence inflicted on women by male perpetrators.
Its most visited show last year, attracting more than 435,000 visitors, was focused on the “poor art” protagonist Giuseppe Penone, which was part of Schmidt’s efforts to broaden the Uffizi’s appeal.
Schmidt has said a big challenge was the Uffizi’s reputation as one of the world’s leading classical museums and visitors’ expectations that a ticket to was a one-stop way to see some of the Renaissance’s greatest hits, including Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, Annunciation by Leonardo and Andrea del Verrocchio, Caravaggio’s Medusa, and Doni Tondo by Michelangelo.
In contrast, Schmidt had some art critics scratching their heads a year ago when the Uffizi acquired a piece by the contemporary British street artist Endless, who had never had a major museum exhibition. The Uffizi director called Endless’s work “an original fusion between punk and pop”. Italian media reports say the museum continues to seek out modern and contemporary pieces for its collection.
“There was a time when displaying contemporary art would be seen as intruding on the Uffizi’s sacred halls,” Schmidt has said. “But I want to show works that are relevant, regardless of the historical period.”
The Uffizi has a way to go to catch some of its global peers. Despite taking the top spot in Italy, it is only in 20th place globally, a list topped by the Louvre in Paris, which attracted 2.8 million visitors last year.