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Berlusconi’s very own Grand Projet
A project to double the exhibition space at the Uffizi, under discussion for 50 years, has now been fast-tracked by the Italian government
The Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, is fond of reminding international audiences that Italy has more than its fair share of the world’s cultural heritage. Yet, despite the richness of its public collections, there is no single museum that can compete with the massive scale of the Louvre or the British Museum. Now Mr Berlusconi has set his mind to changing that.
A proposal to enlarge the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, under discussion since the end of World War II, has been fast-tracked by the Italian government. Mr Berlusconi has announced that Euros 60million ($72 million) project to double the size of the available display space from 6,000 to 13,000 square-metres is to be completed by 2006.
The building that houses the Uffizi, begun in 1560, was designed by the artist and art historian Giorgio Vasari. At the moment, only the second floor, where the gallery’s Renaissance paintings are exhibited, is open to the public.
The renovation of the first floor of the grand, elongated U-shaped building will allow the display of some 800 17th- and 18th-century paintings currently in storage. The ground floor will be used to show temporary exhibitions and modern art.
Although Berlusconi has been keen to present the project as his own, the money for the renovation (75% is earmarked for restoration and 25% for technical work) was actually raised under the last government. Archaeological work is currently underway, but building work will not start before the end of the year.
This re-organisation and enlargement had been on the cards for years, but one of the main obstacles had been the presence of the State Archive of Florence on the first floor of the Uffizi. This was moved out in 1988. Since August 2003, groups of architects, engineers and archaeologists have been working together and have produced 700 drawings for the new scheme.
The expansion will assuage fears that congestion is damaging paintings. Visitor numbers have grown steadily since the late 1950s, when there were about 280 visitors a day, to the current daily influx of 4,500. With the expansion, officials expect the daily number of visitors to increase to as many as 7,000.
Little of the original building will be altered, with an emphasis on “renewal” rather than “rebuilding”, and new stairwells and lifts. The controversial part of the proposal (see pp. 1, 28) is the design for a new exit into the Piazza Castellani. An international competition in the late 1990s was won by the Japanese architect Arata Isozaki who proposed a canopy-like structure using both modern and old materials (The Art Newspaper, No.92, May 1999, p.28). On-going criticism and discoveries resulting from an archaeological survey of the area have delayed the exit’s construction. The architect’s preliminary drawings are currently being revised and the fate of the new building remains unclear.