Send religious art back from museums to churches, says Uffizi Gallery director

Eike Schmidt, the director of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, told the press on May 27 that he believed many works of religious art currently in Italian museums and shops should be returned to the churches from which they came. . He went on to suggest that one of his gallery’s most famous medieval works, the Madonna Rucellai by Duccio, painted around 1275, should return to its place of origin, the Florentine church of Santa Maria Novella, from which it was removed in 1948.

This idea is part of the Uffizi’s reaction to the coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis, in which it reflects on the diversification and dissemination of its works of art in order to create a “wider” space. . [diffuso] museum beyond the immediate premises of the gallery.

Schmidt admitted there are benefits to showing art in a museum. For example, currently the Madonna Rucellai is hung with altarpieces by the other two superstars of early medieval Italian painting, Cimabue and Giotto, so that they can be compared to each other, but, he says, the Madonna RucellaiThe absence of Santa Maria Novella robs it of an essential part of its history and its significance.

“Devotional art is not born as a work of art but for a religious purpose, usually within a religious framework,” he said. The arts journal. He went on to say that, returned to the building for which it was created, it would be seen in the right historical and artistic space and the viewer would potentially be led to recognize its spiritual origins. “If we didn’t believe context mattered,” he said, the Italian state wouldn’t have the legal concept of art or architectural installation. [vincolo pertinenziale]or practice contextual archeology instead of Indiana Jones-style scrabble for mere masterpieces”.

Schmidt is the president of the Fondo edifici di culto (FEC), the fund for religious buildings. It is a branch of the Ministry of the Interior which owns and maintains almost 900 Italian Catholic churches and religious buildings. He discovered that there were about a thousand works of religious art in the stores of the Italian Soprintendenze (the public bodies responsible for art, architecture and archeology), brought to museums for kept there, mainly after the Second World War. There is no proper catalog and they are not readily available even for academics so the current situation is highly undesirable.

Since most of the churches involved belong to the FEC, the legality of returning the art would be straightforward, as it would simply be passed from one state agency to another. Preservation and security issues would obviously have to be addressed, but modern technology makes both much easier than in the past; as Schmidt pointed out, Giorgione Altarpiece of Castelfrancoone of the most important paintings of the Italian Renaissance, hangs with very good protection in the church to which it belongs.

Reaction to Eike Schmidt’s proposal was mixed. Leaving aside insulting comments from heritage zealots, a number of whom can be found in the Italian media, the head of the Diocesan Museum of Florence, Monsignor Timothy Verdon, told the Ansa news agency that he believed he it was “a very positive provocation, but unrealistic”. and congratulated” but “each case should be considered on its own merits”.

Talk to The arts journal, Mark Jones, former director of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, agreed that this should be done on a case-by-case basis, but felt the proposal was a step in the right direction. “Anyone who is interested in art knows that it is best in its own context. Ground rules should be established as to what conditions a church would have to meet to get its art back, and then it should be ceremonially returned to mark its return home.