Florence and the Uffizi: what future for the Vasari Corridor? Confronting positions

On the possibility of opening the Vasari Corridor to the public, a heated debate opened over the weekend: we report here on the positions compared.

Those who are interested in the vicissitudes of Florentine museums will certainly not have missed the debate that has been going on in recent hours around the fate of the Vasari Corridor in Florence, which connects the Uffizi to the Pitti Palace. That director Eike Schmidt was intent on targeting the Vasarian Corridor was certainly no mystery. At the end of last year, I had interviewed him for Art and Dossier (the interview was published in the January issue of the magazine), and on the subject the director had expressed himself in these terms: “it will be essential to find a way to open the Corridor to a wider public as well, studying above all the technical aspects of the issue, which need to be resolved as soon as possible.” He certainly cannot be blamed for sinning on inefficiency: in fact, from ideas he has already moved on to concrete proposals. More specifically, Eike Schmidt said this weekend that architects are already at work studying solutions with the aim of opening the Corridor to a much wider public than has been able to visit it so far.

Indeed, it should be remembered that visiting the Vasari Corridor is anything but an easy undertaking: it is normally closed to the public, and visits are granted only by permission, and only to groups composed of a minimum number of ten people, which cannot exceed a maximum of twenty-five. This mechanism has been exploited by several private agencies and tour operators who frequently post ads on the web providing places to visit the Corridor, almost always at exorbitant prices: it is difficult to find a place for less than fifty euros. Eike Schmidt’s idea is to revolutionize this system: the director would like to make the Corridor open to the public in order to allow visitors to the Uffizi to walk through the narrow passageway that was designed in 1565 (and built in the same year) by Giorgio Vasari to allow the Florentine grand dukes to move easily, and without having to go down to the street, between Palazzo Vecchio, the Uffizi and Palazzo Pitti (the first two palaces centers of power in Medici Florence and the third the residence of the grand duke’s family). The Corridor currently houses the Uffizi’s vast collection of self-portraits, and of course gives splendid and unique views of Florence. However, in order to make the Corridor accessible to a wide public, it will be necessary (and Director Schmidt has already made this known) to remove the paintings, which will have to find a new location: the passageway is narrow and, by the laws of physics, cannot afford to accommodate crowds lingering to admire the paintings (without calculating the enormous risks the works would run). Again, the director let it be known that in order to carry out the project it will also be necessary to equip the Corridor with suitable emergency exits, and that work to refurbish the Corridor in order to make it usable could start by the end of the year.

Corridoio Vasariano
Interior of the Vasarian Corridor. Photo credit.

However, Eike Schmidt’s proposals have also attracted some criticism, particularly from the former director of the Accademia Gallery, Franca Falletti, who expressed her grievances in an article published yesterday in Fatto Quotidiano and entitled, bluntly, Uffizi Gallery, instructions to destroy the Vasarian Corridor. The art historian reproaches Schmidt for underestimating the difficulties of carrying out his project, which he calls “objectively fraught with obstacles to anyone with experience in the matter.” Franca Falletti expresses concern for the destination of the self-portraits, for the public’s enjoyment of the museums (in her view, in fact, the probable issuance of a future single ticket, a hypothesis, however, never even advanced, would be an incentive “to rapidity” and “superficiality of the visit,” which would be penalizing for those who wanted to see the Uffizi and Palazzo Pitti on two different days), for the fate of the Oltrarno district, which would become, according to her hypothesis, “the outlet of a weary tourist mass.” And it would also be a project with enormous technical problems: difficulties in eliminating architectural barriers, problems with statics that could lead to structural failure if all visitors to the Uffizi poured into the Corridor to reach the Pitti Palace, practical problems for visitors who would use the Uffizi checkroom and have to walk a kilometer backwards to retrieve their items.

On the history of the institute, on the other hand, the reaction of the former director of the Uffizi, Anna Maria Petrioli Tofani, who from the columns of the Corriere Fiorentino expressed her opposition to the project (recalling, moreover, that at the time when she was director the technical prerequisites were lacking) because the Vasari Corridor should not be, according to her, “relegated to a passage from one area of the museum to another,” but should remain an exhibition space, given the extraordinary nature of the place. The unions, on the other hand, were in favor, although they pointed out that the museum would still suffer from staff shortages, which could jeopardize the project, and above all that there would be a lack of precise directives and elaborate plans.

It must be said that Schmidt’s initial statements were certainly not helped by the tone of certain articles, such as the one in the Nation, which first reported his proposals but recklessly called the Corridor project a “highway for tourists” in its headline. A few hours ago, Eike Schmidt issued a press release to respond to the criticisms, especially those of Franca Falletti: her name is not mentioned, but it is not difficult to guess that the director’s clarifications are mainly addressed to her. The communiqué was reported in full on gonews, and through this document the director responded to some of the objections presented to him. Beginning with those about the possible problems arising from the increased influx of visitors: “in the time it takes to travel the Corridor, which is about a kilometer long, the impact due to the weight of people will never be concentrated in a single point as it happens, for example, in the Botticelli Hall of the Uffizi Gallery, where groups crowd together and stay for a long time.” And again, on the arrangement of the self-portraits: “As for the fear of moving a specific collection such as the self-portraits from its location, I would like to emphasize that this is a modern choice. The collection begun by Cardinal Leopold dei Medici was historically displayed inside the Uffizi, in the famous Hall of Painters (now room number 35, dedicated to Michelangelo); after the 19th-century dismantling, only in 1973 did Luciano Berti set it up in the Vasarian Corridor. The current one, therefore, is not a historical location. The Uffizi, on the other hand, is.” Schmidt also made it known that the Corridor’s microclimatic conditions would not be suitable for housing particularly fragile works of art.

Ultimately, the Corridor, Schmidt says, “will resemble everything but a highway”: his intent is to open it up to everyone and remove the long waits and, above all, the privileges that have so far made it accessible to those who could afford to visit at the exorbitant prices of tour operators. Visiting, contrary to Franca Falletti’s fears, will be a possibility, and visitors will therefore not be obliged to pass through the Corridor to reach the Pitti Palace from the Uffizi. However, it will also be necessary to avoid underestimating criticism: Franca Falletti is not wrong when she calls the project “fraught with obstacles.” The new course of the Vasari Corridor, if there is to be one, will have to arise from shared choices that will have to take into account both the needs of the public and those of the structure and the collection it currently houses. The timeframe will be quite long, not least because the final realization of the project will take at least two years. Eike Schmidt is not a person who improvises: we are confident that he will know how to make the best choices.

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