45 euros to visit the Vasari Corridor? That's fair, but on one condition

Is 45 euros to visit the Vasari Corridor a lot? Is it a few? Perhaps it is a fair rate, but under one clear condition.

Perhaps one mistake too many has been made in the discussion around the price that will have to be paid to access the Vasari Corridor when it is reopened(45 euros in high season, 20 euros in low season): the debate has focused almost exclusively on the size of the disbursement, and has not taken care to consider the many important variables needed to contextualize the figure. In the meantime, it is good to clarify one thing: 45 euros is a very large sum to visit a museum. And for the vast majority of museums it would be impractical and to be contested in the strongest terms. For the Vasari Corridor, however, the matter is different.

As is well known, the Corridor has until now housed a vast selection of the Uffizi’s historic collection of self-portraits. A collection that has never had a fixed home in the context of the Gallery, and which, for simple reasons of size (in fact, the collection has grown considerably over time), cannot even return to its original home, the former Hall of Self-Portraits (i.e., today’s Room 35 recently dedicated to Leonardo da Vinci). When a selection of just over a hundred self-portraits was arranged in the Vasari Corridor in the early 1950s, at the time when Roberto Salvini was director of the Uffizi, we were aware of the temporary nature of the arrangement: in particular, there was discussion about a possible placement in the premises of what was then the headquarters of theState Archives of Florence, which occupied some rooms on the second floor and first floor of the Uffizi building. The State Archives would later leave the Uffizi in 1988, but in the meantime, in 1973, the selection of self-portraits had already been expanded by then-director Luciano Berti. However, it must be considered that the arrangement of the self-portraits has never been the subject of discussion, and the picture briefly summarized here is simply meant to show that, for the self-portraits (or at least for most of the collection), the Corridor may not be the definitive solution, for obvious historical reasons, to which are now added logistical reasons, as well as those concerning the safety of a flow of visitors that, compared to the 1950s and 1970s, has increased considerably.

Dentro al Corridoio Vasariano
Inside the Vasari Corridor

The current project foresees that the self-portraits will leave the Vasarian Corridor, and will be housed in newly opened rooms on the second floor of the Gallery: the idea may or may not please, but this is the choice that has been made and it is therefore on these terms that it is necessary to reason. One should therefore ask oneself whether a visit to the Corridor without self-portraits (there will remain, by design, about thirty ancient sculptures, a collection of Greek and Roman inscriptions currently in storage since the nineteenth century, and the detached frescoes by Giorgio Vasari that anciently decorated the outside of the Corridor vaults in the Ponte Vecchio section) will be as valuable, if it will be as fundamental, if it will be as indispensable as a visit to the Gallery. Certainly, crossing the Corridor will always be an experience that will never lose its symbolic character, rightly highlighted by Tomaso Montanari, who spoke of how the Corridor was born “as an eloquent sign of the loss of Florentine freedom: Cosimo, a cultured duke but also a heinous tyrant, literally walks on the heads of the Florentines, no longer citizens but subjects,” and consequently to return the Corridor “truly to all, today, would mean representing popular sovereignty in the most effective way, and making clear what the cultural mission is in a country that has equality as its constitutional compass.” One can respond by saying that already everything that was once the private possession of the Medici has been returned to the public: everyone today can enjoy what in ancient times was the exclusive prerogative of the family that held power, everyone today can walk through the rooms where the Medici lived, slept, ate, and made decisions, everyone today has the faculty to admire the works that centuries ago only a select few eyes had the privilege of seeing. And the Vasari Corridor is already part of that heritage restored to all and symbolic evidence of the popular sovereignty enshrined in the Republican Constitution.

It will be objected that the 45 euros charged establishes an important barrier to access that would make a visit to the Corridor anexclusive experience far from the lines established by Article 9 of the constitutional dictate. In the meantime, let us not forget that, outside the months of the greatest crowds, the figure drops to 20 euros, definitely more affordable for everyone, but still quite sustained. At this point, however, it is necessary to come to terms with the stark reality: the Corridor is a very delicate space and it is difficult to think that it could be subjected to the same pressure that grips the Uffizi, due to problems of security and also of fruition (no one would like to visit it in the midst of the crowd that would be created especially in the points of greatest interest for the majority of the public: the views of the city). Regarding a possible free access that would only partially solve the problem of guaranteed accessibility for all (visits would have to be limited and the queues of reservations would become quite long, because if an asset is free the demand increases disproportionately), it would be appropriate to make the reasoning fall within a more general discourse on free access to all museums and always: it would not be seen otherwise why to charge to visit the Uffizi and instead establish free access for the Corridor. But the fact remains that the 45 euros is too much. The argument is relative: for much of the public, 45 euros is a quietly affordable amount. Then, would it not be more democratic that, under the regime of paid museums, everyone contributes according to his or her means? Therefore, a policy on ticketing would be appropriate, which we have been advocating on these pages for months and of the need for which we have also pointed out to the minister of cultural heritage himself: discounts and reductions for those who cannot afford to pay more or less to visit a museum. Access at 45 euros may be a solution to solve the problems of crowding (and make revenue from it to reinvest in restorations, exhibitions, services), but on one very specific condition: that access is also granted to those who might have serious difficulties paying such a fee. Therefore, it would be reasonable to imagine a discounting scheme that would extend the current reductions and gratuities (discounted admission is reserved for 18-25 year olds, and gratuities for minors, the disabled and their companions to journalists, schoolchildren, tour guides, scholars, affiliated volunteer workers, ministerial staff, and ICOM members) to those without jobs, all students of all ranks, retirees, and families. This would be an important step toward greater equality: perhaps not decisive, but certainly clear and significant.

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