Italy’s new prime minister is not only the youngest one in history, at 39, but also someone who has a particular interest in cultural policies. These seem to be good news for Italy for Matteo Renzi has assumed leadership of a country whose future could be determined by its ability to efficient harness its unique cultural assets. His political ambitions, however, could get in the way of just doing the right thing as it happened with his Michelangelesque and Leonardesque experiments. Let me be clearer.
In his former position as mayor of Florence, to which he was elected in June 2009, Renzi was keen to highlight the historic relationship between the city’s cultural heritage and its economy. Many of his policies reflected this, and despite accusations of being overly marketing driven and using culture for political needs, there is no denying that Renzy has done much for his native city in a short time.
One of Renzi’s greatest achievements was a deal struck with the Italian government that allows Florence’s state museums, including the Uffizi Gallery and the Galleria dell’Accademia, to keep 15% to 20% of ticket revenues to reinvest locally. Most Italian state-run museums have to hand back any self generated income, which removes any incentive for innovations in marketing, retail and catering that are common place in most other Western European and American institutions.
In the past three years, this deal has raised almost €12m, which has helped fun an ongoing project to extend the Uffizi galleries and other cultural projects. In a city that draws 12 million visitors a year, attendance at Florence’s museums has risen by 140% over five years thanks to the ‘Firenzecard’ introduced under Renzi which gives visitors admission to around 60 museums.
Having said this, his desperation to transform his cultural policies into something of interest for the international press led him to two major fiascos and involved Florence’s two most famous artists: Michelangelo and Leonardo. His idea of ‘finishing’ the face of Florence’s Basilica di San Lorenzo to a now lost design by Michelangelo, regarded by many as a marketing stunt was quickly abandoned. Equally unsuccessful was the search he authorised for Leonardo da Vinci’s lost masterpiece, The Battle of Anghari (1505), beneath the frescoes in the Palazzo Vecchio, to the dismay of conservators.