FILE - In this July 19, 2019 file photo, director of the Uffizi Gallery Eike Schmidt speaks during the unveiling ceremony of the "Vase of Flowers" painting by Jan van Huysum, at the Pitti Palace, part of the Uffizi Galleries, in Florence, Italy. On Monday, April 20, 2020, Italy was completing its sixth week of nationwide lockdown with at least two more weeks to go, as part of government efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19. Schmidt expects a boom in visitors after pandemic restrictions end, judging by the experience after previous emergencies closed down one of the world’s most popular museums. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, file)

Uffizi, accustomed to taming crowds, looks to outbreak's end

April 20, 2020 - 9:52 am

ROME (AP) — The director of Italy's Uffizi Galleries expects a boom in visitors after coronavirus restrictions end, judging by what happened after previous emergencies closed down one of the world’s most popular museums.

Museum director Eike Schmidt recalled that after the Arno River in Florence flooded in 1966 and shuttered the museum, the number of visitors to the Uffizi jumped from 1 million to 1.5 million in 1968.

“Over the long term, I don’t see a drop in interest in visiting museums,” Schmidt said, speaking by video hookup with Rome-based foreign journalists on Monday.

A form of social distancing the Uffizi implemented two years ago — not to guard against viral contagion but to discourage crowds from bunching up in front of popular masterpieces - is likely to help, he said. The museum introduced timed entrances and revamped the placement in gallery rooms of paintings like Botticelli's “Birth of Venus” in gallery rooms.

Italy was completing its sixth week under a nationwide lockdown Monday and has at least two more weeks to go as part of government efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The lockdown came as the museum’s high season was beginning, although Schmidt noted that in recent years the Uffizi's greatest growth in ticket sales has been in the off-season, when art-rich Florence is less crowded.

He estimated that the galleries lost 10 million euros ($11 million) in revenue being closed in March and April.

The Uffizi "has broad shoulders to resist for a couple of months of closure,'' Schmidt said. “What's important is that human lives are saved.”

Forty of the Uffizi’s Raphael paintings and drawings were loaned for a blockbuster show in Rome about the Renaissance master that opened on March 5 and had to close three days later.

Black cloths now cover the paintings in the meantime — not as a sign of mourning, but to protect the works from excess light. Since the 500th anniversary of Raphael's death is being marked during all of 2020, the Uffizi is willing to keep its pieces in the exhibit if the show is extended past the original June 2 closing date.

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