In den Uffizien

Florence. A “little office”, as it likes to describe itself. Welcome to the Uffizi, one of the world’s most important galleries, and home to the collection built by the Medicis. If you look at the roof, you can see portraits of various Medicis who held positions of power and influence. Oh look, there’s Leo. He was the first Medici pope.

We eavesdrop of people giving guided tours who explain the importance of the Uffizi. Although the museum was opened in 1560, it owes its roots to the 13th century, when the first gold coins were minted in Florence. As the ownership of artists became a status symbol (what we have learned today: the Italian for status symbol is “Statussymbol”), the foundation of the gallery was part of Florentine merchant capital asserting its power.

The Uffizi is currently run by the Freiburger Eike Schmidt, the first foreigner to hold the post. We witness Schmidt talking to the workers in Italian, the visitors in English and the people making this documentary in German. When he started in 2015, the gallery didn’t even have a website. Now it’s concentrating much more on its media presence, and has even started to display the occasional work of modern art. O tempora, o mores.

In the film, Schmidt is everywhere. We open with the staff waiting for him to arrive, and when he does, he hits the ground running. First he’s talking to the Louvre about some paintings that they’re borrowing, then he’s showing a group of investors what their money paid for. But he’s also involved in intense discussions about the exact colour for the background of a painting and takes a meeting about the precise information which appears on the gallery’s visiting cards.

The cynic in me asks what Schmidt’s day looks like on the days that the cameras are not visiting. I mean, no-one could be so involved on so many levels, could they? You do get the feeling that he could do with a crash course on how to delegate. Having said this, although it’s clear that this is someone with the power to hire and fire, he does come across as being vaguely sympathetic.

There is an interesting interlude with Antony Gormley, an artist who I’ve never warmed to as much as in this film. I was a great sceptic at his big sculptures, and this wasn’t helped by Gormley’s impersonal notes relayed through a gopher explaining that he wasn’t exactly sure what he did want, but the way in which his statue was currently displayed just wasn’t doing it.

But just as you’re railing against the pretentious artist who orders his minion to fight his fights for him, Gormley appears in the gallery and engages with the problem. And not only do we start to understand what it is – an attempt to mingle a statue which looks suspiciously like Gormley among the visitors taking selfies in the gallery – we also find a passable solution. Turning the statue by a few degrees somehow makes it look so much better.

We also get to meet the workers at the Uffizi, from the officious librarian to the people whose job is to stand in the corner and look accusingly at anyone who doesn’t look arty enough. Their main bête noire seems to be people who spend more time taking photos of the paintings rather than actually looking at them, and we see a lovely scene of someone informing a visitor that selfie sticks are just not allowed here.

In den Uffizien has its weaknesses. Structurally, it is all over the place. There’s no real development. It’s as if they kept the camera running for as long as they needed for the film and then turned off. We learn a little about individual paintings, but just as we’d love to learn how this connects to the other things we’ve witnessed, the camera moves on to something else.

And maybe there is a little too much footage inside the museum. The inside of the Uffizi is spectacular, but its nothing compared to what it looks like from the outside, on the banks of the river Arno. I could also have done with more of the museum’s spectacular history – from resisting raids by Napoleon and Goebbels to setting up a makeshift refugee camp during the Allied bombings in the 1940s.

I ultimately found it difficult to enthuse about In den Uffizien – it was a little too much of a number of spectacular (and often not-too—spectacular) individual events, which you could enjoy individually, but the whole felt a little less substantial than the individual parts. Worth a view, but you may have to join up the dots yourself.

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