Long before the self-portrait was crushed by narcissism selfi, there was a time in which art fought one of their revolutions through the self-referentiality. Cardinal Leopoldo De ‘ Medici, an obsessive collector, who unsuccessfully tried to rehabilitate Galileo from within the Church, was the first to realize. Next to a pioneer of the curators, an art historian of the time named Filippo Baldinucci that glossed the life of different artists, concluded that the biographical account should be accompanied by a visual testimony to trace the definitive link between life and work. Thus was born the collection of self-portraits most important thing in the world, a tour of five centuries by the faces of painters such as Velázquez, Rembrandt, Delacroix, Van Dyck, Liotard, Chagall or Ai Weiwei hidden in the deposits of the Uffizi Gallery, from years ago. The florentine museum will open in January, 14 new rooms to bring them back to the surface.


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Leopoldo de Medici (1617-1675), son of Grand Duke Cosimo II and the archduchess Maria Magdalena of Austria, and the German Eike Schmidt, the museum’s director from 2015, are the beginning and the end of this journey over 2,300 works, hidden behind the door of a warehouse of 1,200 square metres. The museum displayed some of the pieces in a room until after the Second World War, but soon began to pile up in the Corridor artist from vasari and they had to move for reasons of conservation. “The artists were part of the mechanical arts are considered to be relatively low until the Renaissance. But quickly used the self-portrait to illustrate his theory of art in an allegorical or symbolic,” explains Schmidt showing the well-known work of Joshua Reynolds, with a sheaf of drawings and a speech in the hand. “This is the famous lecture given at the London Academy. He wanted to be with a work, not a painting to appear as an intellectual, a rich man and, at the same time, an artist. There was a large component of marketing in those self-portraits”.

The artist designed his own business card in a world that was beginning to be a god. The inclinations of the sitting, the postureo to one’s self, is transformed in each period. George Romney (1734-1802), for example, is shown as a thinker, to give an air of intellectual something forced. Bouchardon (1698-1762), the great French sculptor, presents quietly while gives way to a bust of himself as if it were not with him the history; Rembrandt and Van Dyck are seen from the side for the first time with contempt in the lower part of a wall crowded, a place hell-bent to dispel the loneliness that inflicts the self-portrait to their authors.

enlarge photo One of the rooms of the deposit of the Uffizi gallery where hang thousands of self-portraits. Maurizio degl’innocenti

The allegory goes far beyond one’s own self-referentiality in some of them, warns Schmidt, and the artist becomes increasingly an object of his own sociological theory. It happens in the work of Chagall (1887-1985) through the cock and Notre Dame in the background, of the busts of Jan Fabre with horns and ears of a donkey or the work of the chinese Cai Guo-Qiang (Quanzhou, 61 years), one of the last donations that have been received by the museum (each week to reject two or three).

One of the jewels of the collection is the piece of Jean-Étienne Liotard (1702-1789), ginormous swiss painter who painted a spectacular portrait of himself in 1744. “Look at the precision of the hairs of the beard,” suggests Schmidt. “The work has values that are almost tactile, it seems that you can feel the moisture and softness of the leather hat, the beard invites mesarla in its photo-realism. But it should also be noted the line unfinished clothing: it could be the work of an impressionist, but a century before.”

The Uffizi gallery, the museum with the largest collection of paintings done by women before the TWENTIETH century, has shown a predilection for the work of female artists since Schmidt came to the address. “Long before the #MeToo”, he jokes. The deposit of self-portraits contains some parts such as the italobritánica Maria Cosway (1760-1838), a survivor of the killing of a nanny who killed four of her seven brothers and fleeting lover of the US president, Thomas Jefferson. Also the Tintoretta, the daughter of the venetian master, or of Vigée Le Brun, in whose portrait can be seen reflected in Marie Antoinette’s (he worked for years in his court). “Many people think that in centuries past there were no women artists: it is a lie. At first painted only the nuns, but then went on to another type of profiles. Here in Florence there was a very high number, although at the beginning many were wives [Cosway was the wife of the artist Richard Cosway] or the daughters of painters. From the EIGHTEENTH century on began to happen, so free.”

expand photo A technician manipulates one of the two self-portraits of Velázquez. Maurizio degl’innocenti

Angelica Kauffmann (1741-1807), an original member of the Royal Academy of Arts in London, was one of the most prominent. In the work which will be exhibited in the Uffizi gallery in florence is shown with the brushes, reclaiming its position of the artist against the wind and tide of time little inclined to adventures emancipatory. In part for this reason dresses like a noble, but with the loose hair. “Appear as well at that time it was like the hippie in the 70’s. The bottom of the box has the colors blue, red and white, associated with the Revolution.”

In the middle of one of the rooms of the deposit, on a trestle special, it commands the self-portrait of the venetian Rosalba Carriera (1675-1757), quintessence of the mission of advertising. The artist paints the natural, but in the same plane shown in the table the self-portrait is doing, where it appears much more beautiful than it really is. “It is a form of advertisement where it says: ‘If I contratáis, I’m going to get much better than ye’. Your stroke could be a precursor of Photoshop or the filters of Instagram. To beautify it just takes the mind and the hand”, he jokes Scmidt. A slogan, I would think the cardinal Leopoldo, tremendously useful for this archaeological of selfi.

Schmidt backs down and stays in Florence four years later

Eike Schmidt shows the self-portrait of Jean-Étienne Liotard, painted in 1744. Maurizio degl’innocenti

The derived ultra-nationalist, the Italian who captained the ex-Interior minister, Matteo Salvini, had an impact on the culture and management of the museums. A court used two years ago, the reorganization carried out by the Government of the PD and the possibility that aliens they occupy positions of leadership in the Italian museums. The League applauded and your partner of government (Movement 5 Stars), which held the ownership of the ministry of Culture through the figure of Alberto Bonissoli, launched a project of re-centralization of the management of the museum. And this was when they twisted everything.

The surrealist counter-reformation affected in full to the director of the Uffizi, Eike Schmidt, decided to leave his post at the end of the mandate. In fact, he showed up and won the plaza to direct the Kunsthistorisches Museum of Vienna starting in 2023. “I asked for the square in a very hectic in Italy. But it has been Dario Franceschini [current minister of Culture], which set in motion the great reformation about the museums. And with that, for me it opened up looking completely different. Had way too many things to do.”

Schmidt believes that if the ministry of Culture had not changed hands-all would have been more difficult. “The previous Government wanted to subtract the autonomy of the museums and their directors. Aimed at a centralization of the cultural program with decisions based on commissions. The director of the museum thus became a puppet of the policy. With the return of Franceschini that will no longer be so”.

The problem is that Vienna had it all planned for his arrival in January. Schmidt it minimized by ensuring that he left a schedule for all this year made up, that the chair of the great exhibition on Beethoven in his bicentennial. “In addition, in Vienna the situation is stable. The director is there for 11 years and have two directors: artistic, scientific and administrative,” he says.


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