Art Critics and Government Officials Slam Italy’s ‘Humiliating’ Tourism Campaign Turning Botticelli’s Venus Into an Influencer

Despite costing €9 million, the campaign has been slammed by art critics and government officials.

Botticelli's Venus takes selfies at Piazza San Marco in Venice for the new "Open to Meraviglia" campaign by Italy's ministry of tourism. Photo courtesy of the Ministero del Turismo.

For many, Botticelli’s Venus embodies the Renaissance ideal of beauty, but have you ever wondered what that might look like today? Italy’s ministry of tourism has launched a campaign that reimagines the iconic figure as an influencer—and it has been swiftly ridiculed on social media.

“Hi there, everybody. My name is Venus,” the ad’s digitally altered protagonist announced on her Instagram. “But that’s something you probably already know. I’m 30, ok maybe just a wee bit more than that… And I am a virtual influencer. What does that mean? Well, I’ll take you with me on a journey around Italy to visit its most fantastic places and venues.”

In one image, she takes a selfie at Piazza San Marco in Venice, while elsewhere on her travels she eats a pizza on Lake Como and rides a bike past Rome’s Colosseum.

The €9 million campaign, known as “Open to Meraviglia” (Open to Wonder), was launched by the ministry of tourism in partnership with the Italian National Tourist Board (ENIT). Appearing in airports and cities internationally, the concept has mostly been met mostly with derision by social media commentators, art critics, and even government officials.

The culture ministry’s undersecretary Vittorio Sgarbi, who is also an outspoken art critic, told conservative publication La Repubblica, “I don’t want to contradict my colleagues too much. But ‘Open to Wonder?’ What is that? What language is that?”

Other flaws in the campaign have been eagerly pointed out online, including its crude translations into foreign languages, like mistakenly referring to the town of Cento as Hundert (hundred) in German. Il Fatto Quotidiano even reported that the promotional video, intended as a celebration of Italian culture, uses stock footage filmed in Slovenia.

Botticelli’s Venus has a pizza on Lake Como for the new “Open to Meraviglia” campaign by Italy’s ministry of tourism. Photo courtesy of the Ministero del Turismo.

The Italian heritage activist group Mi Riconosci stated on no uncertain terms that it “condemns this humiliating campaign.” Art historian Livia Garomersini was quoted in a statement asking “where is the art, where is the promotion in this hackneyed jumble of clichés?” She added that the campaign “trivializes our heritage in the most vulgar way.”

She also called into question the ethics of reappropriating a famous image from Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (c. 1485), which belongs to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. While the museum has not commented, the city’s mayor Dario Nardella has weighed in: “We’re fighting against commercial exploitation that ridicules our artistic jewels, like the aprons showing the statue of David’s private parts or grotesque reproductions of works of art in stupid poses.”

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