Italy’s Museums Reopen, Offering Vibrating Social-Distancing Necklaces and a New Chance to See Rome’s Once-in-a-Lifetime Raphael Show

Financial recovery from the lockdown is complicated by the need for social distancing, which necessitates limited visitors.

The Tag EGOpro is being piloted for museums by cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. Courtesy Advanced Microwave Engineering S.r.l.

Lockdown measures have started to ease in the European nations hardest hit by coronavirus. Across Italy, museums are opening their doors to the public again for the first time since March—though they have to adhere to serious new safety precautions.

Today, May 19, the Castello di Rivoli in Turin was among the first of the nation’s museum to allow the public back in. Director Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev expressed optimism about the transition measures to Artnet News. “Museums are carefully controlled spaces that have been designed to protect artworks from people,” she said. “To adapt that to protecting people from people is a small step.”

Elsewhere, blockbuster shows are starting back up again. The highly anticipated Raphael exhibition at Rome’s Scuderie del Quirinale was an early victim of the lockdown, closing just three days after it opened in March despite having pre-sold 70,000 tickets. The show includes 120 works by Raphael, thanks to loans from 52 museums and collections to mark the 500th anniversary of the Renaissance great’s death. Almost all of the loans have been extended as needed, according to the Art Newspaper. The exhibition will now run from June 2 to August 30.

Raphael, The Madonna and Child with the Infant Baptist (The Garvagh Madonna) (ca. 1509-10). © The National Gallery, London.

Visitor Safety and Lost Incomes

Museums that are typically swarmed with visitors from around the world will now be both eerily and joyfully calm. The Castello di Rivoli likened the shift to the slow food movement, which requires a gentler pace of work and, in many ways, more consideration for process. “I think museums can be the prototype for the new normal, which I hope only lasts the time of the pandemic because I actually like the old normal,” adds Christov-Bakarglev.

Yet the lowered visitor numbers will spell financial trouble for some. The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, which on a typical spring day would see visitors numbering around 2,600, will only allow 200 people in per day. “We are very worried,” a spokesperson tells Artnet News. “For the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore, the private institution that owns the monuments of the Duomo of Florence, it is a dramatic situation because our earnings all come from the tickets sold, we have no state contributions.”

The visitor numbers and strategies vary depending on the museum. For the Raphael exhibition, tickets for the show must be booked online in advance. Groups of six visitors will be taken in by a guard who will act as a “chaperone,” and groups will head into the gallery in staggered five-minute intervals. Each group gets 80 minutes with the once-in-a-lifetime show.

At the Galleria Borghese, which reopens today, May 19, to the public, will allow 120-minute visits of up to 80 people at a time. “This necessity actually provides an opportunity to appreciate the Museum’s marvels with more tranquillity,” says the museum in a statement. And the privately-funding Patrizia Sandretto Re Rebaudengo reopened on May 18 and allows 15 people at a time.

View of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. Image via Wikipedia.

View of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. Image via Wikipedia.

At the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, a 13th-century Gothic cathedral that is expected to open this week, free devices will be given out to visitors to notify them when they are not social distancing. The novel gadget, which will dangle around visitors’ necks before being disinfected between wears, flashes and vibrates when visitors get too close to each other. It is the first institution to introduce such a device.

In a statement, the cathedral boasted of being first in the world to use the technology in the museum context, adding that “this system guarantees the maximum of security and comfort during the visit.” The EGOpro Social Distancing necklace by Florence-based company Advance Microwave Engineering has four red lights that begin to turn on and flash in succession, depending on closeness.

The Castello di Rivoli, which operates with a relatively small budget of €6 million says it lost €1 million due to the lockdown. Christov-Bakargiev says the institution had to invest about €60,000 to upgrade its premises to meet sanitary guidelines. That coupled with the loses incurred by fewer ticket sales over the usually bustling summer months will spell trouble for many museums and institutions.

The loses incurred will be weathered differently depending on the scale and backing of the museum. The Italian federal government issued a €55 billion “Decreto Rilancio” (relaunch decree) aid package last Wednesday. According to the Art Newspaper, the assistance includes €100 million set aside to support state museums for losses in ticket sales, as well as a €210 million emergency fund that covers bookshops, publishing companies, and arts organizations to fill the gap for cancelled events and exhibitions. Another €100 million goes to a “Culture Fund” that is to provide cultural businesses with long-term loans for investment in physical structures and cultural production for the remainder of 2020 and 2021.

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