Art, Travel & Life in Italy & Europe

What people are photographing in the Uffizi

In Summer, 2014, Italy’s state museums finally permitted photography for personal use. The old ban on taking pictures in museums was anachronistic in this day and age of “I was here” social media, and even they had to admit it. The purpose here is not to discuss if the move was a good one, nor to address the much-discussed issue of public order in the museums since the ban was lifted. Rather, I was curious to know what people have been photographing in museums, now that they can. Using the world-famous Uffizi Gallery in Florence as my example, I wondered if I would see primarily Primaveras or a slew of selfies. The results of my survey of photos hashtagged or geotagged Uffizi on Instagram are surprising. They demonstrate that people are actually looking at art, picking out details and unusual paintings for what amounts to a modern form of social commentary.

Photographing the blue rooms at the Uffizi / with thanks to Giorgia http://instagram.com/aprivatekindofhappiness

Photographing the blue rooms at the Uffizi / with thanks to Giorgia http://instagram.com/aprivatekindofhappiness

Primarily Primavera and Venerating Venus

OK, it’s true, lots of people are trying to snap pictures of Botticelli behind glass, be it the Primavera or the Birth of Venus. Some seem to manage to clear away the crowds and get a photo of themselves in front of it. And as much as one might be against hitting up only highlights or taking selfies, I can’t disdain the excitement of a cute 18 year old identifying with the Venus (hashtag #meraviglia). Or 19-year old @Fenii who photographed only her entry ticket to the museum, and the crowd of people trying to photograph the Venus.

I was here

Museum selfies are such a major phenomenon that there have been numerous interesting articles and a whole tumblr dedicated to them. Part of a trend towards declaring where you are at all times, the selfie may also represent sharing with your friends an important accomplishment in your life. @Comanella, an American- Romanian visitor whose trip also took her to the Louvre in Paris where she photographed the Mona Lisa, writes “Made it to Florence to see Da Vinci’s work”. Judging from her stream before her trip – mostly photos with friends and cute selfies – this is a really important voyage for her. What makes her love Leonardo over the others, we will never know, but the fact that she seeks him out is beautiful.

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Made it to Florence to see Da Vinci’s work. We’ve been lucky going to museums at night and avoiding the crowds and of course doing a guided tour by Rick Steve’s . #uffizi #ricksteves #florence #Italy

 

View on Instagram

Even people on a short guided tour may find their favourites and be immortalized with it. This viewer is attracted to the Madonna del Cardellino by Raphael (and uses hashtag #medici).

Hallowed Halls

It used to be that the only part of the Uffizi you COULD photograph was the hallway and the view from its window over the Uffizi. Although the ban has been lifted now in the entire museum, the hallway continues to attract attention, and with photographers having to be less furtive, they are becoming more imaginative in their compositions and reflections.

Love the caption on this one

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Mom being a very serious tourist #uffizi #florence #firenze #italy #lategram

View on Instagram

Red walls

The newly arranged room dedicated to Michelangelo’s Doni Tondo, characterized by red walls, is photo-worthy according to a number of visitors. Not all focus on the large masterpiece – the whole ambiance is a crowd pleaser, including the Roman sculpture in front and the people looking at art. Furthermore, some viewers focus on details, not just the whole.

 

 

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Gilded frame; lunette at the foot of the Virgin. #Michelangelo 16th C, Holy Family #Uffizi #renaissance #Firenze

View on Instagram

Looking closer

Photographing details, rather than whole works of art, is another trend we can see through these Instagrams. Detractors of photographing in museums say that people are looking even less, and this may be true for some, but not all of the snap-happy viewers. Certain details indicate that the viewers have been giving a painting more than eight seconds, long enough to start noticing some subtleties. Their joy at catching them makes them get up close and photograph them – probably tripping off the alarm system as they do so, or using a digital zoom which makes for bad photos. The artistic result is poor, but the meaning of the action is more than just a little bit important. Here are two details that, if noticed by a student, any art history professor would be proud.

Quick! Identify the painting! The photo got no likes or comments on Instagram, but the photographer posted both this and a wider shot of the same area, clearly finding it titillating to spot this detail in a Renaissance painting. **it seems that Instagram removed this gem as it must have been filtered as pornographic. It was a close-up of Titian’s Venus’s crotch. Instagram is so smart.

Bet you didn’t think we’d spot this

In the sea of masterpieces, few navigators are still enthusiastic by the blue rooms. Photos confirm this, yet some visitors really do deserve a reward for lasting this long. Others spot works that you’d not have thought would catch their attention.

 

Life imitates art

One of the best ways to understand art is to mimic it with your body.

Meme-ing the Uffizi

And some Instagram users’ moments in the Uffizi reflect their feeling about a whole trip… @Viktorudzenija (an interior designer from Dubai)’s #exhausted #lostmyfeet pretty much sums it all up.

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#Exhausted #lostmyfeet … Says it all … #sightseeing #Florence #Firenze #Italy #beautiful View on Instagram

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By: arttrav

Alexandra Korey aka ArtTrav is a Florence-based art historian and arts marketing consultant.

  • aRTistokratissa

    … Loved your photo selection/reference. Really interesting point of view.

  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    Thank you! I tried to fit what I saw into categories that reflect reality. It’s not a scientific study, but it’s not just my selection/opinion either. For example, i expected tons of selfies, but I really had to search for them. They might make up 10% or less. On the other hand at the accademia, 95% is the david, with a series of funny selfies in front of him…. Alexandra

  • http://girlinflorence.com/ Georgette Jupe

    This is super awesome Alexandra, what a fun topic to write about. What people are photographing, and kudos to you for finding all of the photos. I like the idea of photographing details though I admit when I go I normally just recount the same things that everyone else does.

  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    Thanks for commenting and sharing, Tiana.
    I actually saw your photo from the Vasari Corridor in the stream while doing my totally un-scientific research. It didn’t fit into any recurring category of photos since obviously there are a lot fewer people going through there – it was really beautiful, but I couldn’t find a way to use it!

  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    Hi Georgette
    Maybe now that you’ve thought about it you’ll find yourself sharing some details of paintings in museums! I don’t normally do this either, in part because the quality is bound to be poor, especially if it’s shot with a smartphone. But I’m sure your LOOKING at the details, which is important too. What I found so interesting about the details people did share, though, is that they almost certainly reflect that ah-hah moment when they noticed, say, that Titian’s Venus is has her hand in a very delicate position in her crotch. And that one detail did show up in three photos in the past month, just that this user zoomed in more than anyone else. baci, AMK

  • http://blog.tianakai.com/ Tiana Kai

    I didn’t intend for you to use it, just mentioning that I recently went and loved the outside views just as much ;) but thanks for thinking of me!!

  • Jenna Francisco

    I really enjoyed this and was surprised a bit at all the interesting ways people interpret their museum photos (and what they choose to photograph). I actually find it annoying when people take a lot of photos in museums because it can be disruptive to the people who are trying to look at the work (see the photos of masses of people trying to photograph the Mona Lisa, for example), but I am guilty of the same thing! And Hasan also indulged in photo taking in museums, too :)

  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    Hi Jenna
    I thought about the same points – Hasan especially and his desire to get photos and selfies with works. Yes, the crowds photographing famous works are really disturbing. My friends who are guides in Florence say that the Uffizi has become living hell, with people forgetting all sense of politeness and decency in order to get the right snapshot. She said she was leading a group and explaining something to a 14 year old girl and there was a tourist impatiently huffing and puffing that asked them to move aside because she was taking too long there. I’ve heard similar stories from other museums in the UK. But I’ve also read about how in London’s museums other than in front of the famous works, there are few people photographing in other rooms. What I hoped to do was look for the bright lining in this cloud, the people who may be photographing something else, in some hope to undertand what people like and HOW they are looking at art.
    I’ve taken a few fun #museumselfie myself. Got a great Memling and me at Palazzo Madama in Torino :)
    AMK

  • Alexandra

    As I’ve said from the beginning, allowing photos in Florence’s museums is great for social media and terrible for those of us trying to have a meaningful conversation about the artworks while in front of them with clients. It has gotten to the point of physical and verbal altercations, with people pushing to get ahead or tapping people on the shoulder and telling them to move so they can take a picture. It has made my job (as a guide) infinitely more difficult and I actually find myself deeply dreading having to take people to the Uffizi.
    I’m all for self-expression and new ways of looking at, experiencing and interacting with art but in this case the reality is such that it constitutes a serious problem for users in the Uffizi. I’ll take the “reality” you show here any day. How sad to have to say that I prefer images of the images, but unfortunately in the case of the Uffizi, it’s true.

  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    Hi Alex
    Thanks for weighing in here. I mentioned you in one of the other comments as well – I am really concerned about the disorder that is taking place in museums now that people can photograph. I don’t understand why this makes them into animals all of a sudden, but I guess the place was pretty bad before, and now it is worse.
    As you well know since both of us have read and shared articles about this phenomenon both here and in the UK, it’s been talked about plenty and I decided not to go that route with this article. Rather, I hoped to find a silver lining – and did – to the situation. I do have to add the caveat that not all users are sharing on instagram, and perhaps the worst offenders, the basic photographers of selfies in front of the most famous paintings or those who would push you out of the way to get it, are just snapping that and leaving :(
    Do you think there is a possible solution to this problem?
    AMK

  • http://girlinflorence.com/ Georgette Jupe

    Actually that detail is hilarious! I have seen some pretty creative selfies on twitter as well. I think as long as people remember to be respectful and not clamor over one another for a shot, I think this might not be such a bad idea..

  • Ishita

    Hilarious in many ways! Loved it :) I don’t like to take pictures of myself in museums though. but I am glad someone is doing it, right or wrong, upto them!

  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    Glad you enjoyed it, and thanks for commenting!

  • barcelonafan

    I’m glad we can take pictures. Not so much in Uffizi but other museums. Catalogues are becoming worse with tiny pictures so glad I can take my own specially of sculpture and frescoes. This includes The main churches SM Novella , S Croce, Carmine, S Marco and S Lorenzo? Thanks. Great work!

  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    Hi again! Yes, photos are now allowed just about everywhere in the churches and museums, except in the case of special exhibits where there are loan agreements that might ban it. Also, a few privately owned museums may follow different rules.