It is over! Italy bans museums from creating new digital copies

The Italian state is reversing its decision to allow its cultural institutions to create NFT versions of their masterpieces. This reversal is particularly aimed at the Uffizi Museum and its contract with the Cinello company.

In the first half of 2021, Italy authorized public cultural institutions to partner with private companies to create NFTs (non-fungible tokens) that represent masterpieces from national collections. The first museum to take the leap was the Uffizi Gallery, which collaborated with the Milanese firm Cinello on the creation of its NFTs. Cinello also declares that it does not create NFTs, but rather digitally encrypted works (DAWs), digitally encrypted works. After a disappointing first sale, the recovery of tourism after a health crisis and the collapse of the NFT market, the durability of the Italian government’s deal has been questioned.


NFTs, a new source of income?

After a disastrous year 2020 for Italian culture and its museums, like many of their European neighbors, the Italian state, through its Ministry of Culture, saw in the NFT market a way to regain financial serenity for Italian museums. . Guido Guerzoni, professor at the University of Bocconi in Milan, declared last February, during the unveiling of the NFTs, to our colleagues from Artnet News: “Museums need a revolution if they want to survive. […] In one year of pandemic, European museums have lost 70% of their visitors and between 70 and 80% of their income.”.

Tondo Doni, Michelangelo, circa 1506, tempera on panel, 120 cm in diameter, Uffizi Museum. ©Wikimedia Commons – Uffizi

Selling NFTs then seemed like an efficient way to raise money. In addition to the reproduction rights, which still belong to the museums, the museums would receive a percentage of the resale of the NFTs, thus finding a new source of income.

A disappointing record

The Uffizi, like several other Italian museums, have signed a five-year contract with Cinello. Among other things, the company has already made NFTs of Portrait of a musician (1490) by Leonardo da Vinci as well The head of a young girl (1915) by Amedeo Modigliani. The original contract contains provisions for the establishment of 40 DWAs.

Portrait of a Musician, Leonardo da Vinci, 1490s, oil on wood panel, 43x31 cm, Pinacoteca Ambrosiana.  ©Wikimedia Commons

Portrait of a Musician, Leonardo da Vinci, 1490s, oil on wood panel, 43×31 cm, Pinacoteca Ambrosiana.
©Wikimedia Commons

In May 2021, the first work resulting from this partnership to be sold is DAW for Tondo Doni (1505-1506) by Michelangelo. The sale for 240,000 euros gave the Uffizi very little since Cinello pocketed 100,000 euros. The 140,000 euros in profit was shared 50% between Cinello and the offices. The Florentine museum therefore earns only 70,000 euros in the deal. This extremely disappointing figure prompted the Italian Ministry of Culture to reconsider its position on the issue of NFTs. The return of foreign tourists during the year 2021 must also have added weight.

A regulated market

A spokesman for Massimo Osanna, the director general of museums in Italy told Art Newspaper: “Since the issue is complex and unregulated, the ministry has temporarily asked its institutions to refrain from signing contracts regarding NFTs […] The basic intention is to avoid unfair contracts”. The ridiculous price that the museums receive for their sales is perhaps the reason for this reversal of the situation. The image of a country selling one of its greatest works, even in NFT, for less than 100,000 euros is rather unflattering. Other major institutions have also tried to enter the NFT market with varying degrees of success. One of the most defining experiences is undoubtedly the Belvedere in Vienna, which sold 10,000 NFT reproductions of his masterpiece for Valentine’s Day. The kiss by Klimt for a total profit estimated at 4.5 million euros.

The Kiss, Gustav Klimt, 1907-1908, oil on canvas, 180x180 cm, Vienna Upper Belvedere ©Wikimedia Commons - Google Art Project

The Kiss, Gustav Klimt, 1907-1908, oil on canvas, 180×180 cm, Upper Belvedere Vienna
©Wikimedia Commons – Google Art Project

While continuing his activities with Italian museums whose contract has already been launched, such as the Pinacoteca di Brera, Cinello said via a spokesman: “The Ministry [de la Culture] did not block our existing contracts; it blocked the museums’ ability to enter into new agreements for digital images. We hope that legislation can also be quickly adopted to regulate this market.”.


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