As Four Major Italian Museums Sell NFT Reproductions of Masterpieces, Some Say Digital Editions Could Be Better Than the Real Thing


Underfunded museums suffering from reduced visitor numbers and revenues during a pandemic may have found a lifeline in the form of a new partnership between tech companies and commercial galleries.

Four major Italian museums, including the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, have signed an ambitious project to sell digital replicas of valuable masterpiece editions from their collections as NFTs.

The project debuted at a unit gallery in London with an exhibition titled “Eternalizing Art History” that exhibited digital replicas of six famous Italian masterpieces such as Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci. These approved digital copies will be displayed on a digital screen set within a handmade replica of the original frame of the artwork. Each digital work (called DAW by the tech company that created them, Cinello) is certified on the Ethereum blockchain and can be traded as an NFT. These are available in nine editions, the common edition size of sculptures, and prices range from € 100,000 to € 250,000 ($ 114,000 to $ 284,000) per piece.

Participating museums (Pinacoteca di Brera and Ambrosian Library in Milan, Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Palma Museum) have approved reproductions in exchange for 50% of the net income from the sale of the work. Fund their art preservation program. (The remaining 50% is evenly divided between the gallery and its technical partners).

Leonardo da Vinci, Ritratto di Musico (portrait of a musician)DAW® (Digital Artwork), devised in 1490 and digitized in 2021. Image by Eva Herzog.

This move is part of a broader effort to tour works that cannot be moved due to vulnerable storage conditions and to show them to spectators experiencing more limited travel options.But as a professor At the unveiling of the exhibition, Guido Guerzoni of the University of Bocconi said that commercial efforts are more than just reaching a new audience.

“A revolution is needed for museums to survive,” he said. “”In a pandemic year, museums in Europe lost 70% of their visitors and 70-80% of their revenue. These numbers are impressive, but the situation in Italy is even worse. Considering only the National Museum [… ] That’s 85% of visitors and almost 90% of revenue. “

The professor said the pandemic forced the museum to reunite with the local audience, but this strategy is sustainable in the long run for museums like the Uffizi Gallery, which rely on income from international tourism. He added that it wasn’t. With no physical visitors, the museum hastily deployed its digital strategy to reach its audience, which in itself requires huge investment, but some of these digital initiatives have actually succeeded. It is a source of revenue. Such an initiative is Though considered “unthinkable” a few years ago, it is now admired as an entrepreneurial solution to the real problems facing financial institutions.

Joe Kennedy, Director of Unit London, told Artnet News:With “overwhelming interest in the project so far”, 5 sales have been confirmed and another 12 to 15 will be confirmed by next week.

Raphael Santi (Raphael Sanzio), Madonna del Carderino (Madonna of Gold Finch).  Invented in 1506 and digitized in 2021.  Provided by DAW® (Digital Artwork) Limited Edition 9 of 9 107 cm x 77 cm Le Gallerie degli Uffizi (Florence) and Cinello.

Raffaello Santi (Raffaello Sanzio), Madonna del Carderino (Madonna of Gold Finch).. DAW® (Digital Artwork) was devised in 1506 and digitized in 2021. Courtesy of Le Gallerie degli Uffizi (Florence) and Cinello.

The opening audience was divided into philosophical questions. Experiencing digital reproduction is whether standing in front of the original can be considered a similar experience. “”The DAW is not intended to compete with the original painting. It’s important to recognize that they are reproductions, “unit Joe Kennedy told Artnet News, their mobility reveals the fascinating history and context of their original paintings as they reach a new audience. He added that it would be possible to do so. “These act as storytelling tools, ensuring that these iconic works survive through a new generation of art lovers and only enhance the magical experience of seeing the original painting in person.”

But in an era when the Metaverse and NFTs are all the rage, this view of the original sacredness, perhaps shared by this reporter, may not be the only answer to this question. Panelist Serena Tabacchi, Cinello’s partnership manager, thought the experience was indistinguishable, and artist Misan Harriman hypothesized that a high-quality copy could provide a “better” experience to the viewer. ..

“I don’t know if the original aura is the same as in our time,” said an art historian. Carlo Francini, UNESCO’s director of Florence, Walter Benjamin’s original text Work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction, “Aura”, or the unique aesthetic authority of a work of art, claimed to be nonexistent in mechanically created copies. “Maybe now we are a completely evolved digital spirit.”

Install view, "Eternal art history," Image by Unit London, Eva Herzog.

Installation view, “Eternalizing Art History”, image by Unit London, Eva Herzog.

Indeed, if the “immersive Van Gogh” phenomenon didn’t tell us anything else, people (some may not be interested in seeing the original) to experience digital duplication. Will flock and pay. For some of these audiences, copies of the masterpieces of Leonardo, Caravaggio, Rafael, Modigliani and Francesco Eyez could be as influential as the original.

While this initiative seems easy to fill a museum or bank account with an educational mission, this idea raises an interesting challenge. Given the vulnerable state in which many of these masterpieces, cited as one of the project’s motivations, are preserved, it is quite possible that these digital copies will last longer than the original copies. It in turn raises the question of institutional liability for ownership of these precious things and whether they should be so knightly about their disappearance in private hands.

“The Eternity of Art History: From Da Vinci to Modigliani” is on display in a unit in London until March 19th.

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