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German director of Florence gallery risks job loss amid push for more Italians in top cultural roles

Cecilie Hollberg, director of the Accademia Gallery poses in front of Michelangelo's white marble statue "David" in Florence.
Cecilie Hollberg, director of the Accademia Gallery poses in front of Michelangelo's white marble statue "David" in Florence. Copyright Alessandra Tarantino/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Alessandra Tarantino/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
By Rebecca Ann Hughes
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Cecilie Hollberg won landmark court cases to protect the marble masterpiece David’s familiar image against misuse.

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The German director of Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia has expressed concerns over losing her job amid Italy’s push to assign more Italians to top cultural roles.

Cecilie Hollberg has been a seminal figure for the Florentine gallery, succeeding in drawing visitors’ attention to masterpieces beyond Michelangelo’s iconic David sculpture and boosting visitor numbers.

The museum has welcomed over a million visitors so far this year and looks set to exceed its 2019 record of 1.7 million visitors.

The director also won landmark court cases to protect the marble masterpiece’s familiar image against misuse.

Florence's Accademia Gallery risks losing independent status

Despite Hollberg’s achievements at Italy’s second-most-visited museum, rumours are circulating that Italy’s far-right-led government intends to send her packing before her contract expires next year.

This is not the first time Hollberg has faced such as situation. After taking up her post in 2015, she was fired at short notice in 2019 by another conservative government.

The Accademia was put under the management of another Florence mega-attraction, the Uffizi Gallery. Hollberg was reinstated as director the following year and the Accademia returned to independent status after the right-wing government was ousted.

The German director says she can’t understand why the gallery is again at risk of losing its autonomy. She adds that she has not been given the chance to discuss this with anyone within Italy’s culture ministry.

Despite having a contract that runs to 2024, Hollberg could lose her position sooner under an expected government ruling that would put the Accademia under the management of the Bargello museum in Florence.

Italy wants fewer foreigners running its museums and galleries

Italy’s culture minister, Gennaro Sangiuliano, has been unequivocal about his preference for Italians to run the country’s top Italian cultural institutions, from museums to opera houses.

In a state TV interview earlier this year, he denied the government is prejudiced against the non-Italian directors, but said their prevalence demonstrated “a certain xenophile provincialism that we must by every account appoint a foreigner.”

Ten museum director positions are in the process of being filled, including at the Uffizi and Milan’s Brera, both currently held by foreigners. Unlike previous calls to fill the roles, this year applicants must demonstrate fluency in Italian.

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