With a Contessa’s Touch
By Stephen Joseph Keeler
“Beauty will save the world,” said the great literary artist Dostoyevsky. Many believe it was said as a prophecy; but he may very well have also been thinking of where such beauty can be understood and appreciated, which leads one directly to the fabulous, world-renowned Uffizi Gallery of Florence, Italy.
Built in the late 16th century by the Medici family, those great and powerful dukes of Tuscany who called Florence home, the Uffizi – “offices” in Italian – was originally meant to centralize the emerging modern bureaucracy of the Medici and Florence. The Medicis devoted a significant portion of their wealth to beautifying Florence, attracting many of the late-Renaissance master artists and their work, including Michelangelo, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci.
When the last of the dynastic Medici, Anna Maria Luisa, married the king of Lorena and moved to France in 1737, she signed an agreement ensuring that all of her artistic possessions would always call Florence home and be available for public display. Not many organizations have been in continuous existence since 1737. Americans know that year as the founding of the city of Richmond, Virginia, and the birth year of prominent Founding Fathers such as Thomas Paine and John Hancock.
With this final act of investment in beauty from a noble family of financiers and governors, the Uffizi was transformed into one of the greatest public museums in the world,
a position it holds to this day still.
But that does not come without hard work from leaders in this day and age, and in the spirit of the leadership of the Medicis, The Friends of the Uffizi continue this grand and noble effort. South Florida Opulence had the distinct honor to spend some time with the President of the Friends of the Uffizi, Contessa Maria Vittoria Colonna Rimbotti.
“We do not protect these works of art because they are old antiques,” she said, warming to the subject of why the Uffizi is vital to people in this day and age. “We protect them because they point to our roots as a civilization, and at the same time are the very creative high point of our society. People living here and now are linked to the Renaissance; you and I are heirs to the Medici, and that linkage – our inheritance – is made visible, tangible, sensible, by the great art in the Uffizi.”
The mission of the Uffizi, then, cannot be discounted. “If we lose our identity, our common history, we will lose everything, we will be one of those lost civilizations which some future explorer will ‘discover’ under overgrown branches and mounds of dirt,” implores Contessa Maria Vittoria. “But while I live and breathe, that will not happen, because of the works in the Uffizi.”
Neglect and the ravages of time have a formidable foe in Contessa Maria Vittoria. The Contessa traces her own lineage to an ancient Roman family whose members include Pope Clement V, the great re-builder of Rome who restored the Eternal City to glory during his reign from 1417 to 1431. So appreciative were the people of Rome for his benevolent influence that they inscribed on his tomb “the happiness of his age” in the crypt beneath the cathedral of Rome, the Church of St. John Lateran.
But perhaps her own muse is a female ancestor, Vittoria Colonna. Born in 1490, Vittoria Colonna was most famous for poetry, and for her friendship with Michelangelo. The great artist was devoted to her, and presented her with many of his most famous works such as ‘The Pieta.’ She was able to bring Michelangelo into society, and bring him acclaim during his lifetime. But for Maria Vittoria Colonna, much of the legacy and brilliance of Michelangelo would never have been revealed to the world.
Countessa Maria Vittoria’s formal association with the Uffizi began in 1993, working to develop benefactors in America, culminating in the formation of the American Friends of the Uffizi in 2006. The group’s activities are varied, and include supporting exhibitions, paintings and restorations, including that of Da Vinci’s spectacular ‘Adoration of the Magi.’ “The wood on the back is so fragile, it was in danger of collapsing. We now have been able to procure the talents of the top restorers in the world to ensure that one of Da Vinci’s greatest works is not destroyed.”
The Friends of the Uffizi also provided for the new Michelangelo Room at the Uffizi Gallery, showcasing Michelangelo’s ‘Tondo Doni.’ This oil and tempura masterpiece depicts the Holy Family in the foreground and St. John in the middle ground, and is his only confirmed panel painting that has survived in its original frame. It was removed during World War II and hidden from the bombing and looting of the Nazis, with the return and restoration complete in 2008. Now it has a restored space commensurate with its history and legacy.
“And work is not just about restoration and protection of the great artists of the past,” Contessa Maria Vittoria is quick to explain. “We are also working with young painters, sculptors and other artists to cultivate the next Michelangelo.” For this, the Friends of the Uffizi support the acquisition of new collections, and the education of youth, with scholarships, trips, training and promotions.
“Access, availability, education, support, training, discernment, refinement – nothing great comes without work, and we have the friends of the Uffizi – and we need more – to provide for all that you need in any discipline to develop excellence and to create beauty,” she said.
Become a Member of The Friends of Uffizi
“Culture itself has within it the word cult, and a beautiful cult will allow for the flowering of beauty and a beautiful culture,”
Contessa Maria Vittoria explained. “Our legacy, the legacy of the Friends of the Uffizi, and of my family, of you and your family, of the Medicis and the Colonnas, will be how well we impart to future generations, to our youth, all that is wonderful, that is beautiful, that speaks to the glory of our civilization. By participating in the Uffizi, we participate in the creation of things divine, of things of beauty. Wherever, whenever, anybody needs an ambassador for beauty, for art, for the Uffizi, I will be there.”
Given the personality, poise and dedication of Contessa Maria Vittoria, there is no doubt of her fulfilling that promise. If you are interested in participating with her in this extraordinary endeavor US-based, please visit the Friends at www.friendsoftheuffizigallery.org.