‘The City a Prostitute’ Says Museum Director

The new Bar David’s logo depicts Michelangelo’s hold a gelato ih his hand

Speaking at a recent press conference, Cecilie Hollberg, director of the Galleria dell’Accademia, did not hold back in airing her opinion on the effect of tourism on Florence. Having served in this position since 2015, Hollberg, who is from Germany, lamented the changes related to tourism she has witnessed in her years on the job. In her eyes, the city is nearing a point of no return.

“Florence is very beautiful and I would like it to return to the citizens and not be crushed by tourism,” said Hollberg. “We no longer find a shop, a normal shop, but only things exclusively for tourists with gadgets and souvenirs and this should be stopped. But once a city has become a prostitute it will be impossible to make her a virgin again and if we don’t put the absolute brake on now there will be no hope.”

In describing Florence as a “prostitute,” Hollberg used the Italian word meretrice, which translates to “harlot.” It’s an interesting way for Hollberg to describe the city, especially given that this came at the end of a victory lap speech of sorts. Hollberg will be stepping down as Director in June of this year. Now, she might not be leaving on the best of terms.

Hollberg’s tenure as Director has been marked by notable achievements. In 2022, the Sala del Colosso, one of the museum’s rooms, reopened after months of extensive renovations. New paint colors were applied to the walls, and the lighting altered to emphasize the striking nature of the room’s works, which include pieces by Lorenzo di Credi, Paolo Uccello, and Botticelli among others. She also had a new air conditioning system installed, which the museum needed badly in the wake of previous system failures and subsequent faintings. (link magenta articles)

Last year, Italian courts sided with the Accademia regarding a lawsuit over David’s likeness appearing on the cover of an issue of GQ alongside a model bearing resemblance. Such a move was “debasing, obfuscating, mortifying, and humiliating the high symbolic and identity value of the work of art and subjugating it for advertising and editorial promotion purposes.” The court ruled that the magazine pay a total of €50,000 to the Accademia for licensing fees and image distortion.

Yet, before finishing her victory lap, Hollberg will now have to deal with major backlash. Though her overall opinion of tourism in Florence has merit, it is her terminology that has upset many in the city. “Hollberg offends the history of Florence, where she worked,” said Alessia Bettini, the deputy mayor and councilor for culture in Florence. “She offends the work of thousands of people and above all she offends the Florentines, she herself who, as a non-Florentine, owes a lot to Florence.”

Especially in the wake of post-COVID reopenings, tourism in Florence has increased and boomed at times. According to Statista, between 2021 and 2022, tourism went up 200% in the city. These trends have spurred movements to limit or rid the city of Airbnb’s to prevent the influx of tourists. 

Clearly Hollberg’s sentiment, and perhaps exact words, will be well-received by some, but even she expressed regret for her rhetoric. She backtracked that same afternoon, saying she used the “wrong words” in her characterization of Florence, though stuck by her point. She will have until June to make any more important changes in her final days as Director. (Colin Healy)