Botticelli’s Venus as ‘influencer’ in tourism campaign faces widespread ridicule

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An official website and video using a computerised mascot inspired by Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus (around 1485) to promote tourism to Italy has drawn widespread ridicule.

Meanwhile, an Italian campaign group has questioned whether the Uffizi Galleries, the museum in Florence where the Botticelli painting is displayed, authorised the use of the Venus image for the €9m campaign.

Titled “Open to Meraviglia” (Open to Wonder), the campaign was devised by Italy’s tourism ministry together with the country’s tourism board, Enit, and features Venus as a “virtual influencer” who dons a mini-skirt and takes selfies in front of iconic landmarks, including Rome’s Colosseum and Florence’s Cathedral.

In an article for the newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano, the art historian Tomaso Montanari described the campaign, which was designed by the Armando Testa communications group, as “grotesque” and “shameful”. The art critic Vittorio Sgarbi, an undersecretary in Italy’s culture ministry, asked in comments published in the newspaper La Repubblica: “Open to Meraviglia? What is that? What language is that?”.

Social media users derided the campaign after it emerged on Sunday that the video includes footage showing an apparently typical Italian scene of people drinking wine on a sunlit patio that was actually shot in Slovenia and featured Slovenian wine.

Commentators have pointed out errors in the German version of the site, with the town names like Cento and Brindisi mistranslated as “Hundert” (hundred) and “Toast”.

Unveiling the campaign at a press conference on Thursday, Tourism Minister Daniela Santanchè said: “We are the most beautiful nation in the world but we are not the best at promoting ourselves. We need to regain our pride in being Italian, in our identity”.

But the art and heritage campaign group Mi Riconosci described the campaign in a press statement as “humiliating”, adding it was “unclear” whether the Uffizi had consented to the use of the Venus image for the campaign.

In a separate case in October, the Uffizi announced it would sue fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier for using representations of Botticelli’s Venus on specially-designed garments without first obtaining the museum’s consent.

Italy’s Code of Cultural Heritage requires anyone who uses images of public heritage for commercial purposes to obtain prior authorisation and to pay a fee, though it allows for the free use of images for non-profit activities, study and research, and the promotion of cultural heritage.

A spokesman for Mi Riconosci tells The Art Newspaper that the nature of the “Welcome to Meraviglia” campaign was “ambiguous” and “borderline”.

“There is always a fine line between commercial and promotional activity, and we believe that in this case that line has been crossed,” the spokesman says.

An Uffizi spokesman declined to comment when asked by The Art Newspaper about whether the museum had provided authorisation for the use of the image.

Italy’s tourism ministry did not reply to a request for comment on the matter.

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