Credit: GG Illustrator Emma Garcia-Melchor (@emmitagm)

Translating artworks into the language of gastronomy

By Anastasija Svarevska

 Artistic appetizers at the Uffizi Gallery.

Although various forms of technology have increasingly been applied by cultural heritage institutions, the Covid-19 pandemic has sent them further into the digital space where all of us, whether we like it or not, are living at the moment. Among many galleries and museums worldwide, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, one of Italy’s best-known tourist attractions, is weathering the storm and finding innovative ways to keep their audiences of all ages engaged. To appeal to their younger fan base, the Uffizi was one of the first museums to join TikTok last spring and by doing so, propose a fresh – and fun – perspective on interacting with art (expect Botticelli’s Venus dressed in protective gear and Morandini’s Three Graces at a rave). 

While the TikTok initiative can be accused of being lowbrow for quite obvious reasons, according to the museum’s marketing director, the new and wholesome project, “Uffizi da mangiare” (Uffizi on the Plate), kills two birds with one stone by merging education and entertainment, known as edutainment in digital media terms, and skilfully interweaving fine art and fine cuisine. 

As its premise, the project invites famous Florentine chefs to reimagine a certain artwork, from the celebrated collection, as a meal. The Italian-language short films are then presented on the institution’s Facebook page (launched, strangely enough, only in March last year) every Sunday, which is a perfect day to refuel your body and soul with good food and some art. These are then uploaded on Uffizi TV Youtube channel with English subtitles to ensure that the program reaches a wider and more diverse audience. 

There is no recipe per se that we are asked to follow; instead, the chefs provide us with some historical context of the painting through the lens of food, describing how it would have been cooked and eaten. Watching these art and culinary history lessons is, then, not only an educating but also a mouth-watering experience. For example, when one of the chefs, Fabio Picchi, describes The Boy with a Basket of Fish (1736), a painting by Giacomo Ceruti that depicts sea bass, sole, and a lobster, your taste buds inevitably start craving that mayonnaise “lightened with a drizzle of lemon juice and oil” – even if you eat it with chips which is no less fancy.

By entering our homes, specifically our kitchens, the Uffizi offers us an opportunity to stay connected to its cultural life – as well as to each other – because food, apart from being our basic need, is also an essential part of our social landscape. 

It is important to consider the variety of social, art educational projects and digital initiatives which were brought to life by the lockdowns. Simply interacting with online collections doesn’t seem to be enough anymore, and museums and galleries, both as repositories of knowledge and as places of creativity and collaboration, have no choice but to be creative themselves and, as the Uffizi’s director Eike Schmidt states, to “create something that is genuinely social”. 

In the UK, the National Gallery in London is offering a free behind-the-scenes tour to reveal its collection highlights for LGBTQ+ History Month along with online workshops and courses. Oxford’s museums are hosting online exhibitions. The National Museum Scotland has launched a whole Museums at Home section, with films and podcasts, as well as monthly Museum Socials for anyone living with dementia. People History Museum in Manchester has introduced The Fabric of Protest project, an informal stitching workshop inspired by the collection of the Museum. Meanwhile, the possibilities of attending a Zoom webinar with an artist, writer, curator, or any other professional in the field are endless (Facebook has these events in spades). It only takes the desire, time, and readiness to spend some extra time on the computer. 

To borrow the words of Rebecca Kahn, a Digital Humanities scholar, “museums and galleries are locked down [but] not locked out”. Let’s admit it, social media has validated its existence, as a blessing at least in the context of museums in lockdown. It has facilitated not only wider access to learning but also participation in it, both online and offline, which is integral to meaning-making and knowledge-acquisition. 

And if you have ever heard that you can’t have your cake and eat it too, “Uffizi da Mangiare” is quite literally refuting the claim: you can now have artworks from the Uffizi on a plate and you can taste them, meaning that you can have the best of both worlds. 


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