The Friends of the Uffizi was established in 2006 as the US “sister” organization to its Italian counterpart, Amici degli Uffizi. In this interview, we speak with the association’s executive director and board member, Lisa Marie Conte Browne.
How was the organization established and what continues to be your mission?
The Friends of the Uffizi Gallery (FoUG) was established in Palm Beach by president Contessa Maria Vittoria Colonna Rimbotti, vice president Dr. Manuel Guerra and secretary general Patrizia Asproni to provide financial support for the museum and its sister organization Amici degli Uffizi, which aims to raise funds for the restoration and exhibition of the museum’s works of art through the generous contributions of American patrons in Palm Beach and across the country. Many individuals in the United States recognize the cultural importance of this mission as Florence has always been the epicenter of the Renaissance and the Uffizi Gallery is its crowning jewel and beating heart. The treasures housed in the Uffizi have inspired and nurtured countless generations, fueling their creativity and imagination. The American Friends of the Uffizi takes great pride in our 17-year history of raising funds and awareness to keep the Uffizi, the Pitti Palace and the Boboli pristine for generations to come. The two sister organizations work together to contribute actively to the safeguarding and growth of the Uffizi Galleries, which include the Uffizi, Palazzo Pitti and Boboli Gardens. We work closely with the museum director Dr. Eike Schmidt to preserve and restore vital works of art in the three locations.
From sponsoring the Boboli Gardens amphitheater to conserving the Valois Tapestries, the Friends of the Uffizi Galleries is forever busy doing good deeds. Tell us about your most recent projects and what we can expect from Friends of the Uffizi Galleries over the next few months.
In her last address, President Maria Vittoria Colonna Rimbotti described the years of painstaking work the organization has funded for two very complex projects: the restoration of both the eight Valois tapestries and the Sala di Bona in Palazzo Pitti. Mrs. Veronica Atkins enthusiastically financed the recovery of these treasures and also donated a magnificent concert grand piano for the Sala Bianca in Palazzo Pitti. Now, Mrs. Atkins is the sole donor bringing the Boboli Gardens amphitheater back to its original glory. Veronica is a friend of mine and the Uffizi that shines above all others. We all respect Mrs. Veronica Atkins’ love of art, especially music, and there will be many surprises in the future thanks to this passion. We are working on several projects at this time, including the renovation of a former private chapel of Violante Beatrix of Bavaria at the Pitti Palace and its frescos by Alessandro Gherardini next to the Sala di Bona. Our painting restorations include L’Enigma di Omero by Bartolomeo Passerotti, a Baroque Cradle, Cosimo Rosselli’s Adoration of the Magi, Madonna and the Roses by Botticelli, Camillo Mainardi’s Allegory of Love and Rembrandt’s self-portrait, which will be in the new portrait gallery at the Uffizi. With the help of the readers of The Florentine, we hope that many more projects may be fulfilled.
We strive to create a community of passionate Uffizi supporters who are committed to preserving and promoting an institution that is a treasure house for the world.
Tell us about how you fell in love with the Uffizi and Florence. When you visit the museum, which artworks are you most drawn to? Outside of the Uffizi, which are your favourite places around town?
From the moment I set foot inside the Uffizi Gallery as a young girl with my mom, I knew something changed inside me. Little did I know that it would be the start of a love affair that would last a lifetime. In 2006, when I revisited the museum, I was going through a pivotal moment in my life and I looked to the past for inspiration to shape my future. The Contessa placed her trust in me and gave me the chance to give back to this cultural powerhouse by reigniting the inflow of charitable donations from US donors for the museum’s various projects. My executive and advisory boards work diligently to bring light to the most beautiful museum in the world. We all have purpose and my fingerprint on history is solidified by my commitment to the preservation of the Uffizi and today the Palazzo Pitti and Boboli Gardens and all of their treasures. Of course, many of the Italian masters, including Titian in the Titian Room supported by ten of our donors, Giotto, Caravaggio, Michelangelo, another room supported by the Friends, Gentileschi, and so many others set a fire in me. However, it was an unrestored Filippo Lippi on the same wall as a restored Filippo Lippi back in June of 2006 that solidified my commitment to this journey.
When I first visited the Uffizi with my son, I found him staring at Botticelli’s Primavera, specifically at the intricately detailed foreground where over 180 different flower species are depicted. He opened my eyes to its beauty. Bring a child on your Uffizi Galleries visit and you’ll find things you didn’t know existed. In the same gallery is the Medici ring motif painted on the light gauzy fabric of Pallas and the Centaur. If you take a trip just outside of Florence to Fondazione Arte della Seta Lisio, you can see the same ring motif being woven into jacquard on a 100-year-old hand-operated loom.
My personal favorite spots around the city include La Ménagère for brunch, L’Osteria di Giovanni for the warmth of Italy in a Florentine dinner (you must try the coccoli!) and a trip to Jean Saadé jewelers (which always has a tendency of making my suitcase heavier and my checkbook lighter). Jean supports the Friends of the Uffizi during each of our Florentine Weekends with his treasures as gifts for our guests.
How can American Uffizi lovers get involved in your organization and how do you maintain their involvement through events and visits to Florence?
We keep our members engaged through regular communication, including our upcoming Eighth Florentine Cultural Weekend from October 5 to 10, newsletters, il Giornale and updates on the museum’s ongoing projects and initiatives. We strive to create a community of passionate Uffizi supporters who are committed to preserving and promoting an institution that is a treasure house for the world.