Uffizi sells works in NFT. All history and controversy

A report from the television program Le Iene about the Uffizi’s sales of digital copies (NFT) of his masterpiece takes up a media case. The ministry stops the reproduction for fear that the activity may damage the national heritage. Here’s the whole story

“Galeotto was Michelangelo’s ‘Tondo Doni’ and who sold it”: the intricate scandal that excites the Italian media during these hours can be described in this way, beginning with a report by Marco Occhipinti and Antonino Monteleone scheduled for the May 25 episode of Hyenor, at ItaliaUno. The Round giftsthe original, which is kept in the Uffizi, has not been sold, but recently its digital copy has been put up for sale, also an original due to the special technology by which it was made: in short, by an art historical masterpiece it is possible to create its digital copy – in the case of Round gifts it consists of a handmade frame that contains a screen that faithfully reproduces Michelangelo’s work. Digital reproduction of Tondo Doni – created by Cinello, a company founded by John Blem and Franco Losi specializing in creating DAWs, or digital works of art – was sold for 240,000 euros, and Cinello also claimed the rights to make digital copies of another 40 Uffizi works, an example followed of other Italian museums. For some time now, however, doubts at the ministerial level have hovered over this cooperation: in recent months, the museums’ director general has Massimo Osanna has signed a circular to block contracts between museums and companies that make digital copies, given the ministry’s fear of losing “Governance, control and exploitation” digital images of the National Heritage’s works, and have appointed a special commission to evaluate matters relating to this issue.

Uffizi room dedicated to Raphael and Michelangelo. The main character is Tondo Doni


In fact, the question that many are asking themselves these hours, and which underlies the whole story, is: the owner of the digital work that reproduces an art historical masterpiece, to what extent can he exercise rights to the image of that masterpiece? To answer the question is Uffizi who in a press release emphasizes how the contractor has no right to use the images granted for exhibitions or other unauthorized use, and the assets remain firmly in the hands of the Italian Republic. In short, from this point of view, it seems that the management and control of the images of the works that belong to the state heritage are not questioned, nor that the works can be exploited or used in an inconvenient way. The problem addressed by Onebut it is also another.

Screen of the report by Marco Occhipinti and Antonino Monteleone at Le Iene
Screen of the report by Marco Occhipinti and Antonino Monteleone at Le Iene


As pointed out by One, “The Cinello company digitally reproduces 40 works from the Uffizi plus hundreds of other paintings from Italian museums and the contract stipulates that 50 percent of the net sales revenue will be shared between the museum that owns the work and Cinello, the company that sells it.”. In the case of Round gifts, it is 240 thousand euros, and Cinello and Uffizi have received 70 thousand euros each from the sale, excluding 100 thousand euros in construction costs (which are therefore borne by those who bought NFT). A commission on sales is considered very high by Gian Luca Comandini, NFT and Blockchain expert consulted by Onewhich also emphasizes: “The officers should have made a bid and would have found dozens of companies that have been doing this work for years, authoritative, reliable and who would probably have asked for an average commission of 3-4-5%.. Why has no tender been made? “This contract does not include bids, as there is no exclusivity”answers the director of the Uffizi Eike Schmidt. “Those who come to us can ask to use our pictures. That is, it is enough that he pays us what we owe. “. Of course, he is also consulted Franco Losi by Cinello, who responds as follows: “This is not a correct way of approaching things. He did not spend a single penny on the museum to get that money, I expect a thank you”.

    Screen of the report by Marco Occhipinti and Antonino Monteleone at Le Iene
Screen of the report by Marco Occhipinti and Antonino Monteleone at Le Iene


The Ministry of Culture has announced that it is working to create a guide to refresher courses for museums on the theme of NFT in art, digital reproductions of works of art registered in the blockchain and numbered. As the Deputy Secretary pointed out Lucia Borgonzonithe commission set up by the ministry will be based on two principles: “Non-profitability of ownership of the digital image of the public entity that owns the asset” e “Non-exclusive use of digitized cultural assets”.


But even if they are subject to ministerial scrutiny and from a legal point of view, there is no risk, from a “conceptual” point of view, how much NFT can prove to be a danger to cultural heritage and how much it can question the concept of “uniqueness” around which has always revolved the very essence of artistic practice? The NFT opens up new critical frontiers for the artistic phenomenon, whose “reproducibility” had already been explored by Walter Benjamin in the essay The work of art in the era of its technical reproducibility (1936). Despite that, according to Benjamin “Here and now of the original constitutes the concept of its authenticity”perhaps in order to understand how to function in terms of NFT reproductions, one should first reflect on the aesthetic and realizing scenarios that these digital works open today.


“In the meantime, we do not do NFT”, the company answers Cinello reached by artribun. “We are a company that in 2016 filed a patent registered in China, Europe and North America and linked to the technology we patented in DAWs, digital artwork, which allows us to make files unique. In NFT, however, the certificate of origin and ownership is unique, but NFT has no content ”. And the company explains, more precisely, what their DAWs are and how they are manufactured: A digital work of art consists of a set of elements. These include: a high-resolution file with the digital edition of the work and a hardware support (myGal) on which the Cinello software that implements the patent object is installed, ie a model that binds the digital through cryptography the file to devices through which it is displayed (myGal itself and Monitor) so that it can not be copied and shared, and a certificate of authenticity (COA) numbered and signed by Cinello and by the owner of the reproduction rights for the work, as well as the IP rights (intellectual property rights) “In addition, a handmade frame in scale 1: 1 is delivered together with DAW based on the original”. In addition, Cinello, DAWs points out “They are not traded in cryptocurrencies but in current currencies; otherwise we would never have been able to conclude agreements with state museums, on the basis of a technology that is neither legally nor fiscally regulated in the world. “. As already explained in the Uffizi press release, “Cinello does not become the owner of the work, but only of the digital work of art that is created. All rights to the work remain with the work, and in the case of Tondo Doni, the Uffizi remains the owner of the rights to the work and its reproduction.”.

– Desiree Maida

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