Coronavirus in Italy: Ai Weiwei criticised for 'insensitive' pasta meme and Raphael blockbuster closes

An emergency decree means that all museums in the country are on lock down until 3 April

Italy's museums have closed again to prevent the spread of coronavirus, while the Chinese artist's Instagram meme about the pandemic hit a nerve online Left: Rome, photo: Bert Kaufmann; right: Ai Weiwei, photo: © Alfred Weidinger

The Italian government has passed an emergency decree stating that all museums across the country must stay closed until 3 April in a bid to contain the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak. The move means a long-awaited exhibition dedicated to Raphael at Rome’s Scuderie del Quirinale has been forced to close. The show, marking the 500th anniversary of the Renaissance painter’s death, was due to run until 2 June.

According to France 24, 70,000 tickets were bought in advance. “Visitors who purchased tickets will be contacted,” says the website for the Scuderie del Quirinale. “[The institution] will remain closed until new government advice is issued.”

The Roman show is jointly organised by the Scuderie del Quirinale and the Gallerie degli Uffizi in Florence, in what the Uffizi director Eike Schmidt describes as “an unprecedented collaboration”. The Uffizi alone has loaned 40 works by the artist to help assemble the largest number of Raphaels ever seen under one roof.

In a tweet, the culture minister, Dario Franceschini, said: “From today, cinemas, theatres, concerts and museums will be closed all over Italy. [This is] a necessary and painful choice…. I ask TV music networks, theatre, cinema, art and all cultural operators to make the most of their social networks and sites.”

The latest measure follows weeks of disruption for Italian cultural institutions; museums re-opened last week in the Lombardy and Veneto regions after ministers announced a mass closure of institutions in the north of Italy. Italy has seen the largest number of coronavirus infections in Europe, with the death toll passing 230.

The Vatican Museums, home to the Sistine Chapel, will subsequently be closed until 3 April. According to the Catholic News Agency: “Museums attached to pontifical basilicas and papal villas in Italy will also close, along with the excavation office that coordinates the Vatican Scavi Tours to St. Peter’s tomb.” In a statement, the Galleria Borghese in Rome says that “its activities… do not stop” despite closing, and to check for updates on its social media platforms. The Gallerie degli Uffizi tweeted that the institution will close until early April in line with the new measures. Heritage sites such as the Colosseum in Rome must also shut according to the new decree.

Meanwhile, Ai Weiwei’s new production of Giacomo Puccini’s classic opera Turandot (1926), which was scheduled to run at the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma from 25 March to 5 April, has been suspended. A spokesman for the artist and activist says: “The Turandot production that we have spent a long time preparing for has been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic facing northern Italy. We were told the opera has been postponed to next year.”

Ai drew fire about the Italian lockdown after posting on Instagram: “Corona virus is like pasta. The Chinese invented it, but the Italians will spread it all over the world.” Artist Francesco Vezzoli told Huffington Post: "Italy has always welcomed him with open arms; he rewards all that affection by writing those things?"