When the Uffizi Gallery in Florence sold an NFT by Michelangelo Doni Tondo for €240,000 last year, he seemed to have found a major new source of income. But it turns out that the tech company she partnered with to produce the digital work took on so much expense that the museum only raised €70,000 ($70,500). Now, the Italian ministry that regulates museums in the country has asked institutions to temporarily cease contracts with NFT providers.
The Uffizi sale was orchestrated by Milan-based tech company Cinello, which had secured a five-year contract (which expired in December) to digitally reproduce artwork from the Uffizi collection.
Each of the digital works, which Cinello calls DAWs, have been certified on the Ethereum blockchain and traded as NFTs in collaboration with Unit, a contemporary art dealer in London. The works were made in editions of nine, priced between €100,000 and €250,000 ($114,000 – $284,000) each.
A Cinello spokesperson Told the art diary that the company would split the proceeds with the Offices 50/50—after production costs. These costs, which included taxes, a platform commission, the cost of producing a frame and a 20% operating fee, amounted to €100,000.
Initially, the NFT was designed to be in a hybrid digital and physical artifact, combining a wooden copy of the original frame, with a screen and a chip where the copy of the artwork was saved as an NFT.
However, the sale came to public attention after the Italian daily The Republic made headlines last May wondering who owns the digital rights to Michelangelo Doni Tondo. In this articleUffizi director Eike Schmidt admitted the museum failed to do their due diligence when it came to structuring the deal around the NFT.
“It is fundamental to be informed not only from a technical point of view, but also from a legal point of view,” he said. Adding that “some platforms where you register the property may not give sufficient guarantees, and you risk losing everything,” he said.
By purchasing digital copies of works from the Uffizi collection, new owners can theoretically exhibit and control them in augmented and virtual reality, as well as in emergent environments such as the metaverse. This could leave institutions like the Uffizi off guard when it comes to vetting the works they sell from their own collection on budding metaverse platforms.
“Since this issue is complex and unregulated,” a spokesperson for the Italian Ministry of Museums Told the art diary, “the ministry has temporarily asked its institutions to refrain from signing contracts relating to NFTs. The basic intention is to avoid unfair contracts.
For his part, Cinello maintains that all rights to the work belong to the museum, adding that his goal is “not to disperse Italian heritage around the world”, but to help the museum collect royalties and collect essential funds to protect, conserve and maintain the originals in its collection.
Although its contract with the Uffizi is technically over, Cinello currently works with 10 other Italian museums, including the Museo di Palazzo Pretorio and the Pinacoteca di Brera di Milano.
The company did not respond to a request for comment on whether it will continue to offer and structure similar NFT offerings.
Other companies, such as LaCollection, have also recently announcement similar partnerships, notably with the British Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, and the Belvedere Museum in Vienna, have also deployed similar devices. In September, the Hermitage auctioned NFT replicas of his five best-known paintings, earning him $444,000 at the time. The Belvedere digitized and split a picture of Gustav Klimt The kiss, released as a series of 10,000 NFTs last Valentine’s Day, each priced at 0.65 Ethereum (about $1,950 at the time), generating about $4.5 million.
While the trend to digitize priceless works of art seems to be gaining momentum (despite recent calamity around NFT prices as a whole), the question of who will ultimately benefit in a still unregulated market remains.
Follow Artnet News on Facebook:
Want to stay one step ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to receive breaking news, revealing interviews and incisive reviews that move the conversation forward.