“That set the table for a major Michelangelo drawing show,” De Groft continues, nodding to the 2013 follow-up show “Michelangelo: Sacred and Profane,” which gathered together 25 drawings from Casa Buonarroti and attracted over 25,000 visitors over its two-month run (then a record-breaking number for the museum). Shortly after, in 2014, they presented an exhibition of three works believed to be by Caravaggio or his followers.
The most successful show (perhaps until now), though, was “Leonardo da Vinci and the Idea of Beauty,” which showcased 15 da Vinci drawings, including loans from the prestigious Uffizi Gallery in Florence, and garnered some 63,000 visitors in six weeks. Patrons came from as far away as Sydney, Australia. It traveled on to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
(which is also a partner institution for the current Botticelli show), and the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City; at the latter museum it was seen by over 200,000 visitors in the first six weeks.
De Groft notes that the strong reception has been gratifying. “Ten years ago, the entire attendance in a year at the Muscarelle was 11,000—we’ve done that in almost a week with these major shows,” he says.
Exhibitions such as these require serious funds for everything from insurance to the cost of couriers who travel with the works of art and oversee their installation (for the Botticelli show there were as many as 10). So, in step with its attendance numbers, the Muscarelle has solicited large private gifts and cultivated an expanding donor base to support its increasing operating budget.
A fall-winter 2015 museum newsletter reports that the budget grew from $375,000 in 2005 to $3.5 million in 2015, and the college’s financials show that the museum received $1,730,188 in private gifts in 2016. When asked about funding, De Groft points to multiple other revenue streams, including memberships, rental fees, admission, and the sale of books and posters.
But money only goes so far. He emphasizes that Dr. Spike’s three decades of scholarship and connections in Florence have been essential to putting on these shows. “It’s all about relationships,” he says, “without the relationships you have no real in, no beckoning power.”