In January 2010, Italy’s famous ancient objects and sites, namely Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper,” the “Colosseum,” and Michelangelo’s “David,” appeared as protagonists in a communication campaign by the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities (MiBAC). Gigantic panels with images of these “superstars” being removed from their original locations were displayed in the main squares of Milan and Rome. This entire virtual symphony—accompanied by the threatening slogan “If you do not visit, we will take it away”—emerged since, according to MiBAC, Italians do not visit national cultural sites as often as they visit foreign ones.
Explaining this particular campaign, the aim of this article is to explore the ways in which cultural heritage becomes subject to contemporary uses under specific political, social, economic, and legal conditions. Official approaches toward cultural heritage are discussed with their political and economic connotations, which are the partial reflections of a “new public management.” Analyzing these recent cultural heritage management practices sheds light on the circumstances which lead to the creation of such a campaign. These circumstances—be they the assignment of the former CEO of the Italian branch of McDonald’s as the new general director for museums and archaeological sites, or the implementation of various laws and regulations which favor decentralization movements—are analyzed in order to develop a multilayered reading of the campaign. Apart from this political context, the article analyzes the tone and the secondary messages of the visuals via Bourdieu’s concept of “cultural capital.” In addition to being relevant for describing the consumption of culture, “cultural capital” also sheds light on the relationship between citizen and consumer. This article concludes by reconstructing the relationship between the state and the people regarding the ownership and use of cultural heritage, within the framework of Italy’s communication campaign.