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The increasingly dire state of conservation of much of Naples’s cultural heritage—its churches, monuments, libraries and palaces—has been highlighted by a damning news report published by one of Italy’s leading papers, the Corriere della Sera, in January.
The online report revealed an alarming statistic: Naples has around 200 closed and abandoned churches. Some have been stripped of all their furnishings including works of art, some never received the funds they had been promised, while others received them but never embarked on the agreed conservation projects. Others still were closed down, restored and then never opened again.
The report points to years of neglect and mismanagement by the local and national government, as well as by the Church and the regional arm of the ministry of culture.
The city’s historic centre, the largest in Europe, has been listed as a Unesco World Heritage site for the last 17 years, however the city’s residents have long bemoaned the state of their heritage, so much so that a petition, signed by 16 civic committees and 60 leading intellectual figures, was circulated at the end of last year calling for the city to be stripped of its Unesco title.
The Art Newspaper
The Benedictine abbey of Cluny was founded 1,100 years ago this year: it was perhaps the most important center of monastic life in the Middle Ages, the mother house from which radiated a far-reaching reform of the Benedictine order. At its height the community had the largest church in the western world, 187 meters long, with five naves, a multiple choir, large and small transepts, three hundred chapels, seven bell towers, a building eventually surpassed only by the new St. Peter’s in Rome. In 1791, the abbey’s community had dwindled from the 400 monks living there in the Middle Ages to only twelve monks, who were expelled by order of the French Revolution. The abbey’s precious objects were sold, and most of the buildings were reduced to rubble: the vast, fortress-like church had to be detonated with a mine, and the demolition lasted some twenty-five years. The French government has spent three years restoring the convent building to its 18th-century state and laying out a way for visitors to envision that grand church.
Charles T. Downey
(J. Paul Getty Trust)
As Italy spent Friday in a national day of mourning with an open-air funeral mass for most of its 289 earthquake victims, the country has begun scouring for an invaluable part of its past: its art.
Natural disasters, since the ashes of Vesuvius blanketed Pompeii in A.D. 79, have wiped out towns, and their masterpieces. Those who try to salvage and restore damaged art often pick through rubble by hand, using flashlights to scour shaky buildings, experts say.
Several artworks in L’Aquila, capital of the affected region, have already been salvaged, including a carved sarcophagus of Pope Celestine V buried under a crumpled wall in a 13th-century church, Santa Maria di Collemaggio. “Around the world, in addition to condolences for the many people who have died, there is…concern for the state of our artistic heritage,” said Culture Minister Sandro Bondi.
Starting Tuesday, the Ministry of Culture will dispatch 14 teams to assess the art damage. The prime minister has pledged €30 million (about $40 million) for art relief and appealed for donations.
Unclear is the fate of thousands of works like Renaissance sculptor Andrea Della Robbia’s altarpiece depiction of Christ’s resurrection, which is still somewhere inside Church of San Bernardino di Siena with its crumpled bell tower. Bertrand du Vignaud, president of the European branch of the World Monuments Fund, says he fears for exposed religious icons like the Renaissance fresco by Saturnino Gatti that he spotted in a church during a visit last year.
Kelly Crow and Stacy Meichtry
Wall Street Journal