Ital­ian re­gion busy restor­ing art pieces af­ter quakes

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE | CULTURE - By XIN­HUA in Nor­cia, Italy

The place looked much like an or­di­nary hangar, or a ware­house, lost among many oth­ers in a sub­ur­ban area.

Yet, in­stead of raw­ma­te­ri­als or fin­ished goods, it was filled with the most pre­cious gems the re­gion of Um­bria has had for cen­turies— paint­ings, stat­ues, al­tar­pieces, ar­ti­facts, wooden frames, crosses, reli­quar­ies and much more.

The three ma­jor earth­quakes that have struck cen­tral Italy since late Au­gust, and es­pe­cially the lat­est and strong­est one on Oct 30, with its epi­cen­ter near the an­cient city of Nor­cia, forced au­thor­i­ties to face many emer­gen­cies.

They have had to pro­vide shel­ters for some 15,000 home­less peo­ple across the re­gion, re­store ba­sic pub­lic ser­vices, as­sess dam­ages and res­cue the cul­tural her­itage that con­sti­tutes the soul of this land, as well as a driv­ing force of its econ­omy.

“We are work­ing hard, and yet with a deep sad­ness in our hearts,” says art his­to­rian Tiziana Bi­ganti with the Um­bria Mu­se­ums Cen­tres, while show­ing the first large room where art pieces are be­ing brought in since the earth­quakes.

More than 900 art pieces have been re­cov­ered in the fa­cil­ity as of Nov 24, and ex­perts ex­pect another full month of in­tense res­cue work.

The ac­tiv­ity is co­or­di­nated by the re­gional Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal, Arts and Land­scape Su­per­in­ten­dence in co­op­er­a­tion with art pro­fes­sion­als from the Cul­tureMin­istry, civil pro­tec­tion tech­ni­cians, fire­fight­ers — who phys­i­cally carry out the re­cov­ery — and the Her­itage Pro­tec­tion Unit of Cara­binieri po­lice.

“We are res­cu­ing all the art pieces from un­der the rub­ble of the churches in Nor­cia, and of the whole Val­ne­r­ina Valley around,” says su­per­in­ten­dent Mar­i­caMer­calli.

“We re­trieve art­works also from build­ings still stand­ing but deemed un­safe, to avoid any fur­ther dam­age in case of new­col­lapses.”

TheUm­bria re­gion built the anti-seis­mic struc­ture with Euro­peanUnion fund­ing af­ter a ma­jor quake in 1997, specif­i­cally to store and pro­tect its her­itage in case of emer­gency.

For the first time, it is be­ing used for its orig­i­nal pur­pose.

“Our cur­rent pri­or­ity is to col­lect all art­works here as soon as pos­si­ble, for they are at high risk of rapid de­cay due to the seis­mic events, the bad weather and pos­si­ble loot­ing,” the art his­to­rian says.

The fa­cil­ity is pro­vided with big ex­haust fans to keep the tem­per­a­ture at 20 C and 55 per­cent hu­mid­ity, the best con­di­tions for wooden ar­ti­facts that make the ma­jor­ity of the col­lec­tion.

Each art­work un­der­goes a first clean­ing, which en­ables it to be freed from the dust gen­er­ated by the quake, and from a light white film of mois­ture that de­vel­oped be­cause of the rain af­ter the earth­quake.

Ex­perts then make a first eval­u­a­tion of the dam­age, and clas­sify each of them be­fore stor­age. The real restora­tion phase would come af­ter the res­cue ac­tiv­ity is com­pleted.

The 6.5-mag­ni­tude earth­quake on Oct 30 was the most pow­er­ful in Italy in 36 years, and badly af­fected, if not de­stroyed, many his­toric churches and build­ings. Luck­ily, many trea­sures sur­vived— some of them with sur­pris­ing fews­cars.

“Agood ex­am­ple is this large wooden al­tar­piece by Ja­copo Siculo, dated ... to 1541, whose re­cov­ery from the church of San Fran­cis in­Nor­cia has been ex­tremely hard,” the su­per­in­ten­dent says.

“It is quite a mir­a­cle that it has re­mained al­most in­tact, show­ing only a scratch in left side.”

The al­tar­piece is 6 me­ters long and 3 me­ters wide, weigh­ing some 600 kilo­grams alone, and the whole struc­ture is 1,300 kg. It took three days just to de­tach it from the wall.

Cur­rently, the res­cue work is “at zero cost” be­cause min­istry pro­fes­sion­als, as well as fire­fight­ers and po­lice, are in­volved, ac­cord­ing to the ex­pert.

How­ever, the restora­tion phase will surely be very ex­pen­sive, and an over­all es­ti­mate is not yet pos­si­ble, be­cause every art piece would have to be eval­u­ated.

The Ital­ian gov­ern­ment has al­lo­cated 130 mil­lion eu­ros ($137.71 mil­lion) in funds, but that would serve to cover the whole re­con­struc­tion phase in all of the three quake-af­fected cen­tral re­gions. its

sites in Nor­cia, Italy.


Art­works and relics are care­fully re­cov­ered from the quake-struck

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