Italian region busy restoring art pieces after quakes
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