FLORENCE, DECEMBER 22- “La Tutela Tricolore” or “Italian Safekeeping” is the Uffizi Gallery’s Christmas exhibition dedicated to the “Custodians of Italy’s cultural identity”. For more than a decade, during the Holiday Season, the Uffizi Gallery has been offering the people of Florence and visitors from all over the world an exceptional cultural event. This year, the spotlight is on the Carabinieri, the crown jewel of Italian law-enforcement that enjoys worldwide recognition, and their Unit for the safeguard of Italy’s cultural heritage (Tutela Patrimonio Culturale -TPC). The exhibit opened December 19th inaugurating the Magliabechiana Hall, located below the Library by the same name, which will henceforth be used for the museum’s temporary exhibits. Entrance is free of charge from Tuesday to Sunday until February 14 (closed on Mondays).
“The inauguration of the first site of the Uffizi Gallery dedicated to this function encourages us to examine the historical and institutional nature of the role of public art in society and the specific strategies that have been developed in Italy, after the Second World War, for its safekeeping and recovery”, said the museum Director Eike D.Schmidt: “This is a very delicate task that demands outstanding skill and close cooperation between the Ministry of Cultural Affairs and Tourism and the Carabinieri’s Unit for the safeguard of Italy’s cultural heritage”.
Italian safekeeping not only chronicles the historical events that have affected, and all too often, damaged Italy’s cultural heritage since the end of WWII, but also describes the legislative and institutional initiatives entrusted with its safekeeping for future generations. Among these, is the creation of a specialized Unit, the TPC of the Carabinieri Armed Forces – the only example of its kind in the world – which has actively contributed to the safeguard and recovery of the country’s cultural treasures in its almost half a century of service. The exhibition is comprised of eight sections that expose crimes against Italy’s cultural patrimony – including war-time pillaging, terrorism-based crimes, theft for the purposes of resale, clandestine archeological excavations leading to unlawful trafficking – and chronicle the commendable work carried out by the TPC Unit of the Carabinieri in their efforts to counter them.
The first section, called ‘Crime Against Art’ gives an account of how an act of domestic terrorism by the Mafia targeted the Uffizi Galleries in 1993, thereby targeting one of the highest expressions of art, not only in Italy, but in the world. The second section, entitled ‘Rodolfo Siviero and his Legacy’ describes the rescue operations of works of art that were stolen from the Florentine Galleries during WWII. Many of these were recovered as the result of Silverio’s efforts, who after being invested of full powers by then Prime Minister De Gasperi, led a diplomatic mission to Germany in 1946 with the aim of obtaining the German government’s avowal of the principle of legitimate restitution of Italian works of art. Owing to Silverio’s success, we can thus find more than half a dozen celebrated works of art on display at the Uffizi among which the Hercules and Antaeus by Antonio Pollaiolo, The Madonna and Child by Masaccio, Portrait of a Man by Hans Memling, Avarice by Francesco Furini, and Pygmalion and Galatea by Bronzino .
Even today, more pieces are being sent home thanks to a compendium put-together by Siviero enumerating the pieces that were pillaged during WWII, and thanks to the relentless work of the TPC Unit of the Carabinieri. A number of pieces on display pay tribute to their efforts: the painting ‘Dormitio Virginis’ dating back to the 4th Century that was spotted for sale in London in 2014, after having been snatched by German soldiers in 1944 from Federico Mason Perkin’s Villa in Sassoforte; a Turkish gun from the Stibbert Museum that was spontaneously returned by one of the heirs of the soldier who had nabbed it from the museum; The Charge of the Bersaglieri by Michele Camarrano, that sadly, was cut into smaller frames to facilitate its sale.
In the third section, ‘Archeological Troves and Cultural Diplomacy’ a collection of invaluable archeological finds, mostly originating from clandestine excavation sites and then smuggled out of the country, is on display. Alongside the investigative operations led by the Carabinieri, “cultural diplomacy” – a combination of diplomatic agreements and international negotiations – has led to unprecedented results, including a memorandum of intents, signed in 2001 by Italy and the United States which allowed for the recovery of remarkably important works of art. A number of examples are part of the exhibition: the statue of Vibia Sabina, wife of Roman Emperor Hadrian that was retrieved from Boston in 2007, the crater by renowned painter Assteas retrieved from Los Angeles, and the Etruscan Hydria, representing the metamorphosis of pirates into dolphins, returned in 2014 by the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio.
The fourth section, titled ‘The Carabinieri of Art Making Strides Towards their First Fifty Years’, is a chronological review of reclaimed paintings, archeological artifacts, and other items of various provenance: the Capitoline Triad, the ivory Face sculpture, the cherub with duck from the Vetti House in Pompeii, the Adoration of the Shepherds by Dono Doni of Assisi. All tributes to the TPC Unit of the Carabinieri as it approaches its 50th year of service. A number of pieces deserve special attention as they have not yet been displayed in Italy and were recovered from around the globe just in time to be a part of the closing section of the exhibition. These include the Peplophoros of Villa Torlonia, the Chariot of Arretium back from Copenhagen, the portrait of Giulia Domna from Villa Adriana, and the miniature pages of the antiphon of the Santa Verdiana church in Castelfiorentino.
The fifth section ‘Fortuitous Discoveries: Citizens’ Ethics’ delves into the exemplary, lawful conduct shown by individuals who unexpectedly found themselves spearheading the recovery of works of art. The ‘Globalization of Crime’ is the sixth section, which displays Castellani jewels that were stolen from the National Etruscan Museum in Villa Giulia in 2013; the theft was commissioned by a wealthy Russian woman who coveted their possession, and was then duly exposed by the TPC Unit of the Carabinieri.
Of course, something would be amiss without a section surveying the worldwide wreckage generated by war, by terrorism’s doggedness in destroying symbols of ancient civilizations, and by calamities that continually endanger the artistic wealth of the entire human race. Curators of the exhibit have chosen to display the tombstone of Palmira as a symbol of ongoing wars, where the recently constituted “Blue Helmets of Culture” have begun operations in close connection with the TPC Unit of the Carabinieri and the experts of Ministry of Cultural Affairs and Tourism.
Under the auspices of the High Patronage of the Presidency of the Republic, the exhibition was directed and curated by Eike D. Schmidt with Fabrizio Paolucci, Daniela Parenti and Francesca De Luca, and promoted by the Ministry of Cultural Affairs and Tourism, the Carabinieri Armed Forces, the Carabinieri’s TPC Unit, The Uffizi Galleries, Florence Museums, the Giovanni and Francesca Falcone Foundation, Open Group and the First Social Life Association. The exhibit’s catalogue was published by Sillabe. (@OnuItalia)