Italy’s art treasures

October 6th, 2008 | by Ainsley |

From the Pantheon in Rome to the ruins of Pompeii, no country has striven more than Italy to diligently preserve its centuries of art and tradition.

Now another of those ancient monuments, the Colosseum in Rome, is staging an exhibition showcasing how Italy has fought to safeguard its unique treasures that still captivate millions the world over.

The event, Ruins and Rebirth of Art in Italy, will show how since Renaissance times the country has battled to keep artefacts out of the hands of thieves and rogue traffickers.

The exhibition, on the second tier of the Colosseum, is divided into six sections, featuring around 60 pieces from Italy and abroad.

They include a monument to Niobe from an ancient Roman villa, now topped by its head since its recent return from Poland, and the Marciante Artemis, returned to state hands seven years ago after a five-year battle with dealers who produced five fake copies to put detectives off the scent.

Among other works are a Roman statue, The Haranguer or Orator, dating from the first century BC; the Gustiniani Hestia depiction of a noblewoman, held in the Torlonia collection in the Italian capital; the Birth of Bacchus, from Hungarian capital Budapest; and the Roman goddess Dea Roma from Ostia, ancient Rome’s harbour city.

And there is the centrepiece of the show, a terracotta statue of an ancient Mother Goddess excavated in Abruzzo five years ago just before robbers could pounce.

The exhibition, which runs until mid-February next year, marks the centenary of the passing of Italian legislation in 1909 safeguarding the country’s cultural treasures.

The first section of the display, At the Origins of Protection, dwells on how Italy came to appreciate the importance such protective laws.

It also shows how 19th century Italian statute prevented Doric friezes in Sicily falling into the clutches of the British Museum.

The second section, The Unification and National Education, shows how after the Risorgimento, or reunification of Italy in the mid-19th century, the fledgling state stepped up efforts to acquire privately-owned museums, archaeological excavation sites and artefacts – including a collection of likenesses of Italian thinkers that since the 1600s had stood in the Boncompagni Ludovisi palace, which presently houses the US embassy.

The next part of the exhibition, 20th Century Progress, focuses on the enactment of conservation and anti-trafficking legislation, primarily a 1909 law that for the first time enshrined in statute the Government’s ownership of historical artefacts.

Other sections look at how Mussolini’s Fascist administration tried to appropriate Italian art for propaganda purposes and also examine efforts to repair damaged artwork and the range of accords Italy has signed for the return of its artwork from around the globe.

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