Reading The Art Newpaper’s edition for June 2013, it becomes depressingly clear that trying to preserve enough of our historic past to bequeath in fairly good nick to our children is an uphill struggle, consistently undermined (as it were) not only by fire, flood, wear, tear and beetles, but by the efforts of our fellow man.
There on the cover is L’Aquila in Italy, still suffering four years after its catastrophic earthquake from a ruined and deserted centre and a displaced population, the beleaguered government having only managed to scrape together less than a third of the necessary sum for rebuilding and restoration. Underneath is a piece on the looting of the ancient site of Apamea in Syria, and inside an update on the equally outrageous looting of the library in the Girolamini complex of Naples. Recession and near-bankruptcy could possibly excuse to some extent the case of L’Aquila; looting, although heartbreakingly vandalistic and often irreversible, does go hand-in-hand with war; but what are we to think about the Girolamini library?
In January The Guardian reported the ‘premeditated, organized and brutal’ looting of irreplaceable antique books from the library by the very people employed to preserve and maintain it. The director had apparently sold perhaps more than 4,000 volumes from the only partially catalogued collection, including a copy of More’s Utopia from 1518 and works by Gallileo. Now The Art Newspaper reports that the library’s conservator was also involved, along with a dozen other people; the damage is reported to be irreparable, since the library’s stamp had been removed from the books, many of which were then sold at auction, making them very hard to trace. And nearly 40 Old Master paintings from the church and gallery, including a Giordano and school of Caravaggio, were found in, dumped in a bag in one of the chapels.
What can you say?