Subscribe to our Newsletter

Projects for 50th Anniversary of Florence and Venice Floods

February 2, 2016. Two U.S. based nonprofit organizations, Save Venice Inc. and the Friends of Florence Foundation, are collaborating on a preservation initiative on the 50th anniversary of the Italian floods of 1966. The floods brought thousands of “Mud Angel” volunteer rescuers to Florence, highlighting the need for disaster preparation, then virtually nonexistent in Italy, and developing new art conservation techniques. “The Italian government cannot possibly safeguard all the treasures found here,” said Simonetta Brandolini d’Adda of Friends of Florence. “Our members are thrilled to partner with Save Venice to preserve our common cultural heritage.”

The two U.S. organizations have worked continuously on dozens of independent preservation projects. The collaborative projects for 2016 are the restoration of a 1315 Tuscan egg tempera painting on panel by the Maestro Badia a Isola, a Madonna and Child Enthroned with Angels in the Galleria Palazzo Cini in Venice and the conservation of 48 drawings by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo from the Horne Museum in Florence.

Herbert P. Horne (1864–1916) was an English architect, art historian, and collector. Horne purchased the Tiepolo drawings in London in 1903 and gifted both his art collection and the palazzo that became the Horne Museum to the Italian state on his death in 1916.

The 1966 flood of the Arno River is well-remembered as one of the greatest losses of art, books, and manuscripts in history. The disaster began after several days of torrential rain. Engineers feared that the overloaded Valdarno dam would break. At 4am, they released a mass of water that hit Florence three hours later at 60 km per hour. It is estimated that 90% of Florence’s population had no warning at all. The level of the Arno rose 11 meters, and the waters filled the entire first floor of numerous buildings. About 100 people died in the floodwaters, and 600,000 tons of mud, rubble, fuel oil from ruptured tanks, and sewage severely damaged or destroyed between 3 and 4 million books and manuscripts and approximately 14,000 works of fine art.

e509184533ea157876952f2a8dec79d2The devastation would have been far worse, but the response to the crisis was immediate. Without any organization but word of mouth, thousands of young volunteers, known as “Mud Angels,” came from other parts of Italy and around the world to begin retrieving books and artworks from flooded buildings.

mudangelsRestoration projects dedicated to specific building or collections were established by international organizations, including a newly established U.S. Committee to Rescue Italian Art headed by Jackie Kennedy, the Viennese armory, and International Committee for the Assistance of Museums, Works of Art, Libraries and Archives, among many others. While enormous numbers of artworks and books were treated over the next decade, some 25% of the 80,000 items belonging to the Magliabechi and Palatine collections at the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze had not been not restored thirty years after the flood.

Giorgio Vasari’s The Last Supper, painted on five wooden panels and measuring about 2.5 m by 6.5 m (8ft by 21ft), was one of the well-known, seriously damaged works that actually survived the flood, although its five panels were separated and paper was applied to keep the paint from completely flaking off after 12 hours spent completely underwater. The Getty Foundation sponsored the reassembly of the painting, which began in 2013 and is hoped to be completed by the anniversary of the flood in 2016.

On the very same day that the Arno flooded Florence, an unusual asqua alta, with a combination of high tides, swollen rivers, and a Sirocco wind, resulted in a high water of over six feet in Venice’s canals. The city was isolated for days and three-quarters of the businesses in Venice were seriously damaged or destroyed. The uncontrolled flooding revealed serious, longstanding structural flaws in Venice’s supporting structures that had been left unattended for centuries.

Vasari Last Supper Images: Michelangelo’s David in floodwaters, “Mud Angels”, Giorgio Vasari’s The Last Supper.

AAMD Issues Safe Haven Protocols for Art from Countries in Crisis

October 29, 2015. The Association of Art Museum Directors’ (AAMD) newly issued Protocols For Safe Havens For Works Of Cultural Significance From Countries In Crisis urge international museum actions to protect artistic heritage at risk of loss and destruction. The AAMD protocols stress security, preservation in museum safe havens, international access, and returning objects only when it is safe to do so. The protocols thereby run counter to current US government policies, which prioritize repatriation, even to hostile regimes in countries currently in a state of war.

The Protocols begin, “Protecting works of cultural significance in danger of damage, destruction or looting as a result of war, terrorism or natural disasters is the responsibility of everyone and especially of institutions whose mission is to protect, conserve and study the artistic heritage of human kind.”

According to the AAMD, member museums can offer technical and professional help to preserve collections in countries where crises threaten the security of cultural heritage, but in situations where in situ assistance is not practical, AAMD museums and other cultural institutions outside the areas of crisis can offer safe havens to works in danger until they can be safely returned. The AAMD notes that objects might require specialized treatment or care that is unavailable nearby. Therefore museums in North America and around the world should offer to preserve and protect threatened cultural property.

The AAMD notes that providing a safe haven removes threatened works from the marketplace (legal or illegal), preserves their physical integrity, and enables essential documentation to record these works for posterity.

The AAMD statement identifies the following as possible depositors of artworks for safe haven: museums and governmental entities inside countries in crisis, US government authorities who have seized works on entry to the US, and private individuals, companies, or organizations who have come into possession of artworks.

The protocols call for action to inventory and document the condition of works prior to movement, if possible; safe transportation, preferably paid by the depositor; storage comparable to that which an AAMD museum applies to works in its own collection, and conservation for works in need of immediate stabilization.

Works should be inventoried, digitally documented, and treated as loaned works typically would be. Museums should publish the documentation on their own websites, on the AAMD Object Registry, and appropriate international websites.

Museums should grant scholarly access to the works as they would for objects in their own collections. With the consent of depositors, museums may exhibit works stored for safe haven and all information about them should be made available to the public, along with educational information on preserving heritage.

Finally, the AAMD notes that return of objects should take place as soon as is practicable and that objects might be returned to the depositor, the then owner, the government of the affected area, or to the government of the United States, among others. The AAMD urges compliance with all applicable law in returning objects and the avoidance of potential ownership disputes.

Image: Photograph by Mariam Hale, Lamassu in Seattle Alley, 2015

Mariam Hale Photo Syria lamassu poster in Seattle

After Years of Delay, Pompeii Rushes to Spend Millions of Euros

October 26, 2015. Restorers at Pompeii must spend €84 million before the end of the year or risk losing it. Three years ago, a shocked European Commission pledged €78 million to restore collapsing buildings and infrastructure at Pompeii, after several important monuments crumbled due to poor maintenance. The Italian government committed €27 million more. Yet the restoration plan, named the The Great Pompeii Project, was itself plagued by planning failures, a lack of competent staff and concerns about corrupt local officials, and most of the funds remained unspent until recent months.

The current head of Pompeii Project and superintendent of Pompeii, Massimo Osanna said that the pace of work has doubled since 2014, but archaeologists at the site complain that a lack of technical staff has hampered the project. As it has many times before in the last decade, the Italian government has relied on the volunteered assistance of private companies to get the job done. For the last year, an Italian defense and aerospace company, Finmeccanica, has provided satellites and sensors to monitor the site and to identify areas at risk from collapse. Subsidence and other damage from the elements continue; the villa of Julius Polybius suffered from flooding early in October 2015.

Monday September 28 is the Last Day to Comment on Proposed Ivory Rules

September 27, 2015. The Ivory Antiques Preservation Society has asked the public to consider a number of issues raised by the new rules proposed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service that will affect private ownership and the trade in antique ivory. The F&WS described the proposed rule changes as prohibiting most interstate commerce in African elephant ivory and further restricting commercial exports.

The Ivory Antiques Preservation Society encourages readers to review the comments regarding antique ivory rules created by the Ivory Antiques Preservation Society and to make their own comments based upon the readers’ own perspective to USF&W before midnight on Monday, September 28. The linked document also has instructions on how to make comments.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) proposal revises the African elephant rule under section 4(d) of the ESA [50 CFR 17.40 (e)] on July 29, 2015. To view a PDF of the proposed rule, click here,!documentDetail;D=FWS-HQ-IA-2013-0091-0001 .

To provide comments, please go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal at  .

In the search box, enter FWS-HQ-IA-2013-0091 (the docket number for this proposed rule). You may submit a comment by clicking on “Comment Now!”

The Service will review and consider all comments received by September 28, 2015 before publishing a final rule.

Image: Metropolitan Museum of New York, Nubian with oryx, monkey, and leopard skins, 8th–7th century b.c.; Neo-Assyrian period; Phoenician style, Excavated at Fort Shalmaneser, Nimrud (ancient Kalhu), Mesopotamia, Ivory, H. 5 5/16 in. (13.5 cm), Rogers Fund, 1960 (60.145.11)


Egyptologist Will Seek Hidden Burial of Nefertiti in Tutankhamun’s Tomb

September 24, 2015. Ancient Egyptian Queen Nefertiti may be buried in a secret room adjoining Tutankhamun’s resting place in the Valley of the Kings at Luxor in southern Egypt. Nicholas Reeves, a British archeologist at the University of Arizona, will join Antiquities Minister Mamduh al-Damati and “the best Egyptologists in the ministry” to re-examine Tutankhamun’s tomb at the end of September. Reeves says his high resolution scans of the mural-decorated walls of Tutankhamun’s tomb show linear tracks indicating what might be doorways underneath. If there is a hidden space beyond the walls, it could be a storage space or perhaps, “the undisturbed burial of the tomb’s original owner — Nefertiti”.

Antiquities Ministry sources in Egypt said that if a preliminary investigation indicates that another room lies beyond, further research will be done using sophisticated Japanese radar equipment and additional archaeological exploration to open any areas hidden in construction of Tutankhamun’s tomb.

Although DNA testing on Tutankhamun’s body has proved that his father was the monotheist King Akhenaten, the identity of his mother is not known. It has been speculated that she was Akhenaten’s beloved wife Nefertiti. Reeves has stated that since Tutankhamun’s death, in 1324 BC at at age nineteen, took place unexpectedly soon after his reign began, the “Boy King” may have been buried in the reopened tomb of another, perhaps that of Nefertiti, who died ten years earlier.

The Antiquities Ministry announced on September 20 that Tutankhamun’s tomb, a popular tourist site that receives 350 visitors a day, would be closed from October 2015 for restoration. At the time, the restoration work was said to be taking place to give the tomb a new floor. Ministry spokesmen said that Tutankhamun’s mummy, which has been enclosed inside a glass container to preserve it, will be moved to another room during the restoration work.

Tutankhamun’s tomb was extraordinarily rich in grave goods and had never been looted. It was discovered in the excavations by famed Egyptologist Howard Carter of Tutankhamum’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings in 1922. The most famous relic from the tomb was a 25-pound solid gold funerary mask encrusted with lapis lazuli and semi-precious stones.

Heritage officials at Cairo’s Egyptian Museum made headlines in January 2015, after they attempted to cover up a disastrous accident. Workers replacing an electric bulb in the gold mask’s display case broke off the gold and lapis lazuli beard of Tutankhamun’s mask, and then restorers made botched repairs to the object with epoxy glue. Tutankhamun’s gold mask is arguably the most famous ancient object in the world.

Brooklyn Museum, An early Amarna-era relief depicting Queen Nefertiti, By Keith Schengili-Roberts (Own work (photo)) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3., (], via Wikimedia Commons.

Archeological Management in Italy: Fixing Pompeii

August 10, 2015. One hundred thirty million euros from EU nations that were dedicated to restoration are finally making a difference at the ancient site of Pompeii. Although still hampered by worker’s strikes and unexpected closures that locked out tourists, there are currently 35 construction areas and hundreds of workers, actively shoring up collapsing areas, working in stone and plaster to repair buildings and restoring frescoes and mosaics. The Palestra Grande (Large Gymnasium) reopened this month, as did a new display of about 20 plaster figures of individuals caught in the ash as the volcano erupted. The Villa of Mysteries, with spectacular fresco ornamentation, was reopened in March 2015

Although 2.7 million tourists visited Pompeii in 2014, making it the second most popular monument visited in Italy, visitor services at the site are often reported as very inadequate. Guidebooks are out of date, audio rentals useless, and site information and signage very limited. Most visitors posting on travel websites say that it is necessary to pay a guide in order to find one’s way around the site. This and other lacking amenities may suggest that the site suffers because the region around Pompeii is one of Italy’s poorest and the state of development and local infrastructure does not encourage other tourist activity.

Massimo Osanna, was appointed superintendent of the Archeological Site of Pompeii in 2014 by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzy. Osanna is given much credit for improving working conditions and restoration at Pompeii. Osanna spoke hopefully of not only completing the repairs but also of developing the area around the site and even bringing a fast train directly to the site from Rome. UNESCO, which had earlier threatened to remove Pompeii’s World Monument status due to mismanagement, recently reported on and praised the “profound change in behavior” of the site’s management. UNESCO has now recommended that restoration works continue throughout 2016.

pompeiiPhoto: Dario Franceschini (@dariofrance) via Twitter