The Uffizi, a Year After

Article excerpt

THE notes of Verdi's Requiem fade away into the night air and the Martinella on Palazzo Vecchio begins to toll. It is answered in turn by the bell of the Duomo, Santa Maria del Fiore -- the religious united to the secular. Only on solemn and exceptional occasions is the Martinella rung, to call the partisans in 1944, in 1966 when the River Arno broke its banks flooding the city, and again now. Piazza della Signoria is illuminated by thousands of lighted tapers. The crowds wait in silence for the last reverberations of the bells to echo over the Piazza as their minds go back to May 27th last year when, at this same moment, at one o'clock in the morning, a vast explosion shook the fabric of the whole of the centre of Florence. Its centre was the Torre dei Pulci. The family asleep on the top floor were killed outright, thirty people were wounded, untold damage was caused to the church of S. Stefano, to Via Lambertesca and the whole of the west wing of the Uffizi Gallery.

While the staunch Florentines reacted courageously, working tirelessly day and night to face the situation of emergency, finding temporary shelter for the homeless, clearing the debris, rescuing the two hundred and fifty year old collection of important agricultural documents and 42,000 volumes of agricultural history which were housed in the archives and library of the Accademia dei Georgofili in the Torre, the waves of shock carried far beyond Italian shores. In the art world particularly there was concern for the fate of the Uffizi, where incredulity gave way to dismay as the extent of the damage became evident. Three paintings, 'L'Adorazione dei Pastori' by Gherardo delle Notti, and the 'Giocatori di Carte' and 'Concerto' by Bartolomeo Manfredi, were lost for ever and many others -- at the time the count was thirty -- were badly damaged, as was the famous Buontalenti staircase, while in the whole of the west wing lay piles of broken glass and fallen plaster. As the days went by the full extent of the damage was gradually revealed.

A year later, Anna Maria Petrioli Tofani, curator of the Uffizi Gallery, still grieves for the tragedy and for the lost and damaged works of art: 'A painting that has been damaged will never be the same again, however well it has been restored', she says. 'At first, considering the immediate damage caused by glass and plaster we made an estimate of thirty paintings in need of repair. Looking more carefully we realised that many other paintings had been damaged by the effect of the blast although the damage was not visible to the naked eye; for example the wooden panels of some altarpieces had split and, in some ancient sculpture, which had undergone restoration maybe in the fifteenth century, there was a loosening of the fabric where the various pieces had been attached together. All this was slowly discovered through X-rays. The total of damaged works is therefore not thirty as the first estimate showed, but ninety'.

'The repair of the architectural structure is very complex, as the Uffizi is a sixteenth century building which is itself a work of art. It would be much quicker and simpler and probably cheaper to destroy and then reconstruct the damaged parts but we must proceed with the restoration of the building in exactly the same way as we go about the restoration of a painting, and this involves enormous technical problems and the proficiency of experts. Moreover, it can't be done in a hurried way.'

Three weeks after the explosion sixty per cent of the gallery had been reopened to the public, including the Giotto, Botticelli and Leonardo rooms, and the numbers of visitors remained steady and actually increased over the year, although the curator rejects out of hand any insinuation that the gallery might have in any way benefited from the extra publicity it received. In March and then at Easter the Michelangelo and Veronese rooms respectively were also reopened.

Two more rooms have been opened to mark the first anniversary of the bomb attack. …