When it emerged that one of the greatest masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance had been left to warp in a Rome museum because calls to repair the air conditioning had gone unheeded, staff at the Galleria Borghese had to resort to emergency measures to save the depiction of Christ being carried down from the Cross.
In September, the museum’s director Anna Coliva said other priceless artworks including paintings by Caravaggio, Titian and Rubens, and sculptures by Bernini and Canova, were at risk, including the depiction of Christ which the High Renaissance master Raphael painted on a wooden panel in 1507. As early as May 2014, Ms Coliva warned that the air conditioning system, which was fitted in 1997, was “completely worn out”.
Now, however, the same alarm bells are ringing. This time a former director of the gallery, Kristina Herrmann Fiore, says that nothing has changed. The air conditioning is still on the blink and the frames of priceless works of art were warping in the heat and humidity of an exceptionally hot spring – raising questions once again over Italy’s ability or willingness to look after its precious cultural heritage.
The apparent carelessness seems perverse given the vital role of art and antiquities in Italy’s tourist trade. France, spends 1 per cent of its GDP on culture compared with just 0.2 per cent in Italy. Restoration experts have noted that even economically hamstrung Greece has done a better job of caring for its antiquities.
Various reasons are given for this. They include the fact that precious monuments are two-a penny in Italy – particularly in the south, where you can practically find yourself tripping over them. Another is 20 years of Silvio Berlusconi in power. It is claimed he dumbed down Italy and diverted state funds to television rather than art and opera.
The government of centre-left Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is certainly not relying on the cheque book to put things right. Instead, his Culture Minister Dario Franceschini is involved in a giant fund-raising campaign, in which he hopes to attract private donations from companies and wealthy individuals. He prefers not to use the term “sponsorship”.
Rooms in Rome
Rooms in Rome
This historic palazzo near the Trevi Fountain, which has been converted into five one-bedroom apartments, is full of hidden treasures. The mix of old and new means no two rooms are the same. They are decorated with modern art, vintage typewriters and mid-century furniture, in contrast to the modern Bose speakers and complimentary iPads available for guests to use. Kitchenettes and dining areas are open-plan and some of the larger bathrooms come with saunas.
Via in Arcione 94 (00 39 06 6929 0159; casacau.com). Self-catering apartments from €270 a night, minimum stay three nights.
2/6 Buonanotte Garibaldi
Originally an artist's villa, this 1960s building has been converted into a guesthouse, set in a pretty courtyard surrounded by orange trees. Art is everywhere – unsurprising considering the owner, an artist, displays and sells her work on site. There are only three guestrooms, all decorated with hand-painted silks and satins, while the communal living room is furnished with two sofas, colourful rugs, paintings, sculptures, and a piano – all a short walk from the Botanical Gardens, too.
Via Garibaldi 83 (00 39 06 5833 0733; buonanottegaribaldi.com). Doubles from €180, B&B.
Choose from 10 rooms and apartments at a boutique bolthole in central Rome. The rooms combine modern amenities with eclectic antiques, set off by a selection of mid-century objects such as old-fashioned clocks and temperature gauges. The history lesson continues outside with the Colosseum just metres away. The loft-style apartments, located in the same building, can sleep up to six and come with kitchens, bathrooms, sofa beds and either balconies or private terraces.
Via Marco Aurelio 47 (00 39 06 9294 7899; retrome.net). Doubles from €75, room only.
4/6 Piazza di Spagna
Piazza di Spagna
For Keats fans, the only place to stay in the city is the house in which the Romantic poet lived out his final days. The third-floor apartment isn't actually the one Keats stayed in, but it is in the same building, and has been designed to resemble his rooms. There are high ceilings, chandeliers, antique wood furniture and ornate mirrors, while the tall windows look out on to nearby landmarks. The sitting room, for example, has views of the Spanish Steps, whose designer, Francesco de Sanctis, also designed this house.
Piazza di Spagna 26 (01628 825925; landmarktrust.org.uk). Doubles from £73, self-catering.
5/6 Casa Fabbrini Roma
Casa Fabbrini Roma
A boutique, family-run B&B, this palazetto-style townhouse was built in the 16th century. Located in the Campus Martius area, surrounded by cobbled streets, the five-floor property has four bedrooms, each featuring touches such as colourful furnishings, recycled lampshades, wooden-beamed ceilings and wrought iron bed frames. Elsewhere, there is a kitchen and dining area, as well as a light and bright loft space with a mezzanine floor and two living rooms.
Vicolo delle Orsoline 13 (00 39 06 324 3706; casafabbrini.it). Doubles from $229 (£153), B&B.
Forget shabby chic; G-Rough, which opened on 1 March near Piazza Navona, describes itself as "rough luxe". Housed in a five-story palazzo-style building that dates back to the 16th century, it features stripped walls and timber beams. The decor is pared-back but luxurious, with retro furnishings and ornate tiles and ceilings. Suites have views over either the courtyard or the city, and some feature private terraces. For an extra bit of luxe with your rough, check into the penthouse with its separate living area, kitchenette, and large claw-foot bathtub.
Piazza di Pasquino 69 (00 39 041 5284644; g-rough.com). Doubles from £209, B&B.
Some of the signs are good. Tod’s leather goods had already stumped up €30m to clean and restore what is probably Italy’s most famous site of all, the Colosseum. The restoration hasn’t come a minute too soon; the Italian state had left the celebrated structure to turn black from pollution, and chunks of masonry had started to fall off. As part of the same trend, Roman fashion house Fendi is paying €2m to spruce up the Trevi fountain and Diesel is donating €5m to repair Venice’s Rialto bridge. The German lighting company Osram has fitted a sophisticated LED system that illuminates Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel while protecting it from harmful UV rays.
But as events at the Galleria Borghese show, there are so many artworks and monuments to protect that simply relying on private sponsors will not be enough. While critics of government policy continue calls for more state funding, nearly everyone agrees that without better management, new money will wasted. Mr Franceschini has set out to hire international managerial talent for Italy’s leading 20 museums, including the Galleria Borghese and Florence’s Uffizi. Serious cash is now flowing into Italy’s most spectacular museum, Pompeii.
Two months ago Mr Franceschini hailed the reopening of the site’s House of the Mysteries, which was by Italian standards, a mere 30 days late. From today “Pompeii and Italy are turning the page,” he declared.
Doubts remain, though. Having finally got its hands on the sort of money it needs for restoration, Pompeii is in a race against time to spend it. The EU’s €75m has to be used by the end of this year; if not, Brussels wants it back. Unfortunately around €30m of the funding has yet to be assigned, according to Il Giornale Dell’Arte.Reuse content