The earthquake in central Italy last week zeroed in on the beautiful medieval hill town of L’Aquila. It claimed the lives of 294 young and old, injured several thousand more, and made tens of thousands homeless. This is a heart-wrenching human tragedy. It’s also a cultural one. The quake razed centuries of L’Aquila’s historical buildings, broke the foundations of many of the town’s churches and public spaces, destroyed countless cultural artifacts, and forever buried much of the town’s irreplaceable art under tons of twisted iron and fractured stone.
Like many small and lesser known towns in Italy, L?Aquila did not boast a roster of works by ?a-list? artists on its walls, ceilings and piazzas; no Michelangelos or Da Vincis here, no works by Giotto or Raphael. And yet, the cultural loss is no less significant, for the quake destroyed much of the common art that the citizens of L?Aquila shared as a social bond. It?s the everyday art that they passed on their way to home or school or work; the fountains in the piazzas, the ornate porticos, the painted building facades, the hand-carved doors, the marble statues on street corners, the frescoes and paintings by local artists hanging on the ordinary walls. It?s this everyday art – the art that surrounded and nourished the citizens of L?Aquila – that is gone.
New York Times columnist, Michael Kimmelman put it this way in his April 11, 2009 article:
Italy is not like America. Art isn?t reduced here to a litany of obscene auction prices or lamentations over the bursting bubble of shameless excess. It?s a matter of daily life, linking home and history. Italians don?t visit museums much, truth be told, because they already live in them and can?t live without them. The art world might retrieve a useful lesson from the rubble.