All for fitness at Santa Maria della Scala... along with the paintings!

The Santa Maria della Scala museum complex has been turned into a gymnasium, putting the works at risk. In the article, also pictures.

One of the best feelings after a fencing competition (since this writer has been practicing the sport for years) is to strip down, grab a nice packet of bubble bath in your hand, and jump into the shower. Because it is to be expected that in places equipped for practicing any kind of sport, there will be large and functional showers (or at least, if it is winter, one hopes that the water coming out of the nozzle will be warm).

In places equipped for sports, precisely: who expects to find large and functional showers (or rather: who expects to find showers) inside a museum complex? I wonder if the sweating, panting people who crowded the halls of the Santa Maria della Scala complex in Siena for Sport Week (a week of sporting events organized by the City of Siena and subsidized by Monte dei Paschi) wondered that, and more importantly: I wonder if they wondered for what obscure reason step classes, muscle toning, totalbody, zumba, and you name it, found no better place for their performance than the rooms of a museum.

Now a sane person, might object: well, dinners, banquets, aperitifs, dance nights and whatnot are held in museums. Sport is a highly formative practice (even we at Windows on Art consider it as such, we think that sport is very important in the formation not only of the physical, but also of the character and mental and moral qualities of a person), so there is nothing wrong with museums hosting small sporting events, as long as these take place in environments suitable for the practice and above all light years away from works of art. But since we live in Italy, very often reality exceeds fantasy: no one, and when I say no one I mean no one at all, not even the most imaginative of extremists of the undaunted and tenacious defense of public heritage, would have thought that a setting such as the Sala di San Pio in Santa Maria della Scala could be turned into a zumba gym.

San Pio Hall where paintings by the latest imbrattatele who happened to be passing by are not hung, but paintings by people like Francesco Vanni, Priamo della Quercia, Rutilio Manetti and several other important players in Sienese artistic life from the 15th century onward. They were joined by the sportsmen you see in the photos below, taken from the event’s Facebook page:

Fitness a Santa Maria della Scala (Siena) per la Sport Week Fitness a Santa Maria della Scala (Siena) per la Sport Week Fitness a Santa Maria della Scala (Siena) per la Sport Week Fitness a Santa Maria della Scala (Siena) per la Sport Week

The first question that comes to mind is: but if the guys who are lashing out kicking and punching with gloves and shin guards were to, by an unfortunate chance, happen to lose their balance and fall against a painting, damaging it (since, as the photos show, it seems that not the slightest safety measure was taken to protect the works)... wouldn’t that be trouble, to put it mildly? The second: but is everyone in Siena so athletic that the City Council had run out of sports halls and gyms and didn’t know where to stick the fitness people, so it took the first place that crossed its mind? The third question: but wasn’t sweat once harmful to paintings? Or don’t sport week participants sweat? The fourth question: does Siena want to run for European Capital of Culture 2019...sure they didn’t understand "European Capital of Culturism"? If so then let’s organize volleyball matches inside the Sala del Mappamondo (it’s big and comfortable anyway), water aerobics classes inside the Fonte Gaia, and use the Torre del Mangia as a climbing wall.

After all, even the city council said so in a note published a few hours ago by The Online Citizen: “bringing citizens closer to body care is an important challenge.” Well, as for bringing them closer, I’d say the goal has been achieved: look how close the participants are to the paintings, some then use the niches of the Hall of St. Ansano and St. Galgano as coat hangers, so closer than that, you can’t get. But the far-sighted Sienese city council goes much further: “the mini masterclasses [...] lasted only a few hours, in fact constituting a single, isolated event” (as if it took three and a half days to manage to damage a painting with an unintentional bump). And again, “the event obviously took place after thorough inspections with the competent offices for the protection of the place” (kudos to the “competent offices”!) and “the environment was not damaged in any way” (cheers!). But mind you, the municipality acknowledges that “it would have been more appropriate to use other areas” (but don’t tell me!), “which unfortunately are temporarily unavailable since their securing is still in progress” (instead jeopardizing paintings of Francesco Vanni and colleagues by leaving them at the mercy of the kicking and sweating of the fitness people, is a very safe operation). Then the pearl of wisdom: “moreover, in so many museums around the world provocative contaminations are being experimented with by bringing into play many forms of body expression, from flash mobs to creative performances” (all right, but it’s not exactly taking place in the “a tad reckless” manner of Siena Sport Week). And finally, “Siena Sport Week was attended by thousands of people and fans and brought to Siena a target of tourism, the sports one, which is absolutely important for our City.” I suggest, for next time, that we take the devotees of Sienese Late Mannerist painting to see a soccer match of the local team, which moreover plays in the Serie B league. Who knows, we might be able to turn the scholars into hooligans (and I suppose the temptation, after seeing how the artistic heritage is treated, will have been very strong).

What to say then? It is yet another demonstration that at the end of the day, of this art we are so full of, it is not that we care much. And to think that there had been so much talk about saving the Complex(we talked about it, too): but this is certainly not the way, indeed it risks creating more harm than good. We only hope that this will not go unnoticed and that full light will be shed on who granted the authorizations and why they were granted, and above all let’s make sure that operations such as these will no longer take place (also for the fitness people: it is right that they have more appropriate places than a museum for the practice of sports!): and this can only be achieved with full awareness of what it means to love and respect one’s cultural and artistic heritage.

There is a wonderful Donald Duck cartoon from 1945, called The Clock Watcher, where the friendly feathered man is the gift-wrapper in a factory for the occasion. At one point he is seen slipping a ring into the box of a rugby ball and then, failing for obvious reasons to fit the rugby ball into the ring box, puncturing it with a screwdriver. In Siena more or less the reasoning was conducted according to this viewpoint.

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