Congressman Scalfarotto, come visit Italian museums and art places with us.

Our response to Ivan Scalfarotto, who in The Post attacked Salvatore Settis, 'guilty' of being against the construction of the Milan Cathedral elevator.

In an article that appeared Saturday in IlPost1, PD MP Ivan Scalfarotto had his say about a very sensible open letter written by Salvatore Settis to the archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Angelo Scola, asking him to stop work on thepanoramic elevator being built on MilanCathedral2.

It is sociologically interesting that a Member of Parliament who has never been interested in art and culture in his professional career should feel compelled to give advice on museums to one of the most influential living art historians, but since we are not sociologists, we are interested, rather than in the funny situation in its essence, in the reasons that prompted Mr. Scalfarotto to invite Professor Settis on a tour to London museums. This is because, according to Mr. Scalfarotto, in other countries “every visit to a museum becomes a day of pleasure.” Strange: we did not know that Italian museums are instead places of torture, where visitors are subjected to all sorts of unspeakable torture. We have probably always been lucky so far (and lost count of the museums we have visited).

But let’s see what it is that makes London’s museums so exciting. British Museum: “where there are restaurants for every pocket and every taste” and where “you can grab a sandwich or have a full meal and then get in line to see an exhibition on Pompeii and Herculaneum.” Tate Modern: where Scalfarotto could offer Settis “a glass of wine or tea and a slice of cake while admiring the wonder of St. Paul’s dome in front of us.” And that’s it, the only two museums that Mr. Scalfarotto mentions are these (and moreover, it is not clear why he is talking about museums, since the elevator installation will affect a church). We could end the experience with a beautiful “party for the entire evening” on a London Eye cabin, though. In short, we understood that the Congressman, in museums, goes there to eat.

Since, therefore, Mr. Scalfarotto is a lover of good food, we take the opportunity to invite him to dinner at our favorite restaurant, which is located in Sarzana and where we eat excellent seafood. So at least we will have a chance to have a chat and to ask the Honorable if, given such a deep knowledge of London museums (and related restaurants), his knowledge about Italian museums will be equally wide. And if you, dear Honorable, will answer us by saying that, crushed by your onerous, burdensome and lofty commitments necessary to render your services to the supreme good of the public thing, you have not had the opportunity because in Italy the enjoyment of cultural goods “must necessarily be strenuous,” then it will be a pleasure for us to illustrate to you what goes on inside the places of Italian art.

For example, in the Pinacoteca Nazionale in Bologna, where we saw a didactic operator explaining Vitale degli Equi ’s San Giorgio to a dozen children who, sitting on their little colorful cushions, were literally enraptured by the operator’s words (and You who are a fine connoisseur of art, who often visits exhibitions, dear Congressman, will surely know how difficult it is to explain an artist like Vitale degli Equi to adults, let alone children!). Or we could take you to the National Archaeological Museum in Luni, where on a cloudy but warm first of May we saw an archaeologist inform a small family of visitors about a Roman mosaic (and from there digress later to aspects of daily life in a Roman city of Luni’s importance). And this young archaeologist’s eloquence must have been effective, since the little family then turned within minutes into a well-fed and above all very interested and fascinated group by what the archaeologist was explaining.

Or again, we would like to take you to the National Gallery of Ancient Art in Palazzo Barberini, Rome (so you don’t even have to go a long way), where you could have witnessed, on a sultry day in late August, the frustration of a security officer, who was sorry because many rooms of the museum (almost half) were closed due to lack of staff and the visit of the tourists who were inside the Gallery that day necessarily ended incomplete. And if museums were not enough, come and visit some churches. For example, we could go to Vicenza to visit the church of Santa Corona, which, as you no doubt know, houses masterpieces by Giovanni Bellini, Veronese, Bartolomeo Montagna and other great Venetians: there, an elderly volunteer offered free of charge to show us some of the masterpieces kept in the sacred building. Yet, what a pity, the church of Santa Corona has no panoramic elevator that could allow visitors to see from above the wonderful city of Vicenza, one of the most beautiful cities not in Italy, but in the world (if you have never been there, we strongly suggest you go as soon as possible). Or again, if the trip to Veneto is too long for you, we could stop in Spello where a culture lover like you will not be able to avoid visiting the church of Santa Maria Maggiore: inside this building we pleasantly conversed with the attendant who regulated access to the Baglioni Chapel, and this gentleman explained to us the lights and shadows of the volunteer work he does to best ensure the enjoyment of one of our country’s most important cultural assets (although it is unnecessary for you to point this out, you will forgive us as some readers may not know: the Baglioni Chapel houses frescoes by the great Bernardino di Betto, better known as Pinturicchio). The moral we have learned from this gentleman, and from all the people we have mentioned before (and those we have not mentioned: we have limited ourselves to only the first examples that came to mind) is that passion for art is the substance that keeps everything going.

You see, dear Congressman, what makes a museum, or a place of art in general, magical is not the possibility of gorging oneself on the most disparate foodstuffs, because art was born not as nourishment of the stomach (let the stomach be taken care of by those in charge, not least because those who truly love art and culture are not interested in the quantity of eating occasions on the side of a museum), but as nourishment of the mind. What makes a museum magical is the great passion discernible in the words and looks of the people who work there, who try to transfer as much information to the visitor as possible (and try to do so as clearly as possible), because they want the visitor to be left with something from his or her museum experience in the end. And that something is not a sandwich, but is a profound concept: it is thelove of art, to which must be added the consciousness of living in a country that does little or nothing for art. A country where those who love art are also willing to work for free or almost for free, and we are not just talking about volunteers, but also about staff who work in museums and to whom we cannot afford to giveadequate remuneration: this is because the political class on which we depend and of which you are a representative, is not interested in the problems that afflict the world of cultural heritage, despite the fact that those working in the sector constantly ask to be heard and to confront issues of pressing need. But representatives of the current political class probably prefer to attack those who really care about the country’s cultural heritage, such as Professor Settis, just to mention a random name.

For your next visits, try eating one less sandwich and listening to one more person. Forget about London for some time, stop with the usual trite, boring, overused and trite refrain (since you like England) “abroad they are all better than us” and visit Bologna, Luni, Rome, Vicenza, Spello and numerous other cities: on our website take a look at the column Museums of Italy where we talk about the museums we have been to, or more simply enter the artists’ tabs where there are lists of museums to visit, and draw ideas for your next visit. We assure you that the experience can only do you good: it will help you revise your idea about Italian museums and help you understand what problems are affecting the world of culture. It is obvious that Italian museums are not idyllic places where everything works wonderfully, and we know this all too well. They are simply places where, in spite of all the problems we know, day after day and more and more than ever before people continue to experience a love of art. A feeling that we did not seem to glimpse in the lines you wrote.


1. Ivan Scalfarotto, A elevator forItaly, from The Post, November 16, 2013.

2. Salvatore Settis, Letter to Cardinal Scola: stop the elevator on the Duomo , from La Repubblica, November 14, 2013

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