National Geographic : 1967 Jul
National Geographic, July, 1967 Centuries ago, Bernardo Cennini, a gold smith, had coined also a phrase-"Florentinis ingeniis nihil ardui est-Nothing is beyond the powers of the Florentines." On the morn ing of November 5, 1966, as the people wan dered unbelieving from their doors and looked upon the ruin, it appeared that this time Cennini might be proven wrong. A modern-day artisan, a gunsmith who specialized in antiques, groped through the wreckage of his cellar workshop. "Nothing left," he said, "all carried off tools, thousands of parts collected for 30 years, patterns, everything." His story was being repeated in every street. Six thousand shops where merchants dis played Florence's famed specialties in gold and leather, wool and wood, were wrecked. Everywhere the lament: "All my father's lifetime, and now mine, too, washed away." AAYOR PIERO BARGELLINI, art historian turned public servant, had spent the long night of November 4 marooned in his office, offering what hospi tality he could to an assortment of castaways that included a newly married couple and an escaped convict. As morning came, he went out into the streets-and for days afterward he became the symbol of a city resolved to heal itself (page 19). He wondered, as did others, where the hands would be found to dig out the buried books, clean the churches, minister to the paintings, excavate the reeking cellars, restore the shops. By some miracle of communication, those hands appeared. On the day after the flood, the first troop of what became an army of stu dents appeared on the streets of Florence. Patrick Matthiesen, a 23-year-old graduate student at the University of London, sym bolized the spirit of these volunteers. Hearing of the flood on his radio, he dropped every thing, obtained a Land-Rover from his brother-in-law's farm, ferried the Channel, and raced off to Italy, towing a pump. The pump went to work in the Uffizi, and Patrick's truck became the ambulance in which Dona tello's crippled "Magdalene" was carried from the Baptistery to the Uffizi Gallery (page 40). Ghiberti's Doors of Paradise were hauled off in a cart for later restoration. Phone calls from Professor Sergio Ca merani, Director of the State Archives, and Professor Mina Gregori of the University of Florence turned out a battalion of young men and women from American universities who were then studying in Florence. They joined countless others in a human chain that scooped 40,000 volumes from the muck of the Archives. At the National Library hundreds of stu dents, many wearing gas masks against the stench of sewage and decaying leather, la bored for three weeks to recover more than a million dirty, wet volumes (pages 24-5). Clad in Churchillian coverall and rubber boots, Director Emanuele Casamassima of the National Library proved himself a su perb field general in the operation to rescue Florence's libraries; he did not go home for at least a month. He proposed drying the soggy stacks in the state-owned tobacco barns of Tuscany. He also pressed brick kilns and textile plants into emergency service. Trucks on loan from the Italian and U. S. Armies, loaded by the volunteers, carried their unusual cargoes to industrial sites in Prato, Perugia, and as far away as Rome (page 27). While the cheerful blue-jeaned and booted army of students was racing mold and decay, the network of world scholarship crackled with distress signals. Dr. Myron Gilmore, then director of the Harvard study center at the famous Bernard Berenson villa "I Tatti," became a focus of United States aid. In the United States itself, leading historians of art and Renaissance scholars such as Bates Lowry and Fred Licht, both of Brown Uni versity, Frederick Hartt of the University of Pennsylvania, and others quickly formed the Committee to Rescue Italian Art (CRIA). By mid-November this effort had raised enough to send the first planeloads of scientists and fine-arts conservators, headed by Lawrence Majewski of New York University, to Flor ence. (Among them was documents expert Harold Tribolet of R. R. Donnelley & Sons Company, printers of the GEOGRAPHIC.) To Dr. Paolo Emilio Pecorella of the Arche ological Museum, the disaster had a painfully Shower of talcum dries a statue of St. John the Baptist in the National Museum of the Bargello. A poultice of benzene and powder draws moisture and oil from the porous stone. Water rose 13 feet high in the Bargello's exhibition room of Michelangelo sculp tures. They too received the talcum treatment, followed by a scrubbing with detergents that removed all but the most stubborn oil stains. EKTACHROME BY BALTHAZAR KORAB© N.G.S.