National Geographic : 1967 Jul
In a race with rising water, scholars and custodians work feverishly to rescue more than 300 paintings on the ground floor of the Uffizi, one of the world's most cherished galleries. In this re-creation by GEOGRAPHIC staff artist William H. Bond, Professor Ugo Procacci-Superintendent of Fine Art for the Florence region-passes an 18th-century portrait of the poet Vit torio Alfieri to Dr. Umberto Baldini, Director of Restorations. Others strain at a large canvas by Gerard van Honthorst, a 17th-century Dutch painter. To gain quick entry to this locked storage room, salvors broke the window behind Dr. Procacci, then tore away the bottom half of the metal grille to remove paintings. Concerned for the men's safety, Dr. Luisa Becherucci, the Uffizi's Director, watches from a stairway. "It was a day of great excitement and exhilaration," recalls Dr. Becherucci. "We worked into the night, and when it was over, we sat down exhausted, and the real meaning of the loss swept over us." Responding to the crisis, students remove paintings from the Uffizi for drying, as two others swab mud from the doorway. An army of young people from a dozen nations of Europe and the Americas pitched in, drop ping notebooks for boots and shovels. Many-including 500 from the United States-were in Florence to study. Months after the flood, volunteers from around the world still worked without pay to dig mud from cellars of the popolo minuto-the little people-who nicknamed the benefactors "blue angels" for their work clothes and tireless good deeds.