Mounds of pink and white rubble are scattered on the land where the 700-year-old basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio stood last week.
This church was among the countless treasures of Italian art and architecture destroyed by an earthquake, which was measured at 6.3 on the Richter scale, that ravaged the city of L’Aquila in the Abruzzo region of central Italy on Monday. Though the scope of the damages has not been fully determined, Yale professors and art experts interviewed bemoaned the destruction of Italy’s classic landscape and voiced the necessity to begin restoration efforts.
While the analysis of the destruction is ongoing, it is already clear that several historic churches in L’Aquila have been flattened, while others have been seriously damaged, Diana Kleiner, professor of History of Art, said.
“Like everyone else who loves Italy, the Italian people, and Italy’s artistic treasures, I am deeply saddened by what happened in L’Aquila,” Kleiner said.
Echoed Classics Professor Veronika Grimm: “It’s shocking and it’s terrible…I am thoroughly upset and worried about it.”
The limited information available regarding the extent of the damage has only augmented the Yale art community’s anxiety, Kleiner said. As of now, it is rumored that the monumental Baths of Caracalla in Rome were harmed from large aftershocks, she added.
The loss of many of these buildings is twofold: the churches function both as exemplary works of design and as an integral part of daily religious observance for many inhabitants of L’Aquila and nearby towns, she said.
Despite the severe damage to the region and significant cultural loss experienced, Kleiner said there is hope that some of the buildings and works may be restored. The Vatican and other organizations have appealed to experts worldwide to assist in the restoration effort. In addition, Kleiner said these conservation organizations are encouraging donors to adopt a building or an artwork.
“My guess is that many will step up to the plate,” she said.
Not all the architecture, however, can be salvaged, Irma Passireri, painting conservator at Yale University Art Gallery, said.
“We’re losing some of the original buildings,” she said.
After an earthquake damaged the Italian town of Assisi in 1997, conservation experts in Italy launched efforts to retrofit historic buildings in high-risk areas in order to protect them from seismic events. But in the aftermath of the current earthquake, architects and conservation experts in the Abruzzo region, where hundreds of seismic events occur each year, are beginning to reevaluate the stability of valuable works and structures that house them, Kleiner said.
Though Yale is not at high risk for an earthquake — and no major earthquake has occurred in the New Haven area since 1968 — the University safeguards its valuable art collection, Ian McClure, chief conservator at the gallery, said.
“You can get small quakes or tremors in [the New Haven] area,” he said. “We also closely monitor vibrations caused by construction and car traffic outside.”
Vibrations, McClure said, pose two major threats to art collections: objects, such as vases, may fall off of shelves and break, or quivering can cause paint to flake off of a canvas. Large sculptures are especially dangerous because they can damage other works if they topple over, he said
“When we start the reconstruction of the art gallery — which has been delayed due to the current economic downturn — we will set up a system for monitoring vibrations caused by building machinery,” he said.
Right now, however, the Yale history of art and architecture community is focused on how to ameliorate the damage done in Abruzzo.
“Help should be sent to these areas,” Passireri said.
Kleiner said she is optimistic that art aficionados will quickly begin to mend the damage.
“Some will donate funds, others their time and their conservation facilities,” she said.
As more information regarding the extent of the damage becomes available, the Yale community will be better equipped to take an active role in the restoration process.