Passaparola. Let’s save Italy’s artistic heritage, by Salvatore Settis

Without what Article 9 of the constitution calls the natural landscape and the historical and artistic heritage of the Nation, Italy would not be what it is today.Salvatore Settis, archeologist and historian specialising in Italian art history. He’s a former director of the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa.

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“I believe that there should be public museums and private museums. There are private museums in Italy just as there are in other places. For example I could mention the Doria Pamphilj Gallery in Rome - one of the greatest private museums in the world. It’s always been a really important museum belonging to the Doria Pamphilj princes. I would leave those private museums as they are.

No to the privatisation of public museums
But, on the other hand, there are some really ancient museums, the Capitoline Museums, the Uffizi Gallery, and others, that have to stay in public hands and we have to bear in mind that the cost to the State of these public resources is not simply a cost without any benefits. Without these museums, and without these monuments, and without our landscape, without what Article 9 of the constitution calls the natural landscape and the historical and artistic heritage of the Nation, Italy would not be what it is. In order to have the identity we have, for us to be happy to be Italians, we have to show that we are able to look after this landscape and this historic artistic heritage.

Culture is food - words of a Nobel prizewinner
Not only must we look after our artistic heritage, we have to improve it!
Among the particularly great economists, there’s for example, the Nobel prizewinner, Amartya Sen. He has put forward some great arguments in relation to his nation, India, saying that in order to develop economically and improve the economic satisfaction of the citizens, the pride in their origins, the pride in belonging to a certain culture, there’s a factor that is absolutely necessary, absolutely essential: a multiplier of inventiveness of productivity and of creativity.
This has been Italy’s history for thousands of years. If we don’t want it to end, we have to protect and take care of our historical and artistic heritage with more public expenditure and recover what’s missing. Not continuing to just say the same old words, the rosary, the litany of the different episodes of crisis, but recovery of what’s missing from the terrible abyss of tax evasion that distinguishes ltaly and makes it the third country in the world after Mexico and Turkey. This isn’t a record that we should be pleased with.

The social role of the museums
These days, people talk about museums and they say loads of stuff that in the main is not true or not entirely true, however, very rarely do we remember that the museum is a very recent cultural institution. The concept of a museum that we think of nowadays, basically came into being in the 18th century, and I said then, that if it’s got a date of creation, it can also have an expiry date. Let’s keep that in mind. Do we want to close them down? OK. And yet we should continue to constantly ask ourselves what their role is. The connection with the school is incredibly important, and it’s important to remember with all this rhetoric about beauty that is produced in Italy ad nauseam, that many people indulge in (whether they are the President of the Council, a mayor or a former mayor) with all this rhetoric about beauty, we forget that beauty is nothing unless it’s history.

We are all guardians of our artistic heritage
Beauty is History, the fact that with the latest education reforms, there’s a tendency to abolish the history of art, reducing the space and perhaps talking about art education as though everyone has to be presented with a blank sheet, all of a sudden they become Rembrandt or Picasso or Michelangelo, this is a really serious mistake, because - in the words of a great art historian, Gombrich: “Unless all Italians are the guardians of their heritage, then our heritage, the heritage that belongs to everyone, will die.” Salvatore Settis

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