On the subject of protecting the national cultural heritage, Italians express themselves willingly and passionately, but ideas are often confused and spoiled by deep-rooted prejudices. It begins with an interview with Giuseppe Bertolami, the first in a short series of articles aimed at clarifying the reference legislation.

"It should be in a museum" is a comment frequently posted on the Facebook page of Bertolami Fine Art, one of the few Italian auction houses to offer archaeology auctions within the national territory. "It happens every time we publish images of the lots placed in our archaeology sales: people behave as if they have intercepted an illicit traffic and many are outraged. It's obvious that many of them were convinced before they came to our page that all archaeology is and should be museumized and we have a hard time convincing them that this is not the case at all". Giuseppe Bertolami, tycoon of the Roman company, speaks: "The experience on social networks is turning out to be more interesting than expected. The world that our company refers to institutionally is that of collecting, a context of connoisseurs that in some sectors can become very elitist, but through social networks we are able to be intercepted by the vast audience of those who, although interested or simply intrigued by art and antiquities, do not buy them. We are talking about an audience that until some time ago was sidereally distant from us and that often approaches us with suspicious circumspection, but with which we are interested in talking".

Protection of cultural heritage: what they think about it (and the Italians know it)

What picture emerges from these first approaches?

A prejudicial distrust of art and antiquities collecting, considered basically "bad"; the widespread belief that the value, even economic, of an object is directly proportional to its age (the older the more precious it is) and that private ownership of objects of archaeological interest is not lawful; a tendential ignorance of the regulations for the protection of cultural goods and - let me tell you - a pronounced lack of civic sense.

Lack of civic sense? Rather the opposite would seem to be the case: people who approach you seem to be very sensitive to the theme of the protection of national cultural heritage and when they write that the archaeological finds put up for sale in your auctions should rather "stand in a museum" they express a tendency to consider cultural goods as belonging to the community.

Yeah, it would seem that way. It's too bad that none of those diligent guardians of the nation's cultural heritage ever thought of taking action so that even one of the exhibits passed through our auctions in a museum could actually end up there. Anglo-Saxons, on the other hand, usually do: when they believe that an object of cultural interest placed on the market "would look better in a museum", they buy it to donate it to the state, raising funds through popular crowdfunding campaigns.

So they're collecting

That's right, zero rhetoric and hard facts. The British are fully aware that "State" means not only the state apparatus but also all its citizens and they behave accordingly. There is little we can do, here it is different: "the State is me" is a concept that the mind of an Italian does not consider and we continue to look at the State as "something else from us", an external entity to which to blame every fault and every task.

However, an episode that happened in an auction Bertolami Fine Art seems to go in the direction she wanted, I am referring to the crowdfunding campaign launched on FB by a group of boys from Foggia for the purchase of a Daunia stele from the 7th century BC. The purchase was aimed at donating the find to a local museum.

He remembers very well. The episode dates back to the spring of 2017 and bodes well for a change of mentality in progress: even in Italy the idea of supporting and increasing the nation's cultural heritage with actions that started from the bottom takes hold. Our cultural heritage is really too vast to continue to delude ourselves that the state administration can do everything on its own, private individuals must do their part.

In 2015, to purchase the Teschen Table, a masterpiece of 18th century decorative arts created by Johann Christian Neuber, the Louvre Museum asked private individuals for help by launching the popular subscription campaign "Tous Mecénès". The collection yielded one of the €12.5 million paid to the seller.

Puglia 2017: technical tests of crowdfunding for the enhancement of the nation's cultural heritage

The story of the donation of the Daunia stele, a fragment of the history of the Apulian territory dating back to the VII/VI century B.C., deserves to be told. Domenico Sergio Antonacci e Domenico Moretti, two young archaeologists from Foggia, identify the find in the catalogue of the archaeology auction held in London by Bertolami Fine Arts on 24 March 2017 and launch a popular subscription to buy it on FB. The appeal of the two enterprising young people was immediately accepted and relaunched by Apulia Felixa local foundation that will name the transaction by participating in the auction. Result? The stele returns home for the modest expense of 3,190 euros

Mind you, in the museums of the Apulian territory of stele as that purchased by the Apulia Foundation there are many and the promoters of the initiative were well aware of it. The spirit that animated them from the beginning was more than anything else to involve the people of the territory in an action of high symbolic value, showing that each of us can do something to enhance the cultural heritage of the community.

The Italian State allows the private ownership of assets of archaeological interest

The time will tell us if the one arrived via Facebook from the two Sundays in Foggia was the first sign of a change of pace or a lightning strike in the clear sky. In the meantime, however, the picture of the situation is the one drawn by Giuseppe Bertolami: the Italians know little and badly the regulations for the protection of cultural heritage - since 2004 gathered in the so-called Cultural Heritage and Landscape Code, also known as Urbani Code - and on the subject they often hold unshakable beliefs that are completely unfounded. That complex of prejudices, often of an ideological nature, and misunderstandings, originated from afar: it has settled in the conscience of the population since the 16th century, the time when, in the Rome of the Popes, the concept of cultural good was born and legal solutions for its protection began to be studied. A fascinating story that we will try to tell on this page.

Let's start to dispel some myths: it is not true that in Italy the private ownership of the archaeological heritage is not allowed, if it had come into lawful possession, a private citizen could also be the owner of the Riace Bronzes. Why, then, are many Italians convinced of the contrary? The misunderstanding stems from a lack of understanding of a basic principle of the regulations for the protection of cultural goods, that is that archaeological objects of any age, value or value found underground (and, by extension, at sea) belong by right to the State.

Those who know the history of the law of unitary Italy know that this principle was introduced into our legal system by Laws n. 364 of 20 June 1909 and n. 688 of 23 June 1912 following the numerous scandals caused by foreign sales of very important pieces offered to the State after the excavation but which the State had not been able to purchase. We are talking about the kind of rules capable of sanctioning an epochal change: a centuries-old practice, the acquisition of the excavation finds as property, suddenly turned into theft to the detriment of the State, a criminal offence. It would, however, be a logical gamble to conclude, as many do, that from the identification of a new type of crime, the clandestine excavation, the illegality of the possession, purchase and sale and collection of archaeological objects has automatically descended. This is how things stand: in Italy the presence of archaeological finds in private property is lawful unless proven otherwise, i.e. unless it can be proved that they came from clandestine excavation, i.e. carried out after 1909. Needless to add that nothing obviously stands in the way of the great mass of finds acquired by families and placed on the market before 1909, an extraordinary heritage that continues to circulate freely, with the only possible limitation of the so-called notification.

The notification: the great embankment to the dispersion abroad of Italian cultural heritage

What happens if the rightful owner of a work of art or an archaeological find decides to sell it abroad? In order to put a stop to the dispersion of the Italian cultural heritage outside the national borders, the law provides that the export of goods of cultural interest over fifty years old and made by an author who is no longer living is subject to authorization. If the property will be judged to be of national interest, two possible scenarios will open up: the acquisition by the State at the price requested by the private individual or its notification. An instrument of protection completely unknown in many countries, notification entails a substantial limitation of the owner's right to dispose of the property in complete freedom, preventing him from taking it and selling it abroad and obliging him to keep the relevant Superintendence Office constantly informed about its location. Returning to the Riace Bronzes, if your grandfather had found them before 1909 or if, even after that date, you had purchased them on the market accompanied by a certificate attesting their legitimate origin, they could be yours and you would also be allowed to put them on sale, only in Italy, however. Findings of similar value would in fact certainly be notified, with the consequence of preventing you from reaching the rich foreign markets.



Scarlett Ariosto

This interview was given by Giuseppe Bertolami to the monthly magazine Ore12, which we thank for the kind permission of publication.

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