Spared in war, Italy's 'greatest picture' saved again by benefactor

Sun Nov 16, 2014 5:06am EST
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By Philip Pullella

SANSEPOLCRO Italy (Reuters) - An Italian Renaissance masterpiece that English novelist Aldous Huxley once described as "the greatest picture in the world" was saved from destruction in World War Two by a British artillery officer who defied orders to shell the town.

Today, Piero della Francesca's 15th Century fresco of the resurrection of Jesus Christ on a wall in the Tuscan town of Sansepolcro is again in danger, and those trying to save it are again taking matters into their own hands.

Centuries of grime and humidity have wrought their damage, and the painting is flaking, cracking and discolored.

Austerity measures have dried up arts funding, so restorers have had to come up with an innovative scheme to blend private and state action to salvage the fresco. Aldo Osti, an Italian businessman now living in Switzerland who was once an executive at a multinational company based near the town, is funding half of the 200,000 euro ($250,000) cost of the two-year restoration.

It's the sort of philanthropy that is common in many countries but has long been rare in Italy, where the state considers itself the custodian of cultural patrimony.

Although emperors once gave their titles to the forums in Rome, contemporary Italian benefactors are discouraged from seeking civic glory by sponsoring cultural institutions, like London's Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery or the David H. Koch Theater housing the New York City Ballet.

But the Italian government's dire financial situation is forcing change, and the wealthy are increasingly being enlisted to help pay to keep up the country's artistic heritage.

Diego Della Valle, head of luxury leather goods company Tod's, is now helping to restore Rome's Colosseum. Officials stress that he will be rewarded only with a small plaque.   Continued...

Renaissance painter Piero della Francesca's masterpiece "The Resurrection" is seen in the Civic museum in Sansepolcro, central Italy, November 7, 2014. REUTERS/Tony Gentile