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Details on artistic losses in Italian earthquake still sketchy (Updated)

April 6, 2009 | 10:34 am

Museo nazionale The early-morning earthquake in the hilly Italian region of Abruzzo, northeast of Rome, is already known to have claimed more than 100 lives. Centered in the medieval fortress town of L'Aquila, the magnitude-6.3 temblor is reported to have left thousands homeless.

In terms of art, the devastation will probably affect the region's Romanesque and other medieval architecture most severely -- castles, towers, churches, monasteries and the like, dating from the 11th to the 14th centuries -- rather than its painting and sculpture. The Renaissance centralized artistic activity in metropolitan centers, drawing regional artists to cities such as Florence, Rome and Venice. L'Aquila's most well-known Renaissance feature is the facade of San Bernardino church, with an altarpiece by Andrea della Robbia; the church steeple has reportedly been damaged, but the full status of the building and its interior after the quake is not yet known.

In addition to archaeological and other artifacts, the city's National Museum of Abruzzo contains medieval works from surrounding towns and villages. Most were gathered there over the years as earthquakes in the unstable hill towns ravaged the region's churches. Housed in a former castle, the museum had been closed for renovation.

UPDATE: The Associated Press reports: "Experts in L'Aquila were struggling to assess the cultural losses even as the city's cultural offices, housed in a 16th century Spanish castle, were shut down by collapses....The bell tower of the 16th-century San Bernardino church and the cupola of the Baroque Sant'Agostino church crumbled, the [culture] ministry [in Rome] said. Stones tumbled from the city's cathedral, which was rebuilt after a 1703 earthquake."

-- Christopher Knight

Credit: National Museum of Abruzzo