The Uffizi of Molise
Europe has privileged the humanism of the (late medieval/early modern) Renaissance above the earlier renaissances of the Carolingian and Romanesque periods.
Possibly the art of the earlier renaissances fails to speak to our industrial and post-industrial ages with the same voice as the neo-classical images created by Michelangelo and Raphael. Yet the artists of the first renaissances played an essential part in re-envisioning our Europe after its collapse in the 7th century.
The great art of the first renaissance is rare. The minor arts of this period are even rarer. One place in Europe possesses not just two painted crypts full of majestic painting but a vast mostly unpublished collection of excavated wall paintings and crates full of enamels, glass, inscriptions, ivory, decorated metalwork and sculpture: San Vincenzo al Volturno.
Europe's first stained glass - a figure of Christ from San Vincenzo al Volturno
This extraordinary resource is largely unknown. Why?
Because for more than a decade the museum in which it is all these treasures are kept has awaited an opening.
Let us overlook all the reasons for this European and Italian tragedy. Instead, can we find a way to make the archaeological site at San Vincenzo with the painted crypts, and this treasure-house of finds accessible to visitors? Here the history of Europe can be re-written.
This was the purpose of the day-long round table organized by the Abbot of Monte Cassino at San Vincenzo al Volturno: to find the synergy to revive San Vincenzo in all its creative and natural glory.
In a packed room, asked by a television correspondent, what this day might achieve, I championed the idea of creating an Uffizi of Molise. The journalist recoiled as though I had hit her! The wizardy of the concept was that she and, later, our audience, understood a brand which stands for Florence, untold riches and most of all a spiritual status. Could San Vincenzo al Volturno rival this? On a small scale, without doubt.
The abbot has launched an immensely important initiative for Molise, Italy and Europe. The challenge lies in overcoming the forces that through personal or institutional motives have blocked San Vincenzo al Volturno’s status as Europe’s greatest monument to the first renaissance. The struggle is not unlike that in the monastery itself in AD 783, as the abbot reminded me over lunch. In that year the monks wanted to follow the Carolingian philosophy and an old abbot, Poto, resisted them. Poto eventually lost and San Vincenzo swiftly became the harbinger of renaissance Italy. It now deserves its Uffizi.