Historic painting looted from earthquake-hit Italian town

While firefighters race to salvage precious artworks from the earthquake rubble, Italy's cultural heritage is at risk from both looters and bad weather.

Historic painting looted from earthquake-hit Italian town
A crucifix in the rubble of a collapsed church in Norcia. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

A 17th century painting has been stolen from a church destroyed in the central Italy earthquakes, according to Italian media.

The artwork, 'Perdono di Assisi' was painted in 1631 by French artist Jean Lhomme. The painting, of historical and cultural importance, was kept in the parish church of Nottoria, a village close to Norcia, where the epicentre of one of the quakes was located.

Police are investigating the theft, but have not ruled out the hypothesis that the painting was taken in order to safeguard it against any future tremors.

Priest Marco Rufini told Rai News: “Our churches have been destroyed and they are full of artworks. This adds insult to injury.”

Bad weather over the weekend has also caused worries in the towns; the mayor of Visso, Giuliano Pazzaglini, has warned that some crucial artworks are in danger.

One 15th century fresco in Visso's town hall, 'Madonna in Trono' by Paolo da Visso, survived the quake, but could be severely damaged by the rain.

Because the entire town is considered a 'red zone', recovering the fresco would be difficult, requiring a helicopter intervention which could further damage the painting by disturbing the surrounding debris. 

The 'Monuments Men' or 'red helmets', the firefighters tasked with saving Italy's cultural heritage, have been hard at work in the earthquake-struck zones, which are home to many works of art, particularly in the churches.

The fire service have shared videos and images of the rescue operations on their social media accounts, which can be viewed below.

Some of the relics saved include an urn containing the remains of Saint Benedict, the patron saint of Europe, and altar pieces and paintings.

Because of the age of the artworks, salvaging them is a delicate operation, and firefighters are also racing against time due to the risk of further damage in future tremors or inclement weather.

In Norcia, the operation to save the civil tower – which is being secured with straps – continues.

Monuments men, the red helmets who save art from the ruins of the earthquake. Exceptional images from today in Norcia.

The operation at San Francesco church is concluded: the altar piece by Jacopo Siculo, 1541 is saved.

Other cities around Italy have offered to host the artworks for safekeeping; a manuscript by poet Giacomo Leopardi is being kept in a Bologna museum, while the Saint Benedict urn will likely be housed in Assisi. 

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Venice Carnival: What to expect if you’re attending in 2023

After three years of toned-down celebrations, Venice's famous Carnival is finally set to return to its former grandeur. Here’s what you need to know about this year’s edition.

Venice Carnival: What to expect if you're attending in 2023

The historic Venice Carnival – a tradition which dates back to the late 14th century – will be back in all of its splendour this year as the upcoming edition of the festival will be the first one without pandemic-related restrictions since 2019. 

As the undisputed queen of Italian Carnival, Venice will once again put on a full programme of water parades, masked balls, fine dining experiences and street art performances spread over 18 days of sheer carnevale fun.

If you’re planning on taking part in the city’s Carnival celebrations, here’s a quick guide to this year’s main events.

What are the dates?

The Venice Carnival will officially start on Saturday, February 4th with a night parade streaming down the city’s iconic Grand Canal accompanied by music, dance performances and light shows.

READ ALSO: Nine ways to get into trouble while visiting Venice

The parade will kick off two weeks of events, unfolding both in the centro storico (city centre) and on the smaller islands of the lagoon.

As always though, celebrations will peak in the six days between giovedì grasso (‘Fat Thursday’, falling on February 16th) and martedì grasso (shrove Tuesday, falling on February 21st). 

A masked reveller wearing a traditional carnival costume In St Mark's Square, Venice

The 2023 Venice Carnival will start with a floating parade down the Grand Canal on February 4th. Photo by Andrea PATTARO / AFP

The most popular and widely anticipated events of the Venice Carnival are scheduled to take place during those days. However, that will also be the time when the city’s calli and squares will be most crowded. 

What are the main events?

Celebrations will start with the above-mentioned floating parade on Saturday, February 4th, and continue on the following day with another water parade involving traditional Venetian vessels and captained by the beloved Pantegana (a boat shaped like a giant sewer rat).

Apart from that, the Festa delle Marie – a historic beauty pageant during which 12 young local women are dressed up in Renaissance costumes, paraded throughout the city, and then subjected to a vote as to which of them makes the best Maria – will start on Saturday, February 11th. 

The winner of the contest will be announced in Saint Mark’s Square on shrove Tuesday, the final day of the festival. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why Venice has delayed its ‘tourist tax’ – again

Original Signs, a music and dancing show performed on six floating stages set within the iconic Venetian Arsenal (the former seat of the Venetian navy), will begin on Friday, February 10th, with performances running on a nearly daily basis until the end of the festival.

Original Signs will run alongside Original Sinners, a fine dining experience followed by a masked ball at the magnificent Ca’ Vendramin Calergi, a 15th century palace facing the Grand Canal which is also the current seat of Venice’s Casino. 

As with Original Signs, the event will be available to the public on multiple dates.

Masked revellers wearing a traditional carnival costume pose in St Mark Square, Venice

The historic ‘Flight of the Angel’ will not take place this year due to ongoing work in St Mark’s Square. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

Aside from major events, street art performances, workshops, exhibitions and seminars will take place at various venues across the city for the entire duration of the festival. Some of these require booking in advance, which you can do on the Venice Carnival official website

On a rather sombre note, the Volo dell’Angelo (‘Flight of the Angel’), the traditional ceremony in which a costumed woman ‘flies’ down a cable from the bell tower in Saint Mark’s Square to the centre of the piazza, will not be performed this year due to ongoing repair work

How busy will it be?

The 2023 edition of the Venice Carnival is expected to mark a “final return to normality”, according to local media.  

And, with just a couple of days to go until the official start of the festival, it looks like the floating city is about to experience pre-pandemic numbers of visitors – current estimates indicate that around half a million people will visit the city over Carnival.

According to Claudio Scarpa, president of Venice’s Hoteliers Association, local hotels “will soon be all but fully booked for weekends”, though large numbers of bookings are also being registered on weekdays, especially those in “the last stages of the festival”.

Given the expected turnout, local transport operator ACTV will enhance their services for the entire duration of the Carnival to avoid overcrowding on buses and water buses. 

For more details about the Venice Carnival and bookings, see the festival’s official website