Vandalism in Italy

By William Morris

The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings has just received a letter from Cav. Paravicini, the distinguished Milanese antiquary, in which he gives a list of the ancient buildings in and near Milan, which during the past year have been destroyed or completely falsified by an ignorant system of so-called `restoration'. The fine old medieval towers of the Porta Ticinese have been pulled down, for the sake of rebuilding them on a fresh site. The high altar of S. Ambrogio has been moved from its original position, slightly oblique to the axis of the church - a position characteristic of the high altars of early Lombardic churches. It is now proposed to destroy Bramante's noble portico on the north side of S. Ambrogio, the only pretext being that it is not in keeping with the rest of the church. A scheme, the originator of which has received a gold medal, is now on foot for refacing the richly-coloured brick and terra-cotta exterior of S. Maria delle Grazie with complete new fronts of stone. The very interesting early churches of S. Giovanni in Conca d'Oro and S. Babila have been pulled down, and it is now proposed to remodel S. Calimero, S. Maria Incoronata, and S. Maurizio, with its glorious frescoes by Luini.

La Pavia the early Lombardic Church of S. Pietro in Ciel d'Oro is being rebuilt, and its western facade replaced by a new one of different design. The fine terra-cotta mosaic pavement in the transepts of the Church of the Certosa, near Pavia, has been destroyed for the sake of putting [down] a new one of marble. The rich and elaborate terra-cotta ornaments of the facade have been painted over with thick red pigment, which has destroyed the sharpness of the delicatereliefs, and a general white washing over the walls of the cloister and cells of the monastery has obliterated all the remains of the old fresco decoration. These are a few examples of the manner in which the modern Italians are treating their priceless relics of art in its various forms.

The Cav. Paravicini dwells upon the sad fact that it is the Commission for the Preservation of Ancient Monuments and the Academies of Fine Art that have been committing the worst acts of vandalism - a fact that makes it difficult or impossible for any private Italian to get a hearing when he protests against such deed. It is on this account that he appeals to the English people to assist him in the struggle to preserve what remains, and surely this appeal will not be without response in England when men reflect how important is the issue, and how irreparable a loss is being suffered by the whole civilized world as one link after another in the history of art is cut away to feed the vanity of some modern designer or the greed of some contractor eager for a job.

Letter to the Times, 12 April 1882.

The reference to this piece of work in the Chronology