Salvatore Settis
presented at the Seminar in Renaissance and Early Modern Material Culture on Wednesday, November 2, 2016 at 6 pm. His talk was entitled “The Protection of Cultural Heritage in Italy: A Short History and Some Current Issues.”

Salvatore Settis is the former Director of the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles (1994–1999) and of the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa (1999–2010), where he also taught Classical Archaeology and Art History. He was Warburg Professor at the University of Hamburg (1991) and delivered the Isaiah Berlin Lectures at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (2000), the A.W. Mellon Lectures at the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. (2001), and the Lectures of the Cátedra del Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid (2010-11). He was also appointed as Professor of the Borromini Chair at the Academy of Architecture in Mendrisio, Switzerland (2014-2015), and is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, the Institut de France, the American Philosophical Society, the Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere, ed Arti, and of the Academies of Sciences in Berlin, Munich, Brussels, and Turin. He currently chairs the Scientific Council of the Musée du Louvre. Settis’ research interests focus on ancient and Renaissance art history, and his numerous publications include If Venice Dies (2016), Azione popolare. Cittadini per il bene comune (2012), Artisti e committenti fra Quattro e Cinquecento (2010), and The Future of the Classical (2006). He was the editor of The Classical Tradition (with Anthony Grafton and Glenn W. Most, 2010), I Greci. Storia, arte, cultura, società, vols. 1–6, (1995–2002), Memoria dell’Antico nell’arte italiana, vols. 1–3 (1984–86), and is the general editor of the series Mirabilia Italiae. For his interest in the preservation of landscape and cultural heritage, Settis has been Chair of Italy’s High Council for Cultural Heritage and Landscape (2007–2009). He has been awarded two honorary degrees in Law by the University of Padua (2007) and the University of Rome Tor Vergata (2008), and one in Architecture by the University of Reggio Calabria (2013).

Italian Laws for protection of cultural heritage are particularly strict (as in other “source countries” such as Greece, as opposed to “consumer countries” such as the US). While current laws belong to a sequence started after Italian unification (1859–70), they cannot be explained in terms of nationalism. Rather, ethical and juridical principles of conservation have a much deeper root, i.e. a lasting tradition, starting (for instance in Rome, Naples, or Venice) long before the very concept of “nation” was operative in Europe. Close analysis of early texts (such as Raphael’s letter to pope Leo X about the antiquities of Rome) will show that norms enforced by governments of pre-unification Italian states, linked as they were with the birth and growth of collecting practices, were mostly aimed at regulating and limiting the market. It was only with the French revolution that a notion of patrimoine national was launched, and slowly adapted into post-Restauration Italian states. From 1909 to 2004, the “Italian system” for protection of cultural heritage and landscape evolved into a complex public organization, whose pivotal point is the Italian Constitution (1948), where for the first time “the tutelary guardianship of the landscape and the historic and artistic patrimony of the Nation” was inscribed among the fundamental principles of any modern state. Nonetheless, while the rhetoric of conservation is still forceful, the last decades have witnessed the rapidly progressing deterioration of the resources, institutions, and values committed to the tutelage of cultural heritage. This talk, after examining the history of conservation from early modern Italy to the present, also focused on the current “state of the art.”