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More Art At The Airport

February 16, 2024
Stained glass windows

Giotto’s windows from the Museo dell’Opera di Santa Croce (photo courtesy of Miguel Hermoso Cuesta)

Last year, the Italian government, in an attempt to promote the country’s art and culture to incoming tourists, set up a display case in the middle of Terminal 1 at Fiumicino Airport, just outside of Rome. There, travelers could view a work by the great Baroque sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini. And now, after less than a year, they are deciding to give it another go by showcasing a work of art by arguably an even greater figure in the Italian arts.

While he might not have as much recognition as Raphael and Michaelangelo, the late-thirteenth, early fourteenth-century painter Giotto is one of the greatest figures in the hagiography of European artists. This is because of his prevalence immediately before the Italian Renaissance. His style, which depicted human figures far more naturalistically than his predecessors and contemporaries, revived artistic traditions that had been neglected for centuries. He thereby laid the foundation upon which later Renaissance masters would build. He is probably best known for his frescoes at the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, showing the life of Christ. However, Giotto was a Tuscan who spent most of his life in and around Florence. Some of his work can still be seen today in the city’s churches. The Basilica of Santa Croce is one such church where you can see his work on the walls in several of the basilica’s chapels. However, you can also view his work in the church’s museum, the Museo dell’Opera, which includes a series of stained glass windows. These windows were attributed to Giotto in the 1980s by the Hungarian art historian Miklos Boskovits, who claimed that the windows were, at the very least, designed by Giotto and possibly even partially painted by him. The museum contents are state property, falling under the care of the Interior Ministry’s Religious Buildings Fund. Several of these stained glass panels will now be displayed in the middle of Fiumicino Airport Terminal 1.

Placing the Giotto panels in the middle of the airport terminal is just one aspect of a larger campaign to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Aeroporti di Roma. This company manages and operates Rome’s two airports at Fiumicino and Ciampino. Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi stated the point of the installation was “to bring people to works of art and bring works of art to people.” Similar to the Bernini sculpture from last year, the question arises of why the Italian government thinks this is necessary. I understand Italy is not doing well economically, but is this the way to fix things? Most people I know considering a visit to Italy are already going there to experience the country’s art and culture. I wrote last year regarding the Bernini sculpture, “I’m not sure [tourists will] need any more prompting by making sure you see a Baroque masterpiece the moment you step off the plane.” At this point, should the culture and interior ministries continue with this PR tactic, they might be taking priceless cultural artifacts and treating them like new cars you see at the mall. Let’s hope it won’t come to that.