Italy’s Cultural Patrimony Squad Recovers 900 Artworks from Earthquake Ruins

They compare themselves to the Monuments Men.

Courtesy ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images.

900 artworks, such as altarpieces, mosaics, frescoes, and other paintings from museums, chapels, and shrines have been recovered by Italy’s cultural patrimony force after August’s devastating earthquake in Amatrice.

Included in the pieces are a painting of a local saint, San Giuseppe of Leonessa, from 1700, as well as rare reliquaries, a 19th-century tabernacle, terracotta stations of the cross, and a wooden Madonna which holds special local significance, according to The Guardian.

This was the first mission for the Comando Tutela Patrimonio Culturale (also known as the “Blue Helmets of Culture” for the blue miner’s helmets they sport), a faction of the Italian carabinieri that was formed this past February, and that is dedicated specifically to the defense of cultural heritage.

Courtesy ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images.

Courtesy ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images.

The team is composed of 60 people total, 30 of whom are civilians—such as historians, scholars, and restoration experts from Rome’s Central Institute of Restoration—and the other half belonging to the carabinieri’s art department.

“My men are trained for all crisis situations. The people who have already lost everything, even in an earthquake, should not feel stripped of their memories, which often remain the only identifying elements of a community,” Fabrizio Parrulli, commander of the unit, said in a statement to the Italian newspaper La Stampa.

The “Blue Helmet” agents are often compared to the “Monuments Men,” the group that recovered artworks looted by Nazis (and was depicted in a 2014 film), and they even draw the comparisons themselves. “Our work to save artwork begins once we know that all the people in a specific area have been saved or accounted for,” Captain Lanfranco Disibio told NPR, adding “We’re like The Monuments Men.”

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