The island of Montecristo, St. Mamiliano and later occupiers
Island of Montecristo, courtesy Wikipedia
The history of the island of Montecristo begins with Neanderthal man. The Greeks gaveMontecristo its oldest known name, Oglasa or Ocrasia, after the yellowish colour of the rocks. Afterward, the Etruscans exploited the forests of oak needed to fuel the bloomeries on the mainland. The Romans called it Mons Jovis and erected an altar to Iuppiter Optimus Maximus of which some traces remain.
Any treasure is linked to a quest. The one of the Montecristo starts in the middle of the V century AD, when Saint Mamiliano took refuge in the island caves.
Born in Palermo, Mamiliano was the bishop of the town, where he is still venerated as patron saint. After the persecution from the Vandals of Genseric, Mamiliano was exiled in Cartagena (Tunisia), from where he moved to Sardinia. Eventually, he landed in Montecristo together with his friends and disciples, the other hermits Saint Ninfa, Eustochio, Proculo, Gobuldeo (from Quod vult Deus), Lustro, Vindemio, Teodosio, Aurelio, and Rustico. They christened the island “Mons Christi”, from which the modern name is derived and evangelised also the entire Tuscan Archipelago and surrounding areas.
The cult of Saint Mamiliano was very important at the beginning of the VII century, and Pope Gregory the Great submitted it to the Benedictines monastic rule. In this period in Montecristo, the Monastery of St. Mamiliano was founded and a chapel was built in the St. Mamiliano cave, where he had really lived. The Monastery received many donations from several noble families, including the Marquees of Corsica and their feudatories, becoming powerful and rich: this gave rise to the legend of the Montecristo treasure.
From then on, the Montecristo island has been targeted by many as a place where to find a treasure; therefore suffered many troubles and destructions. Incessantly object of pirates attacks, in Medieval times Montecristo became a possession of the Republic of Pisa and later was acquired by the Principality of Piombino (near Leghorn). In 1553, Ottoman pirate Dragut assaulted the monastery, incarcerated the monks and declared its end. After that, the island was abandoned. In the second half of the XVI century, it became part of the Stato dei Presidi – a small part of the Spanish Empire built to protect Rome and located in the Tuscan Archipelago with capital Orbetello (province ofGrosseto). Annexed to the French Empire under Napoleon, after his fall the Stato dei Presidi became the possession of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.
All of the abovementioned people were fascinated by the treasure legend born with the fabulous wealth of the Monastery. In the middle of the XIX century, the legend burst onto the worldwide scene, due to the publication of one of the most famous book ever printed, “The Count of Montecristo”.
Written by Alexandre Dumas (père), The Count of Montecristo was firstly published between 1845-46. It is the story of Edmond Dantès, a man who spends his life in looking for revenge for wrongdoing he suffered. In between the many troubles, Dantès is jailed for fourteen years in the Château d’If in Marseille (France). There Dantès becomes friend to the Abbé Faria (“The Mad Priest”), a fellow prisoner who is trying to escape through a tunnel, and who claims knowledge of a massive treasure and continually offers to reward the guards well if they release him. Faria gives Dantès an extensive education and he also confide in him. Just before dying, Faria tells Dantès the treasure location on the Montecristo island. Soon after Faria dies and Dantès uses his burial sack to stage an escape to a nearby island. He is rescued by a smugglers ship; he works with them since when they set sails to Montecristo. There Dantès simulates an injury and convinces the smugglers to temporarily leave him on Montecristo. He finds out the treasure and he returns to Marseille, where he learns his father had starved to death. Dantès buys a yacht, hides the rest of the treasure on board and purchases both the island of Montecristo and the title of Count from the Tuscan government.
Dumas, his travels and legends of Maremma
Is the Count of Montecristo pure fiction? Dumas travelled to Tuscany, the first time in 1840-42. Dumas was a passionate of Italy and of Tuscany. He has written books about his travels in Italy, for example, about Florence, the Medici family, and the Bourbons family. He also helped Garibaldi – both were Freemasons – and took part of the military Expedition of the Thousand that defied the Bourbons, kings of the South Italy, so reunifying Italy. He also founded a journal L’Indipendente to support the cause of Garibaldi.
Dumas visited the Tuscan Archipelago so many times that he probably has heard of the treasure legend. Piergiorgio Zotti said: “Sure. When Dumas was sailing the Mediterranean sea, hosted by Bonaparte, a relative of Napoleon, for sure he could have heard these legends. On the other hand, the legends of Maremma, such as the one of the Bella Marsilia who was kidnapped by the so called pirate Hayreddin Barbarossa (en. Barbarossa was an Ottoman Turkish admiral whose naval victories secured Ottoman dominance over the Mediterranean sea during the 16th century) can be found in Maremma but also in Venice, in Corsica and Constantinople. For example, in Moriani (Corsica) they used to make a big fire on the beach to remember St. Mamiliano. Because, when St. Mamiliano died, a big fire was made. It was a signal addressed to the people of the area, and they came from Corsica, from Tuscany, from Elba island, from Giglio island, and from the surrounding territories. The people of the Giglio island were given an arm of the saint as relic, which is still today kept in a silver reliquary in Giglio Castello, the island Castle (ed. This is on the hill just up above the reef where the poor relict of the Costa Concordia lays).”
The colonisation of Montecristo and George Watson Taylor
A map of the area around the island of Montecristo
Many attempts to colonise Montecristo have been made: all of them failed. The first was in 1840 by two German hermits, Augustin Eulhardt and Joseph Keimrstly, at that time owned by Charles Cambiagi. In 1843, was the young Tyrolean Adolph Franz Obermüller, and after him a few months later, the Frenchman Charles Legrand and his girlfriend, followed by the French agriculturalist George Guiboud. In 1846 some Genoese tried again, while in 1849 the Frenchman Jacques Abrial was able to farm the island for three years.
The last non Italian attempt was made in 1852. The rich Englishman, George Graeme Watson Taylor, determined to invest his fortune in the purchase of the island of Montecristo. His story is so interesting and it connects this website to this millenarian legend.
George Watson Taylor bought the island for 52,000 Tuscan liras. He transformed into a garden Cala Maestra, the main wharf, planting eucalyptus and many exotic plants, among them the Asiatic Ailanthus Altissima, an invasive species which now infests the island. He also realized the few modern buildings such as the Royal Villa.
Watson Taylor was so proud of his refuge in the middle of the sunny Mediterranean sea that, without any title, started to call himself the Count of Montecristo, maybe referring to the homonymous and famous Dumas’s book.
We can say that George Watson Taylor had problems as soon as he arrived. The unfortunate Watson Taylor was involved in the events of the Italian unification, so far that he was prosecuted for an alleged act of sedition and his case was discussed by George Cavendish- Bentinck, the Conservative MP for Taunton – “Little Ben” to his contemporaries – who in 1862 reported to the House of Commons about Mr. Taylor’s situation: “When Mr. Taylor purchased the island, there was doing duty there a corporal belonging to the Board of Health or Sanità, named Durante, who was guilty of very gross misconduct towards Mr. Taylor. The latter made a representation on the subject to the Governor of Elba; the case was investigated, and Durante was removed.”
The nature of the misconduct was not specified, but Watson Taylor was then in an almost calm situation until 1859, when the Italian Unification took place. Mr. Cavendish –Bentinck continues: “Shortly after the Provisional Government was proclaimed, the guard of the island of Monte Cristo, which consisted of four privates and a corporal, became unruly and insubordinate, and these men with drawn swords constantly threatened Mr. Taylor, unless he gave them provisions and money. Mr. Taylor made a complaint to the Provisional Government established at Florence, through the medium of our representative, Mr. Corbet, and other authorities, against a corporal named Ricci, who had insulted Mr. and Mrs. Taylor in the grossest manner; but though the offence was proved, he escaped punishment, owing to his being the relative of an officer.”
When Tuscany was annexed to the Kingdom of Sardinia at the end of March 1860, the news remained unknown in Montecristo because the post arrived there in the beginning of April, as there was only one post per month. From Mr. Cavendish- Bentinck speech: “On the 1st of April, after an absence of five or six years, Durante, the very man who had been dismissed for misconduct, reappeared in Monte Cristo, and assumed the command of the guard. It was an important question how this man came to be sent there. He had been dismissed for notorious misconduct; and it must have been within the knowledge of the authorities that he was most disagreeable to Mr. Taylor, whom they were bound to protect. Mr. Taylor had no doubt that the man was sent there in order to get up a charge against himself.”
On the 3rd of May the announcement that Tuscany was annexed to Sardinia reached the Montecristo but Mr. Taylor never received any official notice. Durante left, and his successor behaved no better than he had done. On the 3rd of July, Watson Taylor wrote a letter to Sir James Hudson about the soldier who were behaving with insolence, insubordination and constantly making robbery. Taylor requested to Sir James if he would ask the Government of Sardinia to order the immediate removal of those offenders. In reply Watson Taylor was charged of sedition; because the evening of the 28th April 1860 the soldiers fired musket-shots should they were celebrating the birthday of their master. It was alleged that Mrs. Taylor told the soldiers that their King, Victor Emmanuel, was a bullock merchant, and that the corporal was struck on the breast by Mr. Taylor with his open hand without receiving any injury. Mrs. Taylor was sentenced to fifteen months’ imprisonment and Mr. Taylor to eighteen months’ imprisonment, for having incited their labourers to seditious manifestations, which were proved to have had no existence.
The following is the story of a mysterious treasure, no one has ever seen. Its legend is born in the V century, when a saint was exiled inMontecristo, and through the centuries the treasure has been target of pirate attacks, implicated in wars and revolutions, led to robberies and murders, and involved in change of governments and from different nations. It was described by novelists and story tellers. It was able to connect the Mediterranean Sea, from the Tuscan Archipelago to the African and Turkish coasts, and from the Corsica arrives to London. At last, an accidental finding of a mysterious huge amount of gold coins could put the word end to this story: but we are not sure at all…
This long article will be published in serial form. To make the most of it, you need to use your good sense of narration, as it is needed for a legend, and let your imagination flows.
An exhibition has been recently organised
The gold hoard was discovered by accident under the pavement of the Church of Saint Mamiliano in the little village of Sovana (Grosseto) during restoration works. Recently, for the first time an exhibition showed this immeasurable treasure. Some of the coins could be exhibited in Sovana, while the rest remains to the governmental Sovrintendenza ai Beni Artistici (Commission for the Architectural and Landscape Heritage) in Florence for study purposes. But in Sovana they want the coins back to show them in a suitable local museum. It is a hoard made of 498 gold solidus, coined under the Empire of Leo I (457 – 474) and under the Empire of Procopius Anthemius (467 – 472), weighting each 1/72 of Roman pound (approx. 4,5 grams).
Montecristo or not, it is a fortune everyone would be happy to come across. Of course, everyone in Sovana is glad because it is an enormous quantity of money. The entire world was startled about the finding, but in the meantime doubts raised.
Doubts about the treasure finding
Is it really the famous Treasure of Montecristo? A first hesitation comes from the location of Sovana, which is in the very countryside of Southern Tuscany, close to the border with Latium.
Montecristo, instead, is a little island of the Tuscan Archipelago between the south coast of Tuscany and the Corsica (France) – a few miles from the relict of the Costa Concordia ship, of notorious captain Schettino. Between them, there are about 200 km of sea, lagoon and vineyard hills. The legend, instead, clearly talks about the island ofMontecristo.
The Archive of Folk Traditions of Maremma is the best place to enquiry about it. Founded in 1979 by the municipality of Grosseto, which is the capital of the province, the Archive is ‘THE’ local research and study centre about legends and traditions of the area. Piergiorgio Zotti, Archive Coordinator, doubtfully said: “I would not call it ‘the treasure of Montecristo’. I would rather call it ‘a lucky series of coincidences’. The first of them is the witness of some ancient maps and some old manuscripts studied by scientists, not only from the fantasy point of view. These documents testify the Treasure of Montecristo was hunted even in remote times, by the Princes of Piombino, by the Grand Dukes of Tuscany, and of course, by an expedition of Corsican guys. They took a boat to Montecristo but to find nothing, just a “pignatto” (tn. a jar, also called olla) full of ashes and calcined bones. Here it is the coincidence. And in what does it consist? The coincidence is that those young people searched the treasure by the altar of Saint Mamiliano, who was an African bishop, evangelizer of the Tuscan Archipelago and of Sovana, who lived and died in Montecristo. The coincidence keeps on, because few years ago archaeologists have found out this ‘small treasure’ in the church of Saint Mamiliano in Sovana. However, I would not call it ‘small treasure’, but rather ‘a treasure’ because it is a consistent hoard of gold coins. They have been coined in the period of Saint Mamiliano, the period of the Eastern Roman Empire. Here is the analogy, which is interesting for legend and tradition researchers, but neither for archaeologists nor for historians. It is because analogy develops between two elements, each other apparently far in space and time, which stimulate always imagination and thrill of mystery.”
Lost in the countryside of Tuscany, Sovana village is so small that today only 138 people live there. Despite of that, this little gem has a
Sarcophagus of Pope Gregory VII, Cathedral of Salerno, co. Wikipedia.
glorious past. It has been one of the Etruscan centres, and later was a Roman “municipium”. From the V century Sovana was an Episcopal See. But, it was conquered by the Lombard’s in 592-605, and became their administrative centre in the area.
In the Middle Ages, Roselle the capital of the county was abandoned due to Saracen depredations. Sovana became the capital of the county under the Aldobrandeschi, the dominant family, who were so powerful that Ildebrando Aldobrandeschi di Sovana was elected as Pope Gregory VII. He was born in Sovana and he has been one of the most important popes of the history. He died in exile in Salerno, where his body is still preserved in a sarcophagus in the main Cathedral.
Sovana importance declined when the county was acquired by the Orsini family, who moved the capital to the nearby city of Pitigliano in the XIII century.
Today is a rural and touristic centre, a picture of the ideal Tuscan countryside, with one Medieval castle and relative Etruscan walls, three archaeological parks, two museums, one archive centre for local history, five grade A listed buildings, two churches, a cathedral, one oratory, one chapel, and a square – nothing older than Renaissance time – and everything is spread on a 500mt area only.
The recent exhibition in Sovana about the treasure was much discussed. Piergiorgio Zotti: “An article published on the Corriere della Sera (ed. the most important Italian newspaper) transformed a legend into a real fact, saying that the Treasure of Montecristo was found in Sovana. But, this is stretched. But as a stretch, it has been much appreciated by many. I have received many calls about it and the last from you. Because the all of you are looking for the treasure, you want to find the way to it (ed. he smiles). The hoard was in the church of St. Mamiliano. But archaeologists, who are reliable people and do not play with fantasy, cannot say who was the owner, or why it has been buried. Think about: the origins of the village of Sorano (ed. the nearby municipality capital today) are linked to mercenary’s armies of the Byzantine Empire coming from Syria. Someone said, for example, that this hoard could be their wage. Others said, it is not possible, because the value of the hoard is too high. Researchers should determine the real purchase value of that gold mass.”
The Council of Tower Hamlets is going to put on the market a piece of Henry Moore. Bromley claims to be the owner but Tower Hamlets deny. As London Art Reviews we are against this decision and furthermore there are other ways to arrange the question.
It’s a bit of confusion what is going in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets about art. The Council is suffering for the Government cuts and therefore is decided to put on sale artworks, including the famous Henry Moore‘s sculpture “Draped Seated Woman”, affectionately known as “Old Flo”.
It is a scandal that could involve other councils in the United Kingdom and it rises up doubts about a sort of gold rush in selling public owned artworks.
When the announcement was made, it caused an almighty row and the Art Fund asked lawyers to examine in detail who actually owns “Old Flo”. In October 2012, in fact, the mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, announced that the council, facing of “unprecedented cuts” planned to sell the 1.6 tonnes work, believing it could achieve £20m at auction. Mayor Lutfur Rahman says that budget cuts, fear of metal theft and the cost of insuring the sculpture make it too expensive to keep.
The Tower Hamlets plan has raised many protests, including the one from a group of famous people, who wrote an open letter to the Observer expressing their concern: “While we understand the financial pressures that Tower Hamlets faces, we feel that the mayor’s proposal goes against the spirit of Henry Moore‘s original sale to LondonCounty Council at a favourable price on the understanding that it would be placed in East London.”
The letter is signed by Mary Moore, the artist’s daughter; Richard Calvocoressi, director, Henry Moore Foundation; Nicholas Serota, director, Tate; Danny Boyle, film director and producer; Peter Murray, director, Yorkshire Sculpture Park; Rushanara Ali, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow; Mary Creagh, MP for Wakefield; David Adjaye, architect; and Jeremy Deller, artist.
The open letter highlighted the problem of the public usability of art pieces. It continues: “The presence of the sculpture in Stepney was a demonstration of the postwar belief that everyone, whatever their background, should have access to works of art of the highest quality. That is why Moore was so delighted to see the work sited as the centrepiece of a housing estate in London’s East End.”
“Old Flo” was, in fact, put on sell to the former London County Council in 1960 byHenry Moore for £6,000 on the condition that it was displayed in a public space for the residents of a socially deprived area.
However, there are new developments of this dispute. New evidence has been presented suggesting that Henry Moore‘s sculpture “Draped Seated Woman” is in fact owned by Bromley.
The work, was acquired by London County Council in 1962 as a gift to the East End generally and the Stifford Estate in Stepney Green specifically. In 1997, when the estate was demolished, she was loaned to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. The sculpture has not been displayed in London for the last 15 years. It currently is located in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, which is not happy to let it go away.
Bromley’s decision follows many hours of detailed archival research conducted by the museum’s specialists and others, finding new great evidence that could stop the sale.
The uncovered paper trail shows that when the London County Council (LCC) was abolished in 1963, the ownership of “Old Flo” was not transferred to Tower HamletsCouncil. The sculpture remained instead the property of the Greater London Council (GLC), until its own abolition in 1985. “Old Flo”, along with other former assets of the GLC were collated in the GLC’s London Residuary Body, and transferred to Bromley Council.
However, in a statement Tower Hamlets disputed the findings: “Tower Hamletscouncil refute that Bromley have any right to the asset. Bromley maintain in their letter that the asset was acquired for Londoners as a whole. However LBTH (London Borough of Tower Hamlets) has checked the minutes of the LCC general purposes committee for 15 May 1962, which authorised the purchase and these specifically state that the statue was “to be sited in Stifford Estate (Stepney).”
As London Art Reviews, we join the campaign to halt the sale of the sculpture. Though understanding the very difficult economic situation in which councils are trapped, we find it is unacceptable that public artworks could be put on sale.
Recently, rock guitarist Eric Clapton has sold a work byRichter for a record price. A Gerhard Richter painting, part of Eric Clapton‘s art collection, sold for a record 21.3 million pounds ($34.2 million). It was the highest amount ever paid for a work by a living artist. German artist’s “Abstraktes Bild (809-4)” was auctioned by Sotheby’s in London, last 12th October.
Eric Clapton bought the abstract work in 2001. It was expected to sell for around £10 million but it fetched more than ten times whatClapton paid for it. According to the auction tracker database Artnet, when Claptonbought his painting, the average auction price of a Richter work was $461,910.
Dealers said values have been increased by the critical and popular success of recentRichter exhibitions. A retrospective, “Gerhard Richter: Panorama”, was exhibited at Tate Modern in London (2011) and at the Pompidou Centre in Paris and at the Staatlichen Museum in Berlin this year.
Probably, there are hundreds of abstract paintings by Richter. However, since 2008 they have become status symbols among the world’s super rich, including Roman Abramovich. For example, the top buyer Lily Safra donated hers to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
It was the highest amount ever paid for a work by a living artist, over £21m. The previous auction record for Richter was the £13.5m ($21.8 million) for the 1993 “Abstraktes Bild (7938-3)” at Christie’s International, New York, in May.
The sale broke the previous auction record for a living artist of £17.8m paid for Jasper Johns’ Flag at Christie’s auction house in New York in 2010.
In November 2001, Eric Clapton bought three Richters for $3.4 million atSotheby’s New York, in between was the abstract one that recently made the record. At the time, this was an auction record for a lot containing abstracts by the German artist.
“People are still ready to pay top prices for great paintings,” Christophe Van de Weghe, a New York dealer, said in an interview “While the market is selective, the Clapton provenance made a difference. It could have added as much as 20 percent to the price.” But Felix Salmon, a blogger from Reuters, strongly disagree Clapton’s provenance could have added a 20 per cent more, and he wrote: “… Christophe Van de Weghe is an idiot”.
Eric Clapton, 67, studied art for a year before his career took off. He is an astute businessman, who is worth £140million. Clapton has used some of the fortune he made out of his music, to build an extensive art collection.
Clapton is active in the auction market and making profit. For example, he also collects watches, one of which, a rare Patek Philippe, 1987, sold at Christie’s Geneva Important Watch auction held last 12th November. It was another record price set by Clapton.His Patek Philippe platinum perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch with moon phases sold for 3.4 million Swiss francs ($3.6 million, 2.9 million euro).
In 1997 Clapton sold 32 works for £420,000, including paintings by Henri Matisse and Edgar Degas.
In 2011, Clapton sold more than 70 of his guitars at a charity auction in New York to raise $2.15 million for the Crossroads Centre drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre that he founded in Antigua.
Gerhard Richter, 80, lives and works in Cologne. He was born in Dresden and grew up in communist East Germany. His work includes both abstract and figurative paintings as well as photographs. He is regarded as one of the world’s greatest living painters, with works in many public and private collections.
Gerhard Richter has become the world’s most bankable living artist, dealers say. His highly decorative abstractions, often painted with a squeegee, have become particularly sought-after by wealthy international collectors and set seven of the ten highest prices paid for the artist at auction. The total value of Richter‘s works sold at auction in 2011 topped £124.5m ($200m), according to the database Artnet – more than those of any other living artist.
“Abstraktes Bild (809-4)” sold at Sotheby’s auction house in London to an anonymous buyer after five minutes of bidding. However, stern competition between two anonymous telephone bidders meant the work eventually sold for £21,321,250. The buyer was Natasha Mendelsohn of Sotheby’s, acting for a client on the telephone. Her colleague Tobias Meyer, Sotheby’s worldwide head of contemporary art, underbid her by also taking instructions for a client.
Despite it looks a bit trashy, “Abstraktes Bild (808-4)”, an oil painting realised in 1994, was described by Sotheby’s as a “masterpiece of calculated chaos” and a “paradigm of Gerhard Richter‘s mature artistic and philosophical achievement”.
In a moment of such a world economic crisis, top art market has performed strongly in recent years.
The 1994 oil-on-canvas “Abstraktes Bild (809-4)” was sold by Sotheby’s in London for its “Frieze Week” auction of contemporary artworks. Also nearby in Mayfair the Pavilion of Art and Design was ongoing.
At Sotheby’s main evening sale, there was a more historically classical selection, made perhaps to catch the audience at the new Frieze Masters fair for older work.
When the Frieze Art Fair started 10 years ago, London’s Frieze week auctions brought a modest £6.5 million, but this year £101 million was reached. Now with Frieze Masters thrown into the mix, the trend is likely to see even higher value sales next year.
Is Richter’s Abstraktes Bild worth the money? Art prices soared to such illogical levels. It is about what auction houses can get people to pay. For example, Booker prizes are far more less money doomed. Visual art is turning in a dirty game for super rich businessmen, pushing out of the environment start ups and creative artist.
However, a different sort of business is coming from events such as Affordable Art Fair, where it is possible to buy for artwork for very low prices, and some of them are from very famous artist too.