The mystery of the Treasure of the Count of Montecristo found in Sovana.

Part one: A recent exhibition in Sovana, Tuscan countryside.

David Franchi – Thursday, 3rd January 2013

“use your good sense of narration, as it is needed for a legend”

The gold coins still in the olla, courtesy Sorano municipality.

The gold coins still in the olla, courtesy Sorano municipality.

When in 2004 a consistent hoard was found in Sovana, rumours spread about the legendaryTreasure of the Count of Montecristo.

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.”

The small village of Sovana

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, courtesy from Wikipedia.

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.”



David Franchi – Thursday, 27th December 2012.

“As London Art Reviews we join the campaign to halt the sale of the sculpture.”

A Seated Draped Woman, Henry Moore (1962) Located in Stifford Estate, Tower Hamlets © LCC Photograph Collection

A Seated Draped Woman, Henry Moore (1962) Located in Stifford Estate, Tower Hamlets © LCC Photograph Collection

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.


David Franchi – Thursday, 22nd November 2012

“It was the highest amount ever paid for a work by a living artist”

Gerhard Richters, Abstraktes Bild (809-4), 1994 © Photo: Sotheby’s

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.


Gregory Hilde Brand, 1st November 2012

Raphael Cartoons are on show at the V&A Museum in London

Sistine Chapel, The creation of Adam, particular, Michelangelo Buonarroti, courtesy Wikipedia

Wandering around Italy in these days, you can be overwhelmed by the news about the celebration for the 500 years of the inauguration of the Sistine Chapel ceiling byMichelangelo.The very famous ceiling frescos, in fact, were unveiled the 31st October 1512. These images are in between the most famous in the world. Everyone has seen, at least once in his life, the image of the two fingers getting closer, a particular taken from “The creation of Adam”.

Italy is inundated with news of the Sistine Chapel celebration, also a way to enhance the low appreciation the Vatican faces in these days.

However, it is undoubtable the Sistine Chapel is a marvellous patrimony of the world, one of the primary functions of which is as a venue for the election of each successive pope in the Conclave of the College of Cardinals.

The 31st October 2012, Pope Benedict XVI presided at the celebration of Vespers in theSistine Chapel, to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the inauguration of the ceiling painted by Michelangelo between 1508 and 1512.

Pope Julius II, who entrusted the decoration of the vault (1,100 square metres) to the sculptor of the Pieta, celebrated the completion of the work with the solemn rite of Vespers on All Saints’ Day, 31st October 1512.

The story of the Sistine Chapel starts in the XV Century. The return of the pontiffs in Rome, after the period in Avignon (France), marked a reconstruction time for the capital city of the Christianity, ruined and devastated by the civil wars.

Pope Sixtus VI worked on renovating Rome and culminated in the restoration of the Palatine Chapel of the Apostolic Palaces – aka the Vatican Palaces, residence of the Pope in Rome- that took its name of Sistine Chapel (Latin: Sacellum Sixtinum) from the pope’s name.

The architectonic project of the chapel was made by Baccio Pontelli. It has been built under the supervision of Giovannino de’ Dolci, between the 1477 and 1481, and consecrated in 1483.

The Sistine Chapel is a rectangular brick building, exteriorly unadorned. The internal measurements are 40.9 metres (134 ft) long by 13.4 metres (44 ft) wide—the dimensions of the Temple of Solomon, as given in the Old Testament. The vaulted ceiling rises to 20.7 metres (68 ft).

The interior presents a screen, or transenna, in marble by Mino da Fiesole, Andrea Bregno, and Giovanni Dalmata, who also provided the

Michelangelo Buonaroti, The last judgement, complete view, Vatican Gallery, Sistine Chapel, courtesy Wikipedia

cantoria, or projecting choir gallery.

The internal walls are divided into three main tiers. The lower is decorated with frescoed wall hangings in silver and gold. The central tier of the walls has two cycles of paintings, which complement each other.

The decoration was started by Perugino, and Piermatteo D’Amelia decorated the ceiling. In the meantime Lorenzo de’ Medici, ruler of Florence, as a part of the reconciliation project between him and his enemies of the Pazzi Conspiracy (1478), offered his help for the decoration of the chapel, including sending to Rome artists who left Florence on 27th October 1480.

The group of Florentine was composed by Sandro Botticelli, Cosimo Rosselli, Domenico Ghirlandaio and their assistants Pinturicchio, Piero di Cosimo e Bartolomeo della Gatta. They joined Perugino, who was perhaps the superintendent of the whole decoration. They started to work in the Sistine Chapel in the spring of 1481. Later on, Luca Signorelli replaced Perugino.

In 1504, for soil problems the Sistine Chapel was damaged, and once restored the ceiling needed to be redecorated. Pope Julius II wanted to commission Michelangelo Buonarroti, who signed the contract in 1508.

The decoration was terminated the 31st October 2012. Michelangelo was helped by Bramante for the scaffolding. The frescoes were subject to fungus attack but an assistant of Michelangelo, Jacopo l’Indaco, created a special mix that remained in the Italian builder’s tradition.

Furthermore, Pope Clement VII commissioned to Michelangelo the decoration of the wall above the altar with The Last Judgement, 1537–1541. There was a strong dispute between Michelangelo and Cardinal Carafa, who accused the artist of immorality and obscenity because he painted naked people.

Therefore, after Michelangelo’s death Daniele da Volterra was hired to cover the genitals in Last Judgment with vestments and loincloths. This earned him the nickname “Il Braghettone” (“the breeches maker”). In 1994 restoration, they have been partially removed but only on 38 minor figures and causing many protests.

Raphael, Christ’s Charge to Peter, Cartoon, (1515) courtesy Wikipedia

And here is the connection with the UK – and this website. In 1515,Raphael was commissioned by Pope Leo X to design a series of ten tapestries to hang around the lower tier of the walls. The full-size preparatory cartoons for seven of the ten tapestries, known as theRaphael Cartoons, are on show at the V&A Museum in London.The fate of the other three cartoons is unknown.

Due to their large size, Raphael tapestries were woven in four years in the shop of Pieter van Aelst (Brussels). Their first delivery was in 1517, and seven were displayed in the Chapel for Christmas in 1519. Raphael’s tapestries were looted during the Sack of Rome in 1527 and were either burnt for their precious metal content or were scattered around Europe. In the late 20th century, a set was reassembled and displayed again in the Sistine Chapel in 1983, and used during occasional important ceremonies.

The seven Raphael Cartoons were bought from a Genoese collection in 1623 by Sir Francis Drake on behalf Charles I of England. He only paid £300 for them, probably they were considered as working designs rather than works of art. Charles I, in fact, made further tapestries from them at Mortlake but he was well aware of their artistic significance. They had been cut into long vertical strips a yard wide, as was required for use on low-warp tapestry looms, and were only permanently rejoined in the 1690s at Hampton Court. In Charles’ time they were stored in wooden boxes in the Banqueting House, Whitehall. They were one of the few items in the Royal Collection withheld from sale by Oliver Cromwell after Charles’ execution.

William III commissioned Sir Christopher Wren and William Talman to design the“Cartoon Gallery” at Hampton Court Palace in 1699, especially to contain them. In 1763, when George III moved them to the newly bought Buckingham House (now Buckingham Palace) there were protests in Parliament by John Wilkes and others, as they would no longer be accessible to the public (Hampton Court had long been open to visitors). In 1804 they were returned to Hampton Court, and in 1865 Queen Victoria decided that the cartoons should be exhibited on loan at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England, where they are still to be seen in a specially designed gallery.

The celebration of 500 years of Sistine Chapel marks that a piece of history is available to people, as every year 6 million of tourists visits the place.