|Johann Christian Bach was among many Germans who for centuries had ties with Italian regions. He
moved to Milan when work was slow at home, just as Leonardo da Vince had done when work was
slow in Florence in 1481. Milan dates back to the Bronze Age. It is here in Milan, at Santa Maria
delle Grazie, that Leonardo painted The Last Supper from 1495 to 1497.
Leonardo tried an experimental wall-painting technique, not wanting to paint in fresco. The humidity
in the room caused the paint to start flaking as soon as 1517, and by 1586 it was barely visible. After
several bungled restorations, the monks decided to cut a doorway through the center of the painting
in 1653, amputating the feet of Jesus and part of the table in the process.
Occupying French troops under Napoleon next used the building as a stable in 1796, and out of sheer
boredom, the soldiers took turns throwing clay at the faces of the Apostles as target practise. Then,
in 1800, a flood left green mold all over the face of the painting, but it was painstakingly removed.
As an industrial center, Milan was the target of continuous Allied bombing in World War Two, and
on July 12,1943, after repeated heavy bombing, 656 RAF bombers destroyed Milan within 30
minutes after dropping 1,000 tons of incendiaries (out of a total load of 1,252 tons of bombs)
squarely on the city center. The wall with the painting survived only because it had been protected by
sandbags. However, the bombing tore off the room's roof, leaving the fresco exposed to the elements
for three years.
The Last Supper has been extensively restored at a cost of millions of dollars, and so has Milan,
which had to be completely reconstructed after the war. Leonardo did extensive research and created
many studies and preparatory sketches before completing the painting, twenty of which have
survived and are, oddly enough, kept in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle, where they have been
stored since 1600.
|The Last Supper and the Last Roof
|Since we're in Italy anyway
|The monastery of Montecassino was founded by St Benedictin in 529, and here he wrote 'The Rules
of Benedict', a guide for daily monastery life which Charlemagne's son, Louis the Pious, mandated
be the only one allowed in Frankish monasteries. The community eventually became known as the
Order of St Benedict. The Longobards destroyed Montecassino in 577 and it was rebuilt.
It received privileged status after a 787 visit from Charlemagne, but was destroyed again in 883 by
the Saracens, and destroyed again by an earthquake in 1349. Again it was rebuilt. The unlucky
monastery was destroyed in an Allied bombing raid based on another faulty rumor that it was being
used by the Germans. It was early morning on February 15, 1944 when the abbey of Montecassino
was attacked. A small group of monks plus hundreds of refugees were in the monastery when the
first cluster of 250 kg bombs fell from the first of the four formations of B-17, the Flying Fortresses
ordered to destroy the monastery. Four other waves of medium-range bombers followed. 453 tons of
bombs dropped, in eight waves, by 239 bombers. When it was over, several hundred refugees
trapped inside the building lay dead in the rubble.
At the time, the bombing of ancient monastery was the most impressive bombardment in history ever
directed at a single building. The next day, Roosevelt opened a press conference with: “I read in the
afternoon papers about the bombing of the abbey of Montecassino by our forces. In the reports it
was clearly explained that the reason why it was bombed is that the Germans were using it to
bombard us. It was a German stronghold, with artillery and everything necessary”. This was untrue.
It was destroyed under pressure from commander Bernard Cyril Freyberg, a former New Zealand
dentist. Freyberg claimed the Germans were directing their artillery fire from the abbey and on
February 12, he demanded the bombing of the monastery for reasons of “military necessity”, even
threatening the withdrawal of his troops were he not contented. The Americans agreed, party
because the Allied media had been hammering away suggesting that soldiers were dying because
military commanders in Italy were being too soft toward the Catholic Church.
On 9 March, when the English Foreign Office asked for evidence they could provide to the Vatican
as to why the monastery was destroyed, English General Henry Maitland Wilson claimed he had at
least twelve pieces of “irrefutable evidence” that the monastery was used by the German military, but
he wanted to keep his evidence secret to prevent the Germans from "constructing false counter
evidence in consequence". It was promised that the evidence would be given to the Vatican in due
time. That time never came. There had recently been no German soldiers within the abbey or in its
immediate vicinity, Later it was learned that one of the "pieces of evidence" was an intercepted and
mistranslated German message that they claimed said "the division is in the monastery" when in
reality it said: "The monks are in the monastery".
Sixty years later the US and England finally admitted that the bombing of Montecassino was “a tragic
error...the result of poor intelligence”. Bernard Cyril Freyberg was raised to the peerage for his acts.
|Ancient Padua, Italy, was also bombed in World War Two and lost several ancient masterpieces.
The Eremitani Church, built at the turn of the 13th century, was all but destroyed by Allied bombing
on March 11, 1944 after Germans were rumored to have been inside the church.
In 1306, Brother Giovanni degli Eremitani, a monk famous for having built the roof of the Palace of
Reason, built the original roof of the church, which was blown into pieces by the attack along with
the frescoes by Guariento in the apse, and by Andrea Mantegna, N Pizolo, A.Vivarini and G.
d'Alemagna in the Ovetari chapel,
As it turned out, no Germans were in the church. Although the church was restored after the war,
most of these frescoes that decorated the church and others were either totally lost or severely
damaged. Thousand of fragments were rescued and put into boxes. After 50 years, serious effort was
made to collect and to classify the 72,500 bits and pieces, out of which only 52,000 of them were big
enough to be codified. Digital technology has had some success.
|The Longbards and the Shortobrains...
|Why can't we just blame it on the Germans and go home?
|On December 6, 1942, in Operation 'Oyster', the RAF staged a daylight bombing raid on the Philips
Radio Works at Eindoven, Holland. Fourteen planes were lost and 148 Dutch civilians were killed.
And on March 3, 1945, 511 inhabitants in a suburb of The Hague, Holland, were killed when Allied
bombers missed their intended target and dropped their bombs on Bezuidenhout. Over 3,000 houses
were destroyed and 12,000 people were left homeless. 122 Royal Canadian Air force Halifax's
dropped 600 tons of bombs on the Merelbeke-Melle rail yards at Ghent, Belgium on April 10/11,
1944 killing 438 Belgian civilians. In a March 13, 1944 raid on Le Mans, France by the RAF Bomber
Command 100 civilians were killed. In Lille-Deliverance, France on April 9/10, 1944, an attack by
186 RAF bombers killed 456 civilians and destroyed over a thousand homes. Not to be outdone, on
April 19/20, 1944, 200 mostly Canadian Halifaxe bombers set out to attack rail yards at Noisy-le-sec
near Paris but most bombs fell on a built-up area of the town destroying over 700 houses, killing 464
civilians and injuring 370.
|Left: Padua, Eremitani fragments;
Above: Freyberg (click on images)