Italy Publishes Massive Digital Archive of Catholic Art

A digital catalogue of Italy’s staggeringly diffuse holdings in ecclesiastical art has been published on the Church’s website, Though still a work in progress (Ermanno Rivetti at The Art Newspaper has pointed out “gaps” around the Florentine and Neapolitan dioceses), the 16-year-old archive is being touted as a unique tool against theft, in addition to making images of thousands of works from tens of thousands of churches available to anyone around the world. So far, users can view up to 3.5 million such images from 216 Italian dioceses around the country.

Because so much of Italy’s artistic patrimony is Church-related, the catalogue has called upon an unusual alliance between Church officials and the state’s cultural sector, who have shared the resources and responsibilities of a €51.6 million ($68.1 million) budget. And what would a monumental art project in Italy be without a wilderness of kinks and inefficiencies? In Rome, the only work that turns up in a search for Bernini is a relief from his school or workshop, and details about its location only go as far as the diocese. Meanwhile, Bernini’s masterpiece “The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa” (1652), in addition to the piazza he designed in front of St. Peter’s Basilica, are also missing from the search results. In Bologna, an image of the 600-year-old general archives at San Petronio Basilica is included, but the cathedral’s facade — featuring reliefs by Jacopo della Quercia, widely considered to have been a precursor to Michelangelo — is bizarrely left out.

Experts surmise that for now, the catalogue will be placing less emphasis on famous works of art that no one has trouble finding. Tourists, in other words, are more likely to complain than art historians. “It’s an enormous job and it’s still rough around the edges,” Tomaso Montanari, an art historian at Università Federico II in Naples, told TAN. “But anything that promotes the knowledge and preservation of the Church’s artistic heritage can only be good for the country.”

— Reid Singer