by Lynda Albertson
This weekend ARCA reported that Medardo Rosso's Bambino Malato (Sick Child) (1893-95) had been stolen from the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna on December 5, 2014.
In an unusually brazen theft, the thief entered the museum during opening hours on Friday and walked off with the small bronze bust of a child, leaving the premises without drawing the attention of any of the staff or security personnel on duty.
Whether out of fear of being recognized on surveillance camera footage or a rare attack of guilty conscience, the thief or an accomplice returned to the museum and at some point after the first security sweeps, placed the bronze artwork in a storage locker used by visitors near the entrance of the museum. Hopefully this too has been caught on tape, regardless of the thief's change of heart.
Whether allegorical or coincidence, the fact that the thief was able to enter the museum, not once, but twice, carrying an object without being stopped, is not without some significance.
One week ago many of Rome's unemployed archaeologists, librarians, archivists, art historians and conservators symbolically occupied the Pantheon in protest of the lack of paid work or long term contracts for graduates in cultural heritage professions. Of key concern to the protestors is what they consider to be the exploitation of volunteers, working within the heritage sector with little or no compensation. These unpaid volunteers are also presently being considered as long term free substitutes for positions once reserved for paid skilled professional, perhaps in answer to the country's never-ending economic recession.
The protesters were also unhappy about a bilateral agreement between the mayor of Rome, Ignazio Marino, and ENEL S.p.A. who has agreed to sponsor at least one €100,000 project allowing university students in the United States to examine and catalog hundreds of archaeological objects from excavations conducted in Rome during the 1930's. The first 249 objects have already been shipped to the University of Missouri, the first beneficiary of the “Hidden Treasure of Rome” project. Other American institutions, including the University of California, Los Angeles; the University of California, Berkeley; Stanford; New York University; Yale and Harvard have also expressed interest in participating in this energy company sponsored project and this is not sitting well with heritage professionals or university students in Rome.