Iconic Photos

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The Flood | Giorgio Lotti

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In November 1966, when the River Arno broke and flooded Florence, it was undeniably one of the most damaging natural disasters in Western Europe. Over a hundred-people died – and millions of masterpieces were destroyed. “The world nearly lost the Renaissance city,” the Guardian wrote somberly.

The Tuscan capital was the city of the Medicis, Machiavelli, and Savonarola, where Michelangelo, Leonardo and Botticelli lived and worked. In this wet autumn, it was to welcome a third of its annual rainfall in just two days. The waters reached over 6.7 metres around the Basilica of Santa Croce, where Giotto had painted frescos; inside Cimabue’s crucifix from 13th century was destroyed. Completely flooded was the Biblioteca Nazionale, on low ground facing the Arno, where eight million documents, books, and manuscripts had been deposited, many of them for safety since the Second World War. In Piazza del Duomo, baptistery doors by Ghiberti, the ironically named “Gates of Paradise”, were flung open by the floodwaters, which also ripped off its bronze panels off their frames and carried them 500 meters.

The efforts to restore Florence began almost immediately. The so-called angeli del fango, the mud angels – many of them young artists and students – came to the mud-soaked city to carry out the flood damaged masterpieces. Picasso donated a painting to raise funds, and a short film by Franco Zeffirelli and narrated by Richard Burton raise $20 million. But the amount of works affected was so staggering, the restorations so time-consuming, and the Italian bureaucracy so glacial that a significant portion remains unrestored. Giorgio Vasari’s five-panel “Last Supper” which was underwater for more than 12 hours was restored fully only in 2016, and a great number of books and art remain locked in warehouses waiting to be repaired.

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The photo above — taken by Giorgio Lotti, a photojournalist with the notable Italian illustrated news magazine Epoca – shows the Florentine city transformed into Venice. Lotti would later be more famous as the man who took one of the most widely reprinted photos in the world – a snap which was used by Zhou Enlai as one of his official portraits. Lotti was in Beijing for an event with the Italian embassy to which he brought a camera despite being told not to do so. While Zhou was greeting the visitors, he asked the Chinese premier (in French) to pose for a photo. Lotti was not impressed by the first photo but he took another as Zhou’s assistant informed Zhou that they were waiting for him in the room and he looked away from the camera to look into the room. Later, the Chinese ambassador would ask Lotti for a copy of this second shot at Zhou’s explicit request.

 

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I have started a Patreon. In their words, “Patreon is an Internet-based platform that allows content creators to build their own subscription content service.” I had tremendous fun researching and writing Iconic Photos, and the Patreon is a way for this blog to be more sustainable and growth-focused. Readers who subscribe on Patreon might have access to a few blog posts early; chance to request this topic or that topic; or to participate in some polls. Currently there is a public poll running on whether you might want to see non-photo related posts, so go and vote!

Here is the link to Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/iconicphotos 

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

July 4, 2017 at 2:08 pm

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