Rome Travel Guide

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Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Italy's Elite Art Theft Discovery Squad Shows its Stuff in a New Exhibition

Carabinieri from the TPC squad - Cultural Heritage Protection - flank a Venice painting attributed to Canaletto seized at the Florence train station on its way to an auction in Monaco.

1493 Columbus letter, an original and a "false" one, announcing
the discovery of the New World.
Cops and culture... the two aren't often mentioned in the same breath, but they are here in Italy, where the Carabinieri branch of the military has its own section, Tutela Patrimonio Culturale - or TPC - Cultural Heritage Protection. The unit has been tracking down stolen Italian art for decades. Each year there is at least one exhibition in Rome showing off the TPC's finds.  This year it kicked off on June 8 with a press conference (yes, RST were certified journalists there) at the Carabinieri historical museum in Piazza Risorgimento, very near the Vatican.

"Attributed" to Guido Reni, 17th-century Bolognese painter.
This small show has some blockbuster finds - including a letter from Columbus that ended up in the US art market, a lovely Guido Reni (attributed to) found in a bank vault, and an archaeological piece from Palmyra - one saved from ISIS.  Apparently trafficking in historical artifacts has been a money maker for ISIS, much more so than destroying them, and the Carabinieri have been on the front line in tracking down these objects.

The press crowd was especially interested in the Comandante's
discussion of the Columbus letter, which was found with the help of
the US Department of Homeland Security (who knew they did that?)
If you are in Rome before July 4, stop by this small, free exhibit.  The explanatory panels are in Italian and English.

The museum is a real find too.  The "hall" in which the exhibit is mounted is a great Fascist-era paean to the Carabinieri.  The entire museum traces the history of the Carabineri, from their founding as the police for the Savoy kingdom, which produced the first king of unified Italy in the 1860s (the Risorgimento), to their partisan activity in WWII.  After that, history stands still except for the temporary exhibition.  And, unfortunately for international tourists, the museum panels are only in Italian. Still, it's a museum from which you can take away a lot simply by looking at the materials in it -- uniforms, arms, paintings, statues, photos, among others.

The museum on Piazza Risorgimento. 
Museo Storico dell'Arma dei Carabinieri, Piazza Risorgimento, 46, hours generally Tues-Sunday 9 a.m. - 1 p.m.  Free.

A room in the museum devoted to the Resistance in World War II.

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