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Emilio Lavagnino ( 1898–1963 )

One of the great art historians and critics of Italy, Emilio Lavagnino showed particular attention to the preservation and restoration of the artistic heritage of Italy throughout his whole life. He was born in Rome; after graduating with a degree in Art and Literature in 1926 he joined the administration of Antiquities and Fine Arts and was assigned to the Superintendence of the Galleries in Palermo, where he stayed for just one year, before being transferred to the Superintendence of Medieval and Modern Art in Naples. In 1929, Lavagnino was transferred to Rome to become Inspector within the Superintendence of Museums and Galleries; in 1933, he was made officer within the Exportation Office and Director of the National Gallery of Ancient Art.

With the rise of Fascism and the outbreak of World War II, Lavagnino fell inside the investigative web of the State Police for his supposed anti-fascist position, and in early 1944 he was forced into retirement for having refused to move to the North of Italy with the newly formed government of the Italian Social Republic. It is in these same years that he showed his greatest commitment to the preservation of Italy’s artistic treasures. Collaborating with Pasquale Rotondi, Superintendent of Fine Art for the Marche region, and a few other dedicated men Lavagnino was able to relocate inside the safe walls of neutral Vatican City almost 200 crates containing more than 300 works of art of exceptional value.

At the end of the war, Lavagnino put special efforts in reestablishing a connection between society and culture as well as restoring what he referred to as “the really innocent victims of war”[1] – that is, monuments. For this reason, he became the promoter of several cultural initiatives, such as exhibitions, conferences and restorations. In 1946, he edited a book that was published first in English, then in Italian, with the title “Fifty war damaged monuments of Italy.” As a Fine Arts Officer, he was part of the Superintendence to ancient and modern art of Lazio for more than ten years. His contribution to art history research and scholarship, to the increasing and organizing the collections of the local museums, and to the opening of Italian culture to the international cultural scene make Emilio Lavagnino one of the greatest art historians of the twentieth Century. He died on April 12, 1963 in Geneva.

[1] Emilio Lavagnino, “Restauro dei monumenti danneggiati dalla guerra” La Nuova Europa, 1946.