Thieves of books: a scandal in Naples
The “Library Girolamini” was one of the most valuable Italian libraries of seventeenth-century.
Among relic of saints, tombs and masterpieces of the seventeenth century, it was a state cultural institution in Naples, with very important collection of books, as well as an important operatic music archive. Having been opened to the public in 1586 it is the oldest library in Naples and the second in Italy after “Malatesta” library in Cesena.
From an architectural point of view, the library is part of the church complex Girolamini that with its 68 x 28 meters is one of the biggest religious buildings in Naples. Because of its decoration in gold, marble and mother of pearl, it earned the title of “Domus aurea“; its interior has a concentration of high quality works by Neapolitan artists but also from Tuscany, Emilia Romagna and Rome. Attached there is the homonym convent, home of the Congregation of the Oratory of St. Filippo Neri, whose members, known as “oratoriani” o “filippini”, dedicated to the sanctification of souls through education, spiritual direction, preaching and liturgical apostolate, especially among young people, as it was in the tradition of Filippo Neri.
The library of the Girolamini treasured more than 160 000 titles, mostly antique, including incunabula and sixteenth, (ie printed documents with the technology of movable type in vogue in the mid-fifteenth century till the year 1500), numerous manuscripts, with many compositions and musical works from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. Holdings also included the private collection of Giuseppe Valletta, with rare editions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, with the classics of Greek and Latin literature, history and philosophy.
Due to the earthquake of 1980, the monastery and library’s premises were used as temporary shelter for the displaced, and has since started an era of abandonment that has lasted until last year. The institution has been closed to the public for decades, and was in a state of decay. The precariousness of the housing, according to an estimate of its conservative father Sandro Marsano, would have led over the years to the disappearance of hundreds of books and works of art.
In 2011, Marino Massimo De Caro became director of the Library, whose appointment by the Minister for Cultural Heritage Lorenzo Ornaghi, has raised some concerns. After a series of articles of complaint signed by the art historian Tommaso Montanari of Federico II University, the professor Francesco Caglioti became the organizer of a petition together other exponents of the culture, in order to solicit the De Caro impeachment.
As a result of these events, on April 19, 2012 the entire library complex was impounded by the police and the director of De Caro investigated. The investigation leads to the discovery, in the province of Verona, of a deposit containing 240 volumes stolen from the library. Investigations acquire evidence that many other books had already gone abroad for being sold, including the names of some buyers, located in England, Japan and USA. For the latter, procedures for recovery already have been initiated. The investigation leads to the arrest of De Caro and the curator Sandro Marsano, and the start of the investigations against the Senator Marcello Dell’Utri. On 15 March 2013, Massimo De Caro has been convicted after an abbreviated trial, with the prison sentence of seven years and perpetual interdiction from public office.
171 thousand volumes of which one hundred thousand uncatalogued, while four thousand had disappeared. Some sold at an auction in Monaco of Bavaria, other priceless sold between 5000 and 50,000 Euros: a real looting . The senator Dell’Utri, an expert bibliophile, with the help of director De Caro, and with the excuse of wanting to make the library a museum admired throughout the world, they empties and upset it. With their authority they forced the library staff to step aside, and at night plunder the library. The stolen books end up with various tricks in the hands of various collectors, and to the director De Caro is attributed the most serious theft, the precious book: the “Sidereus Nuncius” of 1619 by Galileo Galilei.
From the initial investigation turns out that De Caro did not even have the qualifications to be appointed director of a library, and that he had dealings with Pastor Daniel Guido, involved in the investigation of thefts to the libraries of Madrid and Zaragoza. Yet, even though it was a state institution, he became the director with the support of Sandro Marsano and validation of the Ministry of Culture, where meantime the senator Dell’Utri was performing his task under Berlusconi government. Dell’Ultri, collaborator of Berlusconi, has been a Deputy of “Forza Italia” party from 1996 to 2001, when he was elected Senator of the Republic and held, among other tasks, the Chairman of the Commission for the Senate Library. In 2008 he was re-nominated to the Senate, and elected in the PDL party, despite in the meantime he had been convicted for collusion with Mafia. On 25 March 2013, the Third Chamber of the Court of Appeal in Palermo sentenced Dell’Ultri in the second degree of judgment and with a penalty of 7 years imprisonment for collusion with the Mafia. The judgment considered Marcello Dell’Utri an intermediary between mafia and Silvio Berlusconi. As a fugitive shortly before the measure of arrest, he has been tracked down and arrested April 12, 2014 in Beirut by Lebanese police, where he is currently being held pending extradition to Italy.
For a long time, thanks to new manager Umberto Bile, the library is again open to the public and after rummaging around in rooms closed for decades, he has found relics of saints, forgotten tombs, hand-embroidered copes of the eighteenth century, some paintings and even the column used by Caravaggio to paint the ” Flagellation of Christ “. A funny thing in having found the remains of a man who was 2 meters and thirty centimeters tall in a crypt which is just a few steps from a nearby street called “Giant’s alley.” Everything will be photographed , cataloged and restored if possible.