Monday, June 14, 2021

120 works vanish from Italy's Rai

 IN WHAT HAS TO BE ONE OF THE MOST PECULIAR ART HEISTS to come to light in recent memory, Italy's public broadcaster, RAI, said that some 120 artworks have been stolen from its offices at various points over the past half-century, including prints by ModiglianiMonet, and other noted artists, the AFP reports. Officials apparently became aware of the issue earlier this year, when a painting supposedly by the Italian artist Ottone Rosai fell off the wall and was identified as a copy. Police found the man who swapped it in for the original in the '70s, and he confessed to selling the vintage piece, but the statute of limitations has run out, the Guardian reports. Authorities think most of the works were taken in the last 25 years by others. Fakes took the place of some while others vanished.

120 works from Modigliani to Monet vanish from Italy's Rai

Collection included paintings, sculptures, lithographs and tapestries

11 de junho de 2021|AFP|

The headquarters of the Italian national broadcaster Rai. Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFPThe headquarters of the Italian national broadcaster Rai. Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP

The story of the missing artworks at Italy's public broadcaster Rai would make a riveting televised mystery.

But the disappearance of no fewer than 120 paintings, sculptures, lithographs and tapestries from the walls of the broadcaster is fact, not fiction, say authorities.

The art heritage squad within Italy's Carabinieri police has been investigating the missing artwork since March, when Rome prosecutors opened a probe after being alerted by Rai management, according to Italian media. 

Some of the works appear to have disappeared into thin air, while others were removed from walls and replaced by fakes, according to Il Messaggero and La Repubblica dailies. 

Police did not immediately respond to a request for information from AFP.
Among the missing pieces are valuable works by Amedeo Modigliani, Claude Monet, Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, and Giorgio De Chirico –all part of the Rai's collection of about 1,500 works worth an estimated 100 million euros, according to news reports.

The case first came to light when it was discovered that a painting by Florentine painter Ottone Rosai hanging on the walls of the Rai's Rome headquarters was a fake.

The original had been stolen in the 1970s and then sold by a Rai employee whom police have tracked down, media reported.

The man can no longer be charged due to the statute of limitations having expired.  

"We are facing a series of disappearances that seem to be targeted," Rai executive Nicola Sinisi, who is charged with the broadcaster's artistic heritage, told La Repubblica. 

The works, according to news reports, were acquired with proceeds from the television licence fee paid for by Italian households.

Italian TV employees suspected of thieving dozens of works of art

‘Priceless’ pieces removed from Rai’s offices by employees and replaced with fakes, police believe

Rai tower is pictured in Eastern Milano
Rai chiefs discovered the pieces were stolen when, a few months ago, a painting fell off the wall in an office. Photograph: Miguel Medina/AFP via Getty Images

“Disloyal employees” at Italy’s public broadcaster, Rai, are suspects in the theft of dozens of works of art from its offices thought to date back to the 1970s.

In what the daily newspaper Il Messaggero has described as “the sack of Rai”, the “priceless” artworks were removed from the broadcaster’s headquarters in Rome and units across the country and replaced with fakes. The works included original paintings by Renato Guttuso and etchings by Claude Monet and Amedeo Modigliani.

It was only by chance that Rai chiefs discovered the pieces were stolen when, a few months ago, a painting fell off the wall in an office at Rai’s headquarters, and from the broken frame it was found to be a copy of the original Architettura by Ottone Rosai.

The incident was reported to Italy’s art police and before long they identified the culprit – a retired Rai employee who admitted to stealing the original painting and selling it for 25m lira in the 1970s. The man will not face justice as the statute of limitations on the crime has expired.

Rai then researched its catalogue of artworks, much of which were bought in the 1960s and 70s, and found that 120 original works, including bronze and gold statues by the sculptor Francesco Messina, were missing. Police believe most of the thefts were carried out since 1996, the year Rai held an exhibition of its artworks in the Puglia city of Lecce.

Police believe “disloyal employees” are most probably behind the rest of the thefts, Il Messaggero reported.

Among the stolen works were an etching that Monet made of his Paysage de Verneuil, along with an etching Modigliani did of Petit Fils and one by Alfred Sisley of his Hampton Court.

Other paintings stolen included Domenica della Buona Gente by Guttuso, Vita nei Campi by Giorgio De Chirico, Il Colosseo by Giovanni Stradone and Porto di Genova by Francesco Menzio.

“These were works of great value that were just hanging on the walls of the corridors or rooms in Rai’s buildings, without any alarm system, and so anyone could just walk in and take them,” said Giuseppe Scarpa, a journalist covering the investigation for the newspaper.

© 2021 Guardian News & Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. (modern)

Borges on the Self


The Nothingness of Personality: Young Borges on the Self

“There is no whole self. It suffices to walk any distance along the inexo­rable rigidity that the mirrors of the past open to us in order to feel like out­siders, naively flustered by our own bygone days.”

The Nothingness of Personality: Young Borges on the Self

You find yourself in a city you hadn’t visited in years, walking along a street you had once strolled down with your fingers interlacing a long-ago lover’s, someone you then cherished as the most extraordinary person in the world, who is now married in Jersey with two chubby bulldogs. You find yourself shocked by how an experience of such vivid verisimilitude can be fossilized into a mere memory buried in the strata of what feels like a wholly different person, living a wholly different life — it was you who then lived it, and you who now remembers it, and yet the two yous have almost nothing in common. They inhabit different geographical and social loci, lead different lives, love different loves, dream different dreams. Hardly a habit unites them. Even most of the cells in the body striding down that street are different.

What, then, makes you you? And what is inside that cocoon of certitudes we call a self?

It’s an abiding question with which each of us tussles periodically, and one which has occupied some of humanity’s most fertile minds. The ancient Greeks addressed it in the brilliant Ship of Theseus thought experiment. Walt Whitman marveled at the paradox of the self. Simone de Beauvoir contemplated how chance and choice converge to make us who we are. Jack Kerouac denounced “the imaginary idea of a personal self.” Amelie Rorty taxonomized the seven layers of identity. Rebecca Goldstein examined what makes you and your childhood self the “same” person despite a lifetime of change.

The young Jorge Luis Borges (August 24, 1899–June 14, 1986) set out to explore this abiding question in one of his earliest prose pieces, the 1922 essay “The Nothingness of Personality,” found in his splendid posthumously collection Selected Non-Fictions (public library).

Jorge Luis Borges, 1923

Shortly after his family returned to their native Buenos Aires after a decade in Europe and more than a year before he published his first collection of poems, the 22-year-old Borges begins by setting his unambiguous, unambivalent intention:

I want to tear down the exceptional preeminence now generally awarded to the self, and I pledge to be spurred on by concrete certainty, and not the caprice of an ideological ambush or a dazzling intellectual prank. I propose to prove that personality is a mirage maintained by conceit and custom, without metaphysical foundation or visceral reality. I want to apply to literature the consequences that issue from these premises, and erect upon them an aesthetic hostile to the psychologism inherited from the last century, sympathetic to the classics, yet encouraging to today’s most unruly tendencies.

Exactly three decades before he faced his multitudes in the fantastic Borges and I, he writes:

There is no whole self. Any of life’s present situations is seamless and sufficient. Are you, as you ponder these disquietudes, anything more than an in­difference gliding over the argument I make, or an appraisal of the opinions I expound?

I, as I write this, am only a certainty that seeks out the words that are most apt to compel your attention. That proposition and a few muscular sensations, and the sight of the limpid branches that the trees place outside my window, constitute my current I.

It would be vanity to suppose that in order to enjoy absolute validity this psychic aggregate must seize on a self, that conjectural Jorge Luis Borges on whose tongue sophistries are always at the ready and in whose solitary strolls the evenings on the fringes of the city are pleasant.

Illustration by Cecilia Ruiz from The Book of Memory Gaps, inspired by Borges

Half a century before neuroscientists demonstrated that memory is the seedbed of the self, Borges writes:

There is no whole self. He who defines personal identity as the private possession of some depository of memories is mistaken. Whoever affirms such a thing is abusing the symbol that solidifies memory in the form of an enduring and tangible granary or warehouse, when memory is no more than the noun by which we imply that among the innumerable possible states of consciousness, many occur again in an imprecise way. Moreover, if I root personality in remembrance, what claim of ownership can be made on the elapsed instants that, because they were quotidian or stale, did not stamp us with a lasting mark? Heaped up over years, they lie buried, inac­cessible to our avid longing. And that much-vaunted memory to whose rul­ing you made appeal, does it ever manifest all its past plenitude? Does it truly live? The sensualists and their ilk, who conceive of your personality as the sum of your successive states of mind, are similarly deceiving them­ selves. On closer scrutiny, their formula is no more than an ignominious circumlocution that undermines the very foundation it constructs, an acid that eats away at itself, a prattling fraud and a belabored contradiction.

In a passage of inimitable Borgesian splendor, he adds:

I do not deny this consciousness of being, nor the immediate security of here I am that it breathes into us. What I do deny is that all our other convictions must be adjusted to the customary antithesis between the self and the non-self, and that this antithesis is constant. The sensation of cold, of spacious and plea­surable suppleness, that is in me as I open the front door and go out along the half-darkness of the street is neither a supplement to a pre-existing self nor an event that comes coupled to the other event of a continuing and rig­orous self.


There is no whole self. It suffices to walk any distance along the inexo­rable rigidity that the mirrors of the past open to us in order to feel like out­siders, naively flustered by our own bygone days. There is no community of intention in them, nor are they propelled by the same breeze.

Illustration by Mimmo Paladino for a rare edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses

Borges draws on two of his great influences in fortifying his point — Walt Whitman, “the first Atlas who attempted to make this obstinacy a reality and take the world upon his shoulders,” and who had himself contemplated the perplexity of personal identity seven decades earlier, and Arthur Schopenhauer, whose words Borges cites directly:

An infinite time has run its course before my birth; what was I through­out all that time? Metaphysically, the answer might perhaps be: I was always I; that is, all who during that time said I, were in fact I.

Echoing Kafka’s reflections on reality vs. appearance, Borges adds:

Reality has no need of other realities to bolster it. There are no divini­ties hidden in the trees, nor any elusive thing-in-itself behind appearances, nor a mythological self that orders our actions. Life is truthful appearance.

Citing a famous Buddhist precept of non-self — “those things of which I can perceive the be­ginnings and the end are not my self” — Borges illustrates its veracity with the palpable realness of its living manifestations:

I, for example, am not the visual reality that my eyes encompass, for if I were, darkness would kill me and nothing would remain in me to desire the spectacle of the world, or even to forget it. Nor am I the audible world that I hear, for in that case si­lence would erase me and I would pass from sound to sound without memory of the previous one. Subsequent identical lines of argument can be directed toward the senses of smell, taste, and touch, proving not only that I am not the world of appearances — a thing generally known and undisputed — but that the apperceptions that indicate that world are not my self either. That is, I am not my own activity of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching. Nor am I my body, which is a phenomenon among oth­ers. Up to this point the argument is banal; its distinction lies in its applica­tion to spiritual matters. Are desire, thought, happiness, and distress my true self? The answer, in accordance with the precept, is clearly in the negative, since those conditions expire without annulling me with them. Consciousness — the final hideout where we might track down the self­ — also proves unqualified. Once the emotions, the extraneous perceptions, and even ever-shifting thought are dismissed, consciousness is a barren thing, without any appearance reflected in it to make it exist.

Borges concludes:

The self [is] a mere logical imperative, without qualities of its own or distinctions from individual to individual.

Complement this particular fragment of Borges’s wholly terrific Selected Non-Fictions with Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue on selfhood and the crucible of identity, philosopher Jacob Needleman on how we become who we are, and neuroscientist Sam Harris on the paradox of free will, then revisit Borges on writing and his sublime refutation of time.