Medioevo disegnato/Medioevo ritrovato: in viaggio con Aubin-Louis Millin nella Puglia normanna

Author: Anna Maria D'Achille, Antonio Iacobini

The Middle Ages Drawn and Rediscovered: Travelling with Aubin-Louis Millin in the Norman Apulia

In 1811, French archeologist and art historian Aubin-Louis Millin started a tour in Italy on behalf of Napoleon’s government. During his trip (1811-1813), he gathered thousands of notes and hundreds of sketches representing medi­eval monuments and works of art, most of which were poorly known at the time, if not completely neglected. His purpose was to use such materials for composing a travel journal dedicated to Italian monuments, but unfortunately this project remained unaccomplished. Therefore, with the exception of very few cases, most of the sketches remained unpublished.
Since 2008, thanks to a collaboration between the Sapienza University of Rome, the Institut national du patrimoine and the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Millin’s collection of drawings – which is currently preserved in several diffe­rent sections of the BnF – has been extensively investigated (A.M. D’Achille, A. Iacobini, G. Toscano, Il viaggio disegnato. Aubin-Louis Millin nell’Italia di Napoleone, 1811-1813, Roma 2012). By analyzing some specific case studies, it has thus been possible to fully appreciate the importance of these drawings. In fact, they are often the only dated pieces of evidence for monu­ments that were radically transformed during the 19th century, or were irremediably lost.
This article is dedicated to Millin’s sketches of Norman monuments in Apulia, that were execu–ted in January-February 1813 by Ignazio Aveta, an otherwise unknown artist from Naples. The focus is on the drawing representing a decorated Romanesque portal, that in 1813 was preserved in the façade of the 16th century church of S. Maria del Carmine in Brindisi, but is currently untraceable. According to our reconstruction, this portal was actually the main access of the Norman church of St. Benedict, which was dismantled after the earthquake in 1743, and then moved to S. Maria del Carmine. Two erratic marble fragments (one was used as a lintel for the small church of St. Anne, while the other is currently preserved in the Museo Archeologico Provinciale “F. Ribezzo”) are still preserved in Brindisi, and should have been part of this portal as well. According to Millin’s drawing, the lost portal had an architrave decorated with figurative motifs, as well as with an ornamental repertoire that appears to be very similar to that of the southern portal in St. Benedict – the latter being the only surviving evidence of the 11th century building. However, the lost portal was probably even more complex, being surrounded by rece­ding archivolts as the later example preserved in Ss. Niccolò and Cataldo in Lecce (1169-1180) – which perhaps was derived from the lost Norman prototype at Brindisi.