L’invenzione del Romanico pugliese: riscoperte, restauri, ripristini dal XVII secolo agli anni Venti del Novecento

Author: Pina Belli D’Elia, Luisa Derosa

The invention of the Apulian Romanesque Art: Rediscoveries, Restorations and Recoveries from the 17th century to the Twenties of the 20th century

The presence of Millin in Apulia coincided with a pivotal moment for the history of the region and, in particular, of the Terra di Bari. The foundation of the Borgo Murattiano in Bari under the sign of French rationalism, which maintained its influence even after the Bourbon Restoration, encouraged the influx of travellers and scholars – mostly from France and Germany –, helping to place the Apulian buildings in a broader context and in relation to the new interests of Europe towards the Middle Ages.
This long and complex process led to the construction of a ‘monumental’ image of Apulia through the creation of an actual stereotype of the Romanesque architecture in the region.
The difficulty of defining the Apulian medieval art in relation to theories on national and regional styles was one of its main limitations. The strength and pervasive capacity of medieval language, combined with the continuity of constructive traditions and technical knowledge which are still relevant, had strongly conditioned the restoration and transformation of many buildings as early as the 17th century. Reconstructing this route backwards, through a few but significant examples, is an essential operation to clarify the long and complex process of rediscovery and reassessment of the Apulian Middle Ages.
It was also necessary to understand the choices which would occur in the last two decades of the 19th century with the creation of the regional offices for the conservation of monuments, starting a new season of knowledge of the medieval art in the region, linked to the restoration by architects and by conservation experts of cultural heritage, such as Ettore Bernich and Adolfo Avena, who came to Apulia from other Italian contexts in most cases. Their work would define a model that was followed consistently until the Fifties of the following century, and from which the idea that we still have of medieval art in the region would emerge. The image of medieval buildings that we know today is very often the result of the experts’ and architects’ interpretations and of their interventions rather than being an expression of the culture that produced them.
Hence, we can use the term invention of the Apulian Romanesque art in its double meaning, as historical and documentary discovery, as well as stylistic and formal interpretation of the major architectural expressions of medieval art.