While preparing an exhibition last summer, museums in New York and Amsterdam contacted Milan’s State Archives to request the loan of an architectural drawing of the Teatro alla Scala. This was no ordinary blueprint: the plan, about one meter square
and with some areas highlighted in red and yellow, is an autograph by Giuseppe Piermarini, the house’s original architect, who may have traced it between 1776 and 1778.
When the document was discovered missing in August, a special task force of Italy’s
carabinieri (military police) called the Nucleo tutela patrimonio culturale launched an
operation code-named “Teatro alla Scala.” A small flood of collectibles had recently
been appearing on Milan’s antiquarian market, and the goal was to find the source of
the treasures and to trace from there the whereabouts of the Piermarini drawing.
The results of the investigation, announced earlier this month, were startling.
Thousands of pieces were found to have disappeared: parchments from the 11th
century; papal bulls; official decrees bearing the signatures of Emperor Charles V,
Empress Maria Theresa and Napoleon; autograph manuscripts by such Italian literary
giants as Alessandro Manzoni and Gabriele D’Annunzio — a substantial slice of eight
centuries of European history, as seen through documents from one of the continent’s
wealthiest metropolitan centers from the Middle Ages onward. Some 3,000 items from
the State Archives and smaller depositories have been recovered, while 1,000 more
are still reported missing, probably smuggled into private collections in Italy or abroad.
(The plan of La Scala was discovered in a private home.)
Since the investigation and gathering of evidence are ongoing, public prosecutor Maria
Letizia Mannella is withholding the names of the three main suspects, who are
described as a professore (a civil servant employed by the provincial government of
Milan in the field of cultural heritage and an esteemed scholar), the principal of a
technical high school at San Donato Milanese (a neighboring township) and an
antiquarian running a shop in downtown Milan. The trio have been charged not with
actual theft, but rather with receiving stolen goods, which may hint at the involvement
of a larger criminal organization.
Read more in Italian (December 2003):