The Uffizi Gallery after the flood

The Uffizi Gallery after the flood. Photographed by the Uffizi staff.

Interi showcased the Florence Fragment Collection with Florence University of the Arts at the Corridoio Fiorentino Gallery in Florence, Italy. The exhibition presented Interi's collection of carefully curated mineralized sculptures created from 17-18th fragment artifacts saved from the historic Florence flood of 1966. Since the exhibition has passed and we are planning to exhibit again in the future, we have curated an online exhibition available anywhere in the world. To view the online exhibition with a guided walk through click here.
Discover the history behind the Florence Fragments by watching our short form documentary on display at the exhibition. To view and purchase from the Florence Fragment Collection, click here.

Watch Interi's interview with Sara Raba, a former art history professor and a Florence native who lived through the Florence Flood of 1966. She shares her story of the most devastating flood to hit the city since the Renaissance and how it changed how we see art and preservation today.

The History Behind the Florence Fragments

The Aftermath of Santa Croce by David Lees

On November 4th, 1966, the city of Florence faced one of the worst floods recorded since the Renaissance. After days of severe and heavy rainfall, the Arno River flooded and submerged the Tuscan streets. Along with the thousands of masterpieces of art and rare books, tons of mud and rubble severely damaged or destroyed the artifacts in the very churches they adorned.

Upon learning about the flood, volunteers from across Italy and around the world arrived to help the city and rescue the rare books, artifacts, and art. The faithful group of volunteers we're called the "mud angels." These were young adults with no special training and were not organized, nor had they been recruited. They simply showed up. Young Europeans dropped what they were doing and boarded trains or drove south. Many had already been on the road, backpacking around Europe, and rearranged their plans to spend time to help in Tuscany. Study abroad students, specifically students from Florida State University, were a celebrated group of American volunteers who helped save many precious works of art and offered aid to the city.

Volunteers carry "Christ and the Wife of Zebedee" by Matteo Rosselli to safety past the replica David in the Piazza della Signoria, 1966 by David Lees

One older, wealthy, Florentine man in particular worked to saved many of the church fragments. At the time of the flood, he and his helpers took notice of the artifacts floating through the streets and began to gather and collect as many gilded antiquities as they could. He had a storehouse up the hill that they filled with all of the fragments. This magazzino remained completely closed for about thirty years. About 15 years ago, they allowed only a few select antique dealers and restorers in. Within a matter of five or six years, this man's collection had entirely depleted, and no one was able to purchase any more.

Florence fragments as they were found

Years ago, Interi's founder and creative director, Jean O'Reilly Barlow, began to take interest and buy these fragments out of her own fascination from a collector and colleague. The collection of distressed, ecclesiastical relics have been preserved and transformed by Barlow using rare natural specimens from all around the world to create historic yet contemporary sculptural works. By incorporating the rare minerals, it looks as though the pieces evolved together over time.

Florence Fragments

Once works of art that adorned churches throughout Florence, these fragments had been significantly distressed from the mud and water. There is still the original paint and silt left on the pieces to uphold the integrity, craftmanship, and history of sculptural fragments. The collection is proof that there is more beauty to uncover - bringing forth a new era and context of "modern mud angels."

Florence Fragments
Florence Fragments
Florence Fragments

"While many of our fragment artifacts are distressed due to age, these Florence fragments stand apart. They symbolize a history that has been carried through the streets of Italy, to the storehouse, then my studio, and now to the galleries and the modern home," says Barlow.

Each one has been recreated and reveals a new interpretation. What was submerged and stripped of its color and meaning still retains its history and beauty. What was weathered and worn is now reimagined and reborn. What was lost is now found.