Art: Long After the Flood

An hour before the wet dawn of Nov. 4, 1966, the swollen Arno River sent cataracts of water sluicing through the narrow streets of Florence and deposited half a million tons of mud, silt, rotting butchers' meat, excrement and sticky black fuel oil on the city's stone and stucco. At that moment, the future of the city and its artistic heritage seemed uncertain. The water was everywhere—soaking into the fragile wood of old carvings and panel paintings, expanding its cells and cracking it, seeping up inside walls and working outward through the surface of...

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