Art: The Plunder of the New Barbarians

On the morning of Feb. 6, Giovanni Spadolini walked into a committee room in Rome's Chamber of Deputies and got ready to debate. Three months earlier, Aldo Moro's center-left government had given him the newly invented and resonant-sounding portfolio of Ministro dei Beni Culturali e Ambientali (Minister of Cultural and Environmental Resources). Since then, Spadolini had been striving to get more money and protection for Italy's impoverished and vulnerable museums. Two new bills were ready to be argued. "Just as the debate was beginning," Spadolini recalls, "a colleague in the chamber came up...

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