Of all the major Italian cities, Milan suffered the cruelest injuries during the last war by far: Allied bombardments laid waste to its industrial complexes and gutted its center; the liberation in 1945 delivered to its people the ghoulish spectacle of Mussolini & Co.’s cadavers swinging, heads down, in Piazzale Loreto; well-armed bands of Communist irregulars almost plunged the entire region into all-out civil war. Miraculously, catastrophe was averted and the trauma passed. By 1951, Milan had become the engine of the country’s spectacular post-war recovery—a rebirth in many ways symbolized, that year, by an ambitious and historic exhibition devoted to Lombardy’s greatest painter, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571–1610). Mounted in the heavily bomb-scarred Royal Palace hard by the Duomo, the undertaking was a tribute to, as well as the singular achievement of, the art historian and critic Roberto Longhi. Ever since his...


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