Florence: Restoring Art After the Flood

Christina Knight | March 2, 2022

An arcaded building and others, and statues of human figures, on flooded plaza

Piazza della Signoria under flood water in November 1966.

Stream When the World Answered now or watch Friday, March 4 at 10:30 p.m. and Sunday, March 6 at noon on THIRTEEN.

The treasures and culture of the Renaissance city of Florence has made it a tourist destination for hundreds of years. From the 14th to 16th centuries, the Italian city was the Western World’s center of finance and arts.  There’s Michelangelo’s David sculpture, the palaces and treasures amassed by the royal Medici family and now accessible to all in the Uffizi Gallery and the Palazzo Pitti, and the Ponte Vecchio, a picturesque shop-lined bridge over the Arno River. Florence has drawn art appreciators for centuries, and the documentary When the World Answered is the story of the artists and art lovers who came in its time of great need.

In November 1966, torrential rains in northwestern and central Italy caused massive flooding, including in the center of highly touristed Florence. As the waters rose, so did concerns about Florence’s treasured masterpieces. The worst-case scenario became reality: 14,000 works of art and rare books were destroyed by water, mud, debris and oil.

Based on the book “When the World Answered: Florence, Women Artists and the 1966 Flood” by Linda Falcone and Jane Fortune, the documentary When the World Answered (directed by Kim Jacobs) looks back at the worldwide Herculean efforts to save and restore the artwork of Florence.

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The documentary also explores modern-day efforts to recognize a group of women artists who made significant contributions during Florence’s time of need. Shot on location in Italy, the film features archival footage and a new interview with legendary Italian director/producer Franco Zeffirelli, whose 1966 documentary Florence: Days of Destruction showed the flood’s impact and helped rally the world to help.

Brown oil-filled water floods an Italian city

Florence is flooded with waters, mud and oil on November 4, 1966.

Stream the documentary now or tune-in on Friday, March 4 at 10:30 p.m. and Sunday, March 6 at noon.

To learn more, read an interview with author Linda Falcone on the blog Girl in Florence. Falcone is also former director of The Advancing Women Artists Foundation in Florence, which closed in 2021; its website remains an archive.