THE REBIRTH OF THE MADONNA DELLA CINTOLA

When the Madonna della Cintola arrived in the hands of the restorers and scholars at the Vatican, it not only stood out thanks to its immense size, but the work introduced quite an imposing task for the team in the upcoming years. It was originally discovered in the nineteenth century, then left abandoned in the Lateran depository. The painting was seized by decades of water damage and ambient conditions that undermined both the structural integrity of its wooden supports and the pictorial surface. Layers of color had fallen off to the point of revealing the naked canvas preparation and even the wood backing itself. Heavy coats of varnish applied over the years presented a real dilemma regarding how to identify the accurate materials to clean it and a proper plan of execution. Its state of disintegration also required creative research approaches in order to authenticate the author and geographical origin of the piece, which would influence restoration procedures.

 

Before Restoration

When faced with the task of finding the right tactic to revive the painting—to bring it literally from the grave to a rebirth—restorer Marco Pratelli considered it a “true challenge…and an act of faith.”

Restorer, Marco Pratelli

And so began the process of rejuvenation. The team embarked on a six-year endeavor to elicit forth the visages of the saints, during which a complexity of scientific and historical-artistic studies were conducted behind the scenes. Dr. Adele Breda was the scholar of the work, and Professor U. Santamari and Dr. F. Morresi organized the scientific diagnostics. Marco Pratelli carried out the painting restoration with collaboration from M. Alesi for interventions with the wooden supports.

This team of workers put themselves in the middle of a project that was, indeed, a great act of faith. Countless hours were spent making the image more recognizable, and rehabilitating its framework. Ironically, in this remediation process, the four saints whose likenesses were being restored were themselves dedicated to the conversion and healing of others.

Saint Thomas in particular had abandoned his life to evangelizing the people of India, was therefore absent during the Assumption, giving rise to the legend depicted in the Madonna della Cintola. According to an ancient narrative, the Apostles were miraculously brought to Jerusalem to participate in witnessing the virgin mother Mary’s death. Poor St. Thomas who also missed the Resurrection was late again for this event! A few days later when he finally arrived and wished to venerate her body, the Apostles found the tomb was empty. There are different variations of the story, sometimes saying flowers and a sweet fragrance emanated from the sarcophagus. Of more interest in this case is the tradition of Mary gifting Her belt, or cintola, to the saint who expressed great belief and devotion to the Virgin Mary. Perhaps knowing his proclivity to doubt, the Virgin may have removed her belt as an everlasting sign of the Assumption, in the same way Christ invited St. Thomas to put his finger in His wound. But most probably Mary bestowed the belt to Thomas as a reward for his faith.

Detail, Before Restoration

Many unknowns shroud this painting, among them being the motive for illustrating the particular group of saints along with St. Thomas. One could hypothesize that the person who commissioned the painting had a particular devotion to these four. There does, however, exist a commonality of each saint being graced such that their legacy involved a Holy presence made physically manifest during their lives of faith. For Thomas, it was his reception of the Virgin’s belt. To the right of Thomas, we see San Rocco, who had a steadfast sympathy for the poor and the sick, to whom he devoted his life of healing. Often when he would make the sign of the cross over those who suffered, they were miraculously cured; his vocation literally indicated by a birthmark in the form a red cross marked on his breast. Saint Catherine of Alexandria, while she is well recognized for her eloquence and grace in converting pagan philosophers, it is lesser known of her own quest for conversion. When her desire to unite her heart to the Lord was so strong, He blessed her faith in the form of a physical wedding band, which she wore until death. In the case of St. Bartholomew, who holds the knife in the painting, it was his own holy relics that were incapable of being destroyed. Although the Persians threw his coffin into the Black Sea during their siege of Mesopotamia, 250 years later in the 9th century, it was found on the coast of Lipari, where the faithful were once again found to venerate and be healed by his relics.

Not unlike those healed and strengthened by these saints, the restorers at the Vatican practically worked a miracle to bring back the Madonna della Cintola to life. The precarious and illegible state of the work required much patience, experimentation, innovative materials, and the use of new applications such as enzymes and bacteria for biological cleaning.

Detail, After Restoration

Structurally, the original containment system did not support the work but rather restricted the natural movement of the wood, creating significant cracking and splitting. New carbon fiber crosspiece supports were created for the work to provide paths for natural “breathing” of the wood. Wooden “axis” were then fixed to the supports and laid at appropriately calibrated springs to ensure a correct weight distribution for the massive work.

 

Reintegrating the image of the Cintola necessitated a delicate workmanship. Though the exact origin of the piece still remains unknown, the restoration process allowed scholars to attribute the painting to the workshop of artist Pagani. In this early 16th century work, Pratelli consulted prototypes and images from Pagani’s bottega as references. Where color was missing, he used a stippled watercolor effect with a tonality slightly less chromatic than the original, eventually rendering the piece readable.

Thanks to the compassion and determination of the restoration team, and the generosity of the Texas Patrons, this labor of love resulted in quite a transfiguration. A piece arrived in a tortured state and was nursed back to health. The Madonna della Cintola is one painting that bears witness to the power of faith.

After Restoration

 

To learn more about this painting’s cameo appearance in the Pinacoteca of the Vatican Museums, click here:

http://www.museivaticani.va/content/museivaticani/it/eventi-e-novita/iniziative/Eventi/2017/museums-at-work-pagani.html

Following this link you will be able to download the PDF of our 2017 Summer Newsletter

Patrons Newsletter July 2017 (2)

 

NW Chapter visit: 5th-8th October

As we begin to anticipate the arrival of autumn, so too are we preparing for visits from our Chapters, the first of which is the Northwest. The group will begin their “Grand Art Tour of Venice and Rome” in the floating city of canals and bridges, complete with a tour of the Biennale and a private Mass in the crypt of St. Mark’s Basilica celebrated by Father Kevin.

After their sojourn in Venice, they will be joining us in Rome, kicking off their time with aMuseums tour and a grand evening in the Gallery of Busts and Statues. This will be preceded by Mass celebrated by Cardinal Bertello in the Vatican Governatorato Church of Santa Maria Regina della Famiglia. Their experience in the Vatican will also include visiting restoration labs, privately touring the Gardens, and even a special lecture on the Transfiguration in

the Raphael Room of the Pinacoteca from Fr. Dalton of the Legionaries of Christ. Above all, the Northwest Chapter’s time in the Museums will be a celebration of their successes in restoring a variety of projects. They will celebrate the unveiling of the newly restored Hermes, attended by Vatican Museums Director Dr Barbara Jatta. A particular highlight will be the commemoration of the newly restored Sphere within a Sphere, their newest restoration undertaking, wherein its conservation will be dedicated to the late Thomas James Jr., former Co-chair and Founder of the Northwest Patrons Chapter.

 

 

A. Pomodoro, Sfera con sfera, bronzo, 1990, Musei Vaticani, Cortile della Pigna

 

Hermes – the most recent restoration completed by the Northwest Chapter

 

 

Garden Mixologists

 

The end of summer brings memories of sunshine-filled road trips, beach trips, and maybe even good food and refreshing cocktail enjoyed during the vacation. In the case of the latter, combining the right ingredients might even offer a sensory stimulation, enhancing the aesthetic experience of where the beverage is sipped.

Decorative element in the section Zitella after treatment process

Thanks to mixologists, traditional toasts are savored and classics are reimaged to create combinations to stimulate the palette. Did you know that some of the most skilled and savvy mixologists work in the Vatican Gardens? The restorers actually refer to themselves as such in jest. The difference, however, is that the cocktails that are whipped up in the Vatican Gardens are not for human consumption. Rather, the cocktails do the consuming.

Decorative element in the section Zitella before treatment process

To remove the dirt, moss, oils and varnishes from the statues and monuments in the Vatican Gardens, the restoration team is utilizing a type of a technique called in-situ bioremediation. This simply means that the undesired materials are treated and cleaned, or remediated, by biological, naturally occurring substances. All of this happens where the object in the garden currently resides, or in-situ.

Decorative elements in the section Madonna of the Guard before, during and after treatment process

From its flowers to stone figures dispersed throughout the area, the evolution of the Vatican Gardens dates back to late 13th century, and its cultivation is still continuous. After Pope Nicolas II commenced the initial planting in the Vatican hills, the area grew and changed under various pontificates and architects. Although the French invasion in 1798 eradicated a major portion of the Gardens, the 19th century witnessed a great nurturing of the area, with not only flora, but also arrangement of marble sculptures, fountains, pieces of ancient monuments. The gardens were home of more changes after the Vatican City State was recognized as an independent state with the concordat of the 1929 Lateran Treaty. The reconstruction and revamping involved more sculptural additions. The objects and embellishments that have stood the test of time in the garden, however, also bear the vestige of times past. In other words, they need a good cleaning.

And this spurred a very good idea. Why not use natural things to preserve nature?

Plant oils and extracts have been known to have antimicrobial responses for years. Essential oils have significant inhibitory effects against a spectrum of bacteria, fungi, and other biological microorganisms. What this means, in short, is that fennel, clove, cinnamon, or juniper berry oil may not be just for flavoring drinks, and bergamot, lavender or rosewood may not be relegated to perfumery. With the correct ratio and “flavor” combinations, putting certain oils together—even in low, diluted concentrations—can result in being just the right “stain-buster” to eliminate the moss off of a marble plaque or bacterial residue off of a fountain.

Although the Vatican is not the first to use natural ingredients to clean, they are innovative in their techniques and employing essential oils for art restoration purposes. Pure oils are always used and analyzed first, to determine which might be more efficient in combatting fungi, another for algae. The most potent is decided based on a series of four tests and how they differ before and after treatment. On the selected “swatch,” the restorers will measure the color spectrum, the bioluminescence of the surface, the amount of residual fungi using fungi tape, and also use transmission electron microscopy (TEM) to analyze the outcome of using each essential oil. These results, in turn, help the team come up with the right recipe for their “cocktails” to clean each piece in the garden.

Marble surface with various test swatches treated with different essential oils in varying concentrations

The gardens were divided into sections to better care for and catalogue the pieces, and the restoration effort started with a pilot project to test the potency and security of the material(s) used. The zone called Cascatelle (small waterfalls) was fundamental in discerning which substances could be used in conservation without adverse environmental effects. Thanks to the funding provided by the Hazelwood family of California, the restoration team sought out the best approach—and oils such as rosemary and licorice—to clean and revitalize the area.

Before and after cleaning of Apollo playing his cithar in the Cascatelle section of the Vatican Gardens

With over 500 pieces in the gardens, the innovation continues in other sections and is in progress now. The Grotto of Lourdes (sponsored by California Chapter), the helicopter port (Texas Chapter), Madonna of the Guard (The Brewis family of Michigan), Zitella and the Casina of Pius IV (New York Chapter), and Vignaccia (Robert Toll of Philadelphia) are all sections where work is taking place. There are still 7 more sections that are part of the gardens and need adoption in the future.

If in the next few years you have the good fortune to gaze upon the panorama of the gardens from the Museums, you might also catch sight through the bushes of a restorer or two rejuvenating the Vatican’s backyard —our very own cocktail historians and innovators rolled into one!

Initial Greetings from our New International Director

 

Vatican City, September 8, 2017

 

Dear Patrons,

Greetings from Rome where today I officially take the helm as the Intemational Director of the

Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums.

Since my arrivai in Rome July 14th, I have had seven weeks to “shadow” Father Daniel Hennessey both here in the Vatican, as well as on a brief trip to the United States which included meetings with the Chapter leaders ofDC and NY as well as with Msgr. Terry Hogan and Lorna Richardson. Here in the Vatican I am becoming a “recognizabie figure’for the Swiss Guards and Gendarme and Vatican Museums Staff. It seems the only one left forme to meet is the Pope Francis!

Ever since meeting Bill Wilson and a group of Patrons in the early 90’s when I was a seminarian in Rome, I have been impressed by this distinguished group of individuals. And now, after walking the museum halls these past two months, I continually see these words at the base of a work of art: “this restoration was made possible by the generosity of the Patrons of …..”! Friends, I am truly honored and awed to now be officiaiiy a part ofthe Patrons ofthe Arts, even ifi have had the grace to mix with you on various occasions in the past. You should also be proud to be members of a unique Vatican association that is soon to reach its 35th year of service to promote and preserve this great patrimony of humanity housed in the Vatican Museums.

Although I am still dedicating much thought and prayer as to what I believe I can personally offer all of you at the service of this organization, three words come to mind and heart.

The first is stability. I know changes always can make us uneasy, even if it can bring good things. And the change at the helm of leadership is no exception. Additionally, we will also be changing our Vatican location as we move our offices closer to the Museum’s administration offices which are much nearer to the main entrance. While we face these changes, many things remain that provide us with stability. First of ali, the excelient staffthat I have been gifted which so many ofyou know, such as Sara Savoldelio and Romina Cornetti among others here in Rome, as well as Msgr. Terry Hogan and Loma Richardson in the U.S.. Stability is also provided by my own previous experience working in the Vatican at the Pontificai Council for the Laity, where I headed up the “Church and Sport” office for eight years. Additionally, the dedication and passion ofall Patrons to promote and to preserve the beauty of art as an enduring spirituallegacy provides us continuity as well. In order to be poised for future and current growth, we need to have a stable and strong foundation. In light of this, I want to recognize ali that Fr Daniel has done in his tenure to bring stability by institutionalizing our PAVM Fellowship program in order to accommodate the growing number of visitors we have each week as weii as take measures to bolster our technological savvy to keep up with these new demands.

The other word that I would like to mark my tenure is collaboration. From what I gather, the collaboration of our office with the Museum leadership team is really starting to blossom, as was seen in the enthusiastic presence ofDr. Jatta at the leaders meeting in Phoenix. I would like to continue to build up transparency, trust and teamwork among all: with our office staff, with the leadership ofthe Vatican museums, with each of the Patron chapters, and even among the chapters and their membership. We will be facing some extraordinary restoration projects in the upcoming years that will require teamwork and collaboration among ari of us.

The last word is momentum. In my almost 18 years as a priest, one thing I lament seeing is a waste of energy and resources due to trying to continually reinvent the wheel. Yes, we need to be innovative, but also rooted in real experience and best practices. It is my hope that I can dismay the feeling that we are starting all over again from scratch. Rather, I hope to build on the legacy of the past and the current momentum of this past year. In speaking with Dr. Jatta, Fr. Daniel and others present at the leaders meeting in Phoenix, they perceive a new momentum, an air of excitement and a forward thinking spirit among the Chapter feaders and tne patrons in generai Of course, not ali of our problems are resolved, and each chapter will have its particular challenges to face, but we have a legacy and a new momentum that I want to build upon and bolster. I know there were some concrete commitments that carne out of the March Chapter Leaders meeting that I will also commit myself to in order to keep moving the bali forward.

I humbly ask for your prayers and patience asI try to hit the ground running. I promise to offer you my best as I try to be at your service so tnat alT ofus can gìve our best in fulfilling our unique mìssion of promoting art and beauty as an enduring spirituallegacy.

 

 

 

Click here to download Father Kevin’s letter: FrKevinLixey001

 

WELCOME TO OUR NEW INTERNATIONAL DIRECTOR

It is with extreme gratitude that we say goodbye to, Fr. Daniel Hennessy, L.C., International Director of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums from summer 2016 to summer 2017 and welcome our new director Fr. Kevin Lixey, L.C. While Fr. Hennessy was with us only briefly, his warm demeanor and determined attitude were influential. Below, you can read a letter from Fr. Hennessy that introduces our new director, whom we welcome with warm anticipation.

Dear Patrons and Friends,

A very cordial greeting from the Vatican where we are gearing up for another season of wonder at the many blessings showered upon us by God. Just the other day I was walking with a journalist through the museum, close to closing hour, and she said, “how could anyone who has seen all this beauty ever resort to violence or hatred? Just seeing this gives me hope for humanity.” As we open the late summer and autumn season of activities, there is big news for the Patrons Office.

As some of you may have already read in the Newsletter, Father Kevin Lixey LC will take my place as International Director of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums beginning in September of this year. Father Kevin is a member of the Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ. He has served as a spiritual director for the Regnum Christi Movement of Apostolate based in Atlanta, Georgia, for the past five years. Prior to his assignment in Georgia, he served at the Vatican for eight years in the Council for the Laity, heading up the Office for Sport, of which he was the founding director. Father Kevin was ordained priest in January of 2001. He is originally from Flint, Michigan, and has a broad international experience thanks to numerous assignments abroad. I have been working with Father Kevin since the beginning of July of this year in order to ensure a smooth transition. I am confident that he will provide competent leadership for our organization.

I want to thank you for the many wonderful experiences I have had during the past year as International Director. I have enjoyed meeting so many of you, participating in the events, following the restoration projects, being involved in the exhibits here in Rome and abroad. You have been wonderful, and your contribution to the Vatican Museums is invaluable. You bring a value far beyond the financial help for the restoration and conservation projects. Your interest and enthusiasm is always refreshing and continues to transform the Vatican Museums. I can assure you that you are very much appreciated by the museum administration at all levels, including the current director, Dr. Barbara Jatta, and the Cardinal President of the Vatican City State, Giuseppe Bertello. I will carry with me forever the memories and life lessons from my experiences with the Patrons.

I take this opportunity to thank the staff here in Rome: Sara, Romina, Chiara; and the fellows, Leticia and Ami. They have been a wonderful support over the past months, and it has been a joy working with them. I also want to thank Msgr. Terry Hogan who helped me in so many ways, and Lorna Richardson, whose devoted service to the organization is well known to all. Thank you also to my predecessor, Fr. Mark Haydu LC, who paved the way for such a wonderful experience for me. And, of course, thanks be to God our Father, who is the giver of every gift and source of all blessing!

May God bless you today and always!
Fr Daniel

 

THE LIFE OF A SWISS GUARD, A PRIVATE VIEW

April 1 – June 12, 2016

Cortile delle Corazze

Among the several chapels that populate the museums, the palaces and the Vatican corridors, there is one named Chapel of St. Pellegrino. Presently this Chapel provides religious services for the men of the Gendarmeria; for centuries until 1977 it was the Chapel of the Pontifical Swiss Guards, the armed body who defends the Holy Father, as founded by Pope Julius II in 1506. The walls of this Chapel are entirely covered with frescoes indicating the name and coat of arms of the Commanders of the Swiss Guard. Among them, there is one coat of arm that merits remembrance: that of Commander Kaspar Röist. The incision in Latin states that he died while fightingInvito - The Life of a Swiss Guard, 1 aprile 2016 “in illa infelici urbis direptione”, “in that unfortunate disruption of the City”. And here the terrible day of May 1527 is evoked, the Sack of Rome. Fourteen thousands Lanzichenecchi, mainly Lutherans guided by Georg von Frundsberg, attacked the Apostolic Buildings. There were 147 Swiss soldiers to defend them. It was a fierce fight; pike against pike, sword and dagger against sword and dagger, Swiss against Germans. At the end of this massacre all the Swiss soldiers of the Pope were dead. Among them was Commander Kaspar Röist, who scarified his life with his soldiers in order to allow the Pope Clemens VII to flee with his entourage in the impregnable fortress of Castel Sant’Angelo.

The army of the Swiss Guards, still today recruited in the cantons of the Swiss Nation, remains the guardian of glorious and heroic memories such as those represented by Commander Kaspar Röist. The awareness of that ancient story is always present in the daily life of the young soldiers. They are, therefore, proud of the role they represent and the service to which they are called. However, they are also young men in their twenties with the same dreams, enthusiasm, and hope that any 20-year-old has. This is what the photographic service of Fabio Mantegna shows. Here the photographic image itself, through the choice of subject, the composition of the shot, and the effects of light, offers a glimpse on the reality of the Guard which is never banal. It shows us, through some of the most well known architectonic views and the lesser known sides of the Vatican, of the sense of duty and humanity with which the Swiss Guards are committed to carrying out their tasks. We wanted, together with Commander Christoph Graf, to transform this into an exhibition that, born from an idea of Dr. Romina Cometti with the support of Father Mark Haydu LC, will be unveiled in the Vatican Museums. Thanks to the generosity of the California Chapter of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums headed by Mr. Michael Scott Feeley, this exhibition is destined to travel in several cities worldwide. It is an exhibition showing a noble and ancient story, but it also speaks of the beautiful youth of a group of young men who are at the service of the Roman Pontiff.

Prof. Antonio Paolucci

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Father Mark Speaks at Leadership Conference in Napa, California

Fr. Mark was asked to participate in the prestigious Napa Institute Conference this year where he will be presenting two lectures: one on “Evangelizing through Beauty” on Thursday, July 30 at 5:30 pm and a second on “Beauty and Prayer” on Saturday, August 1 at 2:10 pm.

The conference features around 400 members of Catholic leadership from around the world, and runs from July 29 – August 2. The themes this year will be The Family, Catechism of the Catholic Church and Reason & Faith. We are so proud that Fr. Mark was chosen to present along with so many other Catholic luminaries – for a complete schedule of conference events click here.

Congratulations to Fr. Mark for this honor and we wish him the best in his presentations. If you are interested in attending there are still reservations available at: http://napa-institute.org/conference/

Next year’s conference is already in the works for July 2016 – for more information on that and other events see the Napa Institute’s website.

11194411_920508478012500_7547381575599807879_oFor more on 2016: see this link.

The Patron’s Pilgrimage Was a Trip to Remember

Fr. Mark and several of our favorite art experts were honored to join our patrons on a spiritual and artistic journey. From May 1 until May 7 – patrons gathered at sea on a sumptuous cruise which featured stops in some of Europe’s most beautiful and meaningful cities. Patrons came from everywhere, from Michigan to Florida, Colorado and California. The travellers visited Gaudi’s famous church, The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, spend time at the Prince’s palace in Monaco, and were able to join his eminence Cardinal Harvey for Mass at Santa Maria Regina Della Famiglia in the Governatorato. In France they also were given a special tour of the famous Cistercian monastery Le Thoronet Abbey. They found the austere and resonant surroundings inspirational and even had a chance to pray in this meditative space.  And at each stop our patrons interacted with experts and had the opportunity to learn insights about the sites from trained historians and theologians.

Many patrons extended their trip to include an additional three-day pilgrimage to Rome where they were able to take advantage of exclusive tours and ultimately attend a farewell Gala Dinner in the Gallery of the Busts here at the Museum. It was wonderful to have everyone here.

Many thanks to everyone who chose to join in on the cruise and I’m sure you can attest to what a wonderful time it was. To keep up with friends from the cruise and show off your pictures we’ve created this facebook page.

It’s a great way to stay in touch with your patron friends and to see what the cruise was like! And attendees, please don’t hesitate to send your stories and pictures to us here.  

Photo of the Patrons in Gaudi's Sagrada Familia. Photo by John Hale.

Photo of the Patrons in Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. Photo by John Hale.

Patrons in the Sistine Chapel

Patrons in the Sistine Chapel

Patrons with his Eminence James Michael Cardinal Harvey in front of Santa Maria Regina della Famiglia.

Patrons with his Eminence James Michael Cardinal Harvey in front of Santa Maria Regina della Famiglia.

In the Gallery of the Busts.

Gala Dinner in the Gallery of the Busts.

Sign Up Soon, Limited Availability! Upcoming Patrons Mediterranean Cruise

May 1-May 7th, 2015 (optional Rome extension May 7 – 10)

Cabins aboard our 2015 Mediterranean Cruise have been filling up! Sign up to join us on deck by February 13th to secure your passage. Click here for more details.

Reunite with The Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican this Spring with the trip of a lifetime! Book PAVM’s May 2015 Mediterranean Cruise. Current prices valid thru February 13. Limited availability!

The cruise will visit the gems of the Mediterranean– leaving from Barcelona and visiting St. Tropez with an optional extension in Rome. Talks and guided tours are given by an art expert from the Louvre and the trip even includes a private after-hours tour of the Prince’s Palace in Monte Carlo. The Rome extension also features an exclusive tour of the Sistine Chapel. This is a singular travel experience you won’t forget!

Contact:
Corporate Travel Service

Please call Sue today at 800.727.1999 for more information and registration or email her at sreinhardt@ctscentral.net

Link to the brochure for more details.

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The Curse of Mummy-Mania: Patrons Help Unravel a Mystery Wrapped in an Enigma

Mummy Mania is not exactly a scientific term – but it accurately describes the Egyptian history craze that swept Europe after the discovery of the Rosetta Stone in 1799 (which allowed for the translation of Hieroglyphics). In the rush to supply the Egypt-a-philic art collectors and museums that popped up on the continent, tombs were ransacked and ruins were exploited. Tourists swarmed the pyramids and every visitor to Egypt wanted to come home with a genuine mummy – correspondingly, there was a booming market for forgeries.

Napoleon in Egypt Studying a Mummy, Print by E. Fiorello

Napoleon in Egypt Studying a Mummy, Print by E. Fiorello

Forgeries of mummies are nothing new – researchers say that there were faux mummies even in the time of the Pharaohs and even more when high demand when during the Middle Ages through the Renaissance they were ground up used as a powder for apothecary potions. Often smaller mummies – “mummiettes” (child or animal mummies) made the best fakes, which held, deep underneath ancient bandages, contemporary bird bones or sometimes nothing at all.

Examples of apothecary potions

Examples of apothecary potions

Two of these fake mummies were the objects of study at the most recent Vatican restorers conference held on January 22, 2015. Professor Antonio Paolucci, director of the Vatican Museums, provided an introduction and Alessia Amenta, curator of the Department of Egyptian Antiquities and the Near East followed up with analysis along with Ulderico Santamaria, head of the Laboratory of Diagnostic for the Conservation and Restoration of the Vatican Museums with his colleagues Fabio Morresi and SvevaLongo. In the curious cases of these mummies, the forgeries and techniques used to discover them were just as interesting as if they found the real things.

A Case of "Mummy-Mania" Conference including speakers: Fabio Morresi, Alessia Amenta, Antonio Paolucci, Ulderico Santamaria, and Svevo Longo (from left to right)

A Case of “Mummy-Mania” Conference including speakers: Fabio Morresi, Alessia Amenta, Antonio Paolucci, Ulderico Santamaria, and Svevo Longo (from left to right)

Thanks to the California patrons who supported this project, (particularly Juliann and Michael O’Connor) our labs were able to use X-ray fluorescence and electron microscopes to discover the chemical elements of materials, and infrared and ultraviolet analyses revealed colors and images hidden to the naked eye. Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry identified the presence of organic compounds and the project was topped off with CT-scans to create 3D images of the contents.  These analyses revealed the presence of zinc and tin in the paints and a metal laminate used to create false aging. Then “multiplanar reconstruction” of hundreds of CT-scan images pieced together revealed a 19th century nail that could not have been seen on the initial X-ray. Also, with carbon dating, restorers found that the bones wrapped inside were actually adult bones from the middle ages.

Fig. 3

Fake Mummy Undergoing “TAC” restoration © Musei Vaticani

The way these forgeries were crafted has been at least as much of a mystery as the riddle of true ancient Mummies. The conference on January 22, 2015 not only revealed strides in how to identify fakes, but also sparked discussion on the merit of these forgeries as works of historical record and even pieces of genuine 19th century artistic ingenuity.

“The Mummy Project” is an ongoing one at the Vatican which boasts a truly impressive collection of genuine mummies some of which have had the benefit of restoration due to our generous patrons.

For more on the Mummy Mania conference: http://mv.vatican.va/3_EN/pages/z-Info/MV_Info_Conferenze.html

For more on becoming a Vatican Museums Patron

Photo of Child Mummy Before Restoration © Vatican Museums

Photo of Child Mummy Before Restoration © Vatican Museums

Fake Mummy, Inv. 5783 © Musei Vaticani

Fake Mummy, Inv. 5783, before restoration © Musei Vaticani