On Friday20April the 2018 edition of the special night openings of the Vatican Museums will begin, offering until 26October a unique experience in terms of atmosphere, artistic beauty and musical offerings, for visitors both Roman and otherwise.
From 7.00 p.m., for over six months for a total of 27 Fridays, the Pope’s Museums “double” their cultural offering with a new evening programme, greatly appreciated by the public, especially in the spring and summer season.
As in previous years, and again included in the price of the entry ticket, which may be booked online exclusively, an extensive concert programme will enrich the already special night opening, animating the splendid museum architecture with sound, song and dance.
So, not only art and history, but also a show, and why not enjoy the Happy Hour in the evocative Courtyard of the Pinecone for a refreshing break?
Each of the seven days of creation bears within it a multiplicity of miracles. At the center of it all, lies the remarkably complex creation of man himself—the receiver of God’s affectionate love and His most amazing miracle to boot. Though the relationship was sacrificed by the disobedience of Adam and Eve, God continues to unceasingly draw every man to Himself, and the promise of His Covenant with His people can never be severed. God’s covenantal love, or sacred family bond, is inherent within each biblical family. God reveals to Noah that the covenant reaches beyond the family nucleus and “ is with [Noah] and with all his descendants after” (Genesis 9:9). Though others would not find favor with God and be swept away in the massive flood, Noah’s family mission is steadfast in guarding and communicating love.
The beginning of this perpetual covenantal story (which still, of course, continues today) is documented not only in the Bible, but makes its way into various early Christian artworks. Interest in the figurative and visual arts of early Christianity reached its height in the 16thcentury, during the Catholic response to the Reformation and knowledge of early Church and her works became key. In the 18thcentury,Pope Benedict XIV (1740-1758) successfully organized a “Christian Museum” in the Vatican, housing those works that give us a glimpse in to the culture and faith of the early Christian communities in Rome. Established in 1852 under the papacy of Pius IX (1846-1870), the Commission for Sacred Archaeology insured the utmost protection for these rich archaeological pieces of Christian heritage. Two years later, in an effort to save precious pieces that were unearthed, Pius IX transferred the artifacts to the Lateran Palace in a collection he called “Pius.” In 1963 the collection of Christian patrimony was moved to the Vatican, and became permanent residents of the “Pius Christian Museum.” Every visitor upon entering the Museums can turn a corner and listen to the testimonies of Christian families and martyrs from the 2ndto 4thcenturies,etched in the stone sarcophagi in this collection.
This frontal sarcophagus piece is one of many that bears witness to the precious Christian artifacts, and the precious covenantal bond of God with His people is carved into them. Here, Noah is seen sending out a dove to determine if, after forty days in the ark, the flood waters had subsided. The dove touches the head of another figure, perhaps one of Noah’s sons, who carries a bastion that leads the eye into the next scene. Three youths, refusing to worship false deities, sing the praises of the one true God afterthrown in the fiery furnace by King Nebuchadnezzar.
Lifting up their hands in prayer, they sing of their transgressions and the miracle of still being showered in God’s mercy. They are unconsumed by the flames. Noah’s family is spared from the flood. One miracle flows directly into another. The images decorate the tombs of the faithful who bore witness to the miracles of God in their own lives.
The next miracle is how the Vatican restorers brought back to life this piece of heritage and faith.This sarcophagus is a sculptural piece that had undergone maintenance, restorations and perhaps reworked interventions over time. During the preliminary “autopsy” of the work, certain findings helped determine the present state of intervention and “readability” of the piece. There was evidence of coherent deposits and stains, either from exposure to less than desirable conditions, or from the hand of a previous attempt at fixing the piece. Wax or paints were used to cover damages, and these exhibited deposits resultantly compromised the integrity of the carved surface.
Generally speaking the surfaces of sarcophagi often show widespread exfoliation phenomena andscratches. In the case of areas where dirt and deposits are more heavily encrusted, thus hindering the piece’s aesthetic integrity, the restorers have to remove these deposits using diversified laser technology. Oftentimes,Japanese rice paper will be affixed to the surface with a paste made from natural ingredients, which serves to stabilize the rest of the work while the area that is being tackled undergoes some “bumps and bruises” during the restoration process.
An indispensable part of the procedure involved cleaning the stone surfaces while maintaining scrupulous attention to individual elements and adherence to the pre-restoration analysis performed with the help of the Diagnostic Survey Laboratory. Great care was always taken in preserving and analyzing traces of polychrome and coatings, and special uses of material such as agar allowed for controlled, careful cleaning.
At first glance, one sees a piece of stone. A second look allows one to read through the miracles of the Bible on its surface. In these scenes is the promise of God’s never-ending, miraculous love for all His people. And the generosity of some of these people ensures that millions more can appreciate this piece of stone.
Miracles do happen every day…especially when you are one of them.
Giudizio Universale: Michelangelo and the Secrets of the Sistine Chapel
a must-see in Rome, available only for a limited time!
Sara Savoldello’s Testament To The Time In The Theatre
On March 12th at the Auditorium Conciliazione in Rome, all the Vatican employees were invited to the preview of the “Universal Judgment: Michelangelo and the secrets of the Sistine Chapel,” a beautiful show with brilliant special effects, 4k projections, dancers, acrobats, produced by Marco Balich, a director and producer famed for organizing ceremonies at the Olympic games.
I went to the show with my son Francesco, 11 years old, and had a great afternoon enjoying the company of many colleagues who brought their relatives to the show. It was like being inside an Art History Book: page after page: all the life of Michelangelo as a sculptor before and a painter afterwards, every scene was in 4D so scenes as the water, rain, wind, light and dark were so vivid and real. We were surrounded by images we could nearly touch.. It has been an incredible experience and enjoyed seeing all my colleagues with their nose up in the air absorbing all the colors of the frescoes.
“The Vatican Museums offered their expertise to ensure the accuracy of the presentation. Experts from the Vatican helped recreate the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel, and offered critical perspective on the relationships between Michelangelo and Popes Julius II and Clement VII; as well as explaining the process of papal conclaves!
An incredible sound systemand music by Sting made my son dance and sing while hopping happily outside the theatre!
Imagine you cannot see, but want to experience the beauty of the Vatican Museums. Someone might be able to describe the pieces to you, but would it not be great to be able to actually touch them? Or what if you could sense a three dimensional piece of art like an ancient sarcophagus or marble statue? On Friday, February 2nd, I witnessed a very emotional scene, as I saw several blind people run their hands across a statue of Christ the Good Shepherd, and several other works of “touching art” on display in the Pius Christian Museum. Thanks to the Italian International Chapter of the Patrons of the Arts and their generous donors, several replicas of sarcophagi, and other replica statues are now on display in the museums. They not only look just like the originals, but they also are made of a marble composite that even gives them the same feel of the coldness and hardness of marble to the touch of the hand. February 2ndinaugurated some new additions to the ongoing “Touching Art” collection on display in various parts of the Vatican Museums. These new pieces, also include braille signage and an accessible display that was designed with input from the visually impaired themselves.
Father Kevin Lixey L.C.
“Touching Art in the Vatican Museums is a beautiful art access project, supported by the Italian & International Vatican Patrons … The curators have designed a series of special tactile displays that now are part of the most important collection of Early Christian sculptures in the world! On Friday February 4th 2018 an incredible group of visually impaired individuals came to the Museums to explore Touching Art and give their feedback…Thank you to all who participated in this project!”
Amy Gallant Sullivan (left)
Sabrina Zappia (right)
from the Italian & International Chapter
A 500-year-old mystery at the Vatican has just been solved. Two paintings by Renaissance master Raphael were discovered during the cleaning and restoration of a room inside the Vatican Museums.
Experts believe they are his last works before an early death, around the age of 37, in 1520: “It’s an amazing feeling,” said the Vatican’s chief restorer for the project, Fabio Piacentini.
“Knowing these were probably the last things he painted, you almost feel the real presence of the maestro.”
The two female figures, one depicting Justice and the other Friendship, were painted by Raphael around the year 1519, but he died before he could finish the rest of the room. After his death, other artists finished the wall and Raphael’s two paintings were forgotten.
In 1508, Raphael was commissioned by Pope Julius II to paint the his private apartments. The artist completed three rooms, known today as the “Raphael rooms,” with famous frescoes like the School of Athens.
He then began plans for the fourth room, the largest in the apartment, a banquet hall called the Hall of Constantine. His plan was to paint the room using oil, rather than the traditional fresco technique.
An ancient book from 1550 by Giorgio Vasari, “Lives of the most excellent painters, sculptors and architects,” attests that Raphael began work on two figures in a new experiment with oil. That clue was the key to the discovery. When restorers began to clean the walls of the Hall of Constantine in 2017, they realized two female figures were painted in oil, while the rest of the room was painted using the fresco technique.
Ultra-violet and infrared photos confirmed scholars suspicions: these two paintings were not like the rest, the oil painting clearly showing through in the advanced technology. To the expert eye, it was clearly Raphael for other reasons as well.
Vatican restorer Fabio Piacentini says there is a confidence in the brushwork that is typical of Raphael: “The way the paintbrush moves,” Piacentini explains, “even the subtlety of the point of the brushes used to create the small wisps of hair.”
Raphael also created unusual shades of color, which began to show through during the cleaning, according to Piacentini. The fact that there is no sign on these two figures of a preparatory drawing underneath, such as a lesser painter might have used, is another sign of the maestro’s hand, he says.
A detail of the discovered paintings. Credit: CNN
The head of the Vatican Museums, Barbara Jatta, says restoring the Raphaels and the whole room will take them until at least the year 2022: “It’s one of the most important projects of the last decades – apart from the Sistine Chapel — done in the Vatican Museums,” she says.
Although it is unlikely that there are other hidden masterpieces on the walls of the Vatican, the Museum’s restorers and scholars always keep their eyes open: “That’s the beautiful thing of different projects,” Jatta says. “We are still searching…it never ends.”
The restoration of the two re-discovered Raphaels and the rest of the Hall of Constantine at the Vatican will take until 2022 to complete and cost 2.7 million euros — around $3.1 million.
The restoration team, the head restorer Fabio Piacentini, Romina Cometti, Fr. Daniel Hennessy and Fr. Kevin Lixey from the Office of The Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums
Much of that expense, so far, has been covered by the New York chapter of the Vatican’s Patrons of the Art, says Vatican Museum Director, Barbara Jatta. The Patrons are a special group of donors, mainly from the United States, but also Europe and increasingly from Asia, who support art restoration at the Vatican.
“We produce a wish book every year,” says Barbara Jatta, “that means important projects that are going on; we share ideas with them.”
Individuals can become patrons of Vatican art for a $600 annual membership fee. They can then adopt special restoration projects from the Vatican Museums Wishbook and contribute to the restoration and safekeeping of the Vatican’s — and the world’s — art patrimony.
Barbara Jatta, the first female director of the Vatican Museums, in the Hall of Animals of the Pio Clementino Museum this month. Credit Mattia Balsamini for The New York Times
VATICAN CITY — Vatican City has been governed by men since it was established as an independent state in 1929. A year ago, however, a woman joined the upper ranks: Barbara Jatta, the first female director of the Vatican Museums.
In the 12 months since her appointment, Ms. Jatta has put her stamp on the role, resisting some of her predecessor’s initiatives and forging her own path.
Ms. Jatta was the only woman on an initial list of six candidates, and she was chosen by Pope Francis. In the post since January, she oversees some 200,000 objects and an array of museums, papal apartments, sculpture courtyards and other sites, including the Sistine Chapel.
Visitors in front of the Belvedere Torso in the Vatican’s Hall of the Muses. Credit Mattia Balsamini for The New York Times
The chapel is one of the Roman Catholic Church’s holiest places, where popes are elected. It is also packed almost daily with ever-larger crowds scrambling to gaze at Michelangelo’s famous frescoed ceiling. The Vatican Museums say visitor numbers in 2017 are expected to reach a record, significantly exceeding the six million that Ms. Jatta’s predecessor, Antonio Paolucci, defined as an annual upper limit. The escalating totals pose the toughest challenge to Ms. Jatta’s directorship.
Ms. Jatta is friendly yet firm, and she expresses high ambitions for herself and for the institution. In an interview, she said that she had worked for 20 years in the Vatican Library, leading its prints department from 2010. When she heard of her nomination for the Vatican Museums role, she said, “it came as a shock at first, to face such a big change.”
Regarding her gender, Ms. Jatta said she “didn’t realize what it meant until I started the job. Whenever I attended conferences or public events, so many women would come up to me, saying: ‘We are proud, and you are also, in some way, representing us.’ ”
Her office, which overlooks the Michelangelo-designed dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, was filled with family pictures, a framed photograph of Pope Francis, and the portrait bust of another predecessor: the neo-Classical sculptor Antonio Canova, the first director of the papal museums.
A staircase designed by Giuseppe Momo at the Vatican Museums. Credit Mattia Balsamini for The New York Times
Ms. Jatta said that art had played a big role in her family: Her mother and sister are art restorers; her grandmother, who was originally from Russia, was a painter; and her paternal ancestors founded an archaeological museum named after the family in Ruvo di Puglia, in southern Italy.
Eike Schmidt, the German director of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, said Ms. Jatta’s appointment was a positive sign. “Within the male-dominated Vatican, to give such a prominent role to a woman was very good news,” he said, adding that he hoped the world of culture would soon “move beyond” gender considerations and “look at people for what they did and what they do.”
One curator now working for Ms. Jatta, Maurizio Sannibale of the Gregorian Etruscan Museum, said he had known her since they were students at Sapienza University in Rome. He described her as “affable, decisive and empathetic” and said that she “knows how to set challenges for herself.”
Running the Vatican Museums is a colossal job. Ms. Jatta is responsible for preserving, displaying and sharing knowledge of all of the treasures accumulated by the popes over the centuries, including the vast Egyptian and Etruscan collections, the “Laocoön” sculpture from the first century B.C., and Leonardo da Vinci’s 15th-century painting “St. Jerome.” In their breadth, history and caliber, the Vatican Museums make the Palace of Versailles in France look like a flashy upstart.
A terrace overlooking the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. Credit Mattia Balsamini for The New York Times
Whole sections of the museums are undergoing renovations ordered by Mr. Paolucci, a former culture minister who was director for nine years and who had previously led Florence’s museums. The renovations include work on a 16th-century public courtyard known as the Cortile della Pigna (one of many projects supported by the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums).
Tourism is a lifeline not only of the museums, but of the Vatican as a whole. Of the 100 million euros, or about $119 million, in annual revenue generated by the museums, roughly half goes to the state, according to Mr. Paolucci.
That complicates any director’s job. So does the fact that many of the museums’ sites have both artistic and religious significance — starting with the Sistine Chapel.
Six days a week, and on the last Sunday of each month, throngs of visitors scurry past masterpieces by Titian and Caravaggio and through a suite of rooms painted by Raphael to reach Michelangelo’s chapel. On a recent afternoon, the sacred enclosure was full of adults gaping at the ceiling, babies in strollers and tour guides with flags on sticks. Guards periodically hushed the crowds, and stepped in to stop people taking photographs.
Inside the Pinacoteca, one of the Vatican Museums, with a preparatory model of an angel by Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Credit Mattia Balsamini for The New York Times
The sweat and breath of millions of visitors, and the dust they bring in, endanger the chapel’s frescoes, Vatican conservation teams have found. Mr. Paolucci once envisaged a virtual Sistine Chapel on the museum’s premises: a full-size replica or a digital simulation that crowds could experience to limit congestion. He also announced that walk-in visits would end once numbers reached six million a year. From that point, he said, tickets would need to be purchased online in advance.
But Mr. Paolucci left without introducing his plans.
Ms. Jatta, who worked under Mr. Paolucci as deputy director and heir apparent starting in mid-2016, said she was against preventing walk-in access to the museums, even though 2017 totals look set to show another significant increase in the crowds, by about 10 percent. “If you were a visitor wishing to see the Sistine Chapel and you got to Rome and were told that it couldn’t be seen, what would you do?” she asked. “We are also a museum with moral and spiritual value. The Sistine Chapel is also a chapel, and that’s something that cannot be forgotten.”
As for a virtual Sistine Chapel, it would take up too much space and cost visitors more, she said. Instead, the Vatican Museums have advised on an immersive multimedia show (with a soundtrack by Sting) is to open in March in an auditorium near the Vatican, illustrating the story of the Sistine Chapel.
Ms. Jatta said she also planned a second entrance to the Vatican Museums that would offer alternative routes through “parts of the museums that are less visited,” such as the Ethnological Museum. An institution close to Pope Francis’s heart, the Ethnological Museum will soon reopen with expanded displays of the 80,000 objects it holds, many of which were sent from around the world for an exhibition organized by Pope Pius XI in 1925.
The Gallery of Maps at the Vatican. Credit Mattia Balsamini for The New York Times
Ms. Jatta added that she was extending opening hours at other institutions such as the Etruscan Museum to bolster visits.
Getting tourists to take more notice of other museums is difficult, by its curator Mr. Sannibale’s own admission. And whatever route they take, visitors will still want to see the Sistine Chapel, as Ms. Jatta acknowledged. So how would a new entrance solve the problem?
Ms. Jatta said the central objective was to alleviate congestion, as the Louvre Museum in Paris had done, through “a better distribution of tourists inside the museums.”
Visitor traffic aside, Mr. Schmidt said that the Vatican collections, started around two millenniums ago, were “one of the longest-standing collections of art that mankind has.” They had “an almost unique importance across the planet,” he added.
Ms. Jatta’s mission, as she described it, was to “find a way for visitors to see them in the right conditions.”
Click on the image below to read the article on the NYT online.
A version of this article appears in print on December 25, 2017, on Page C1 of the New York edition with the headline: A Job Known For Its Ceilings.
The Vatican Museums, in collaboration with the Istituto Statale Sordi di Roma and “Italia Creativa” Association, designed an innovative and inclusive educational activity, which can be simultaneously experienced by both deaf and hearing children. The visits will be organized in different Vatican Museum areas using special installations, B-Sense platforms, capable of converting music and sound into vibrations, offering all participants both the hearing and deaf, the opportunity to listen and feel melodies through the body.
The interactive and multisensory laboratories are designed specifically for integrated lessons and are able to produce “an augmented reality,” dedicated to the comprehension of art. The laboratories use the Socratic method through multi-sensory activities that involve the inquisitive creativity of children. Through the stimulation of critical thinking, children will experience, understand, and appreciate art. The visits will be engage each child’s intellect and imagination, building their knowledge.
This special activity will commence in January 2018 in the Vatican Museums. For further information please refer to the Vatican Museums website.
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.
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.
To learn more about this painting’s cameo appearance in the Pinacoteca of the Vatican Museums, click here:
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
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!