See you soon Harriet

To say that this was a pretty cool summer internship would be an absolute understatement. As one might guess, working inside the Vatican Museums makes for a truly incredible experience, but this summer with the Patrons of the Arts has truly exceeded all of my expectations. Seeing different restorations in progress in the Restoration Laboratories and the scaffolding of the Constantine room, exploring the nooks and crannies of less travelled areas in the museums, and following along guided tours through the museums, the gardens and the Santa Rosa Necropolis were just a few of the perks I thoroughly enjoyed over the past two months.

Though growing up I always enjoyed visiting art museums, this past summer has reignited my passion for art and art history as well as inspired a newfound interest in restoration and its importance.  There’s nothing quite like the invigorating feeling of walking through the practically empty galleries just before or after the museums’ visiting hours or watching a restoration magically bring a piece back to life before your eyes. But the people, above all, are what have made working in the Patrons office so special.

I am incredibly grateful to have worked in an office with such wonderful people who are all clearly passionate about the Patrons’ mission and the work they are doing. As I return to Notre Dame for my final undergraduate year, I am already reminiscing about the moments spent with my colleagues and two fellow interns, whether it was collaborating on a particular assignment or just a quick chat over a caffè. But it’s not only the staff here that makes this organization so impressive; it’s also each of the patrons I met, who come from all over the globe, each with their unique perspective and reasons for joining the PAVM.

My primary responsibility this summer involved compiling data on completed restoration projects by connecting each work of art with its information (artist, date, geographic location, etc.), restoration summary, and funding source. In this process, I learned a great deal about the immense number and variety of projects made possible by the patrons as well as reinforced my understanding of the importance of conserving these works. I also had the opportunity to write articles, and translate and edit various documents ranging from technical restoration reports to the newsletter. With these projects, I deepened my knowledge of different aspects of the museums and restoration processes, and I expanded my Italian technical art lexicon. This was particularly fascinating as some words for restoration procedures or artistic descriptions just don’t quite translate into English or exist in Italian-English dictionaries.

Overall, this summer was especially fruitful both personally and professionally. I can’t say that I’ve totally figured out the layout of the Vatican, but I can say that each day I was truly wowed by some new detail or intricacy I had discovered.

I hope to return to Rome sometime in the near future so until then, arrivederci!

Christ Saves Saint Peter from sinking in the Water

“Christ Saves Saint Peter from sinking in the Water” Giovanni Lanfranco 1627 – 1628 Italy, commissioned by Pope Urban VIII 400 x 500 cm Fresco Inv. 44238 Adopted by Bruce Waller from the Illinois Chapter Benediction Loggia, St. Peter’s Basilica – BEFORE RESTORATION

Giovanni Lanfranco’s “Christ saves Saint Peter from sinking in the water” is a baroque translation of Giotto di Bondone’s “Navicella” also featured in St. Peter’s Basilica in a lunette over the central opening into the portico.[1]Just like Giotto’s interpretation, the current mosaic present in St. Peter’s depicts the special relationship between Jesus and Peter. Jesus walks on the water inviting Peter to join him, and when Peter is overcome with fear and begins to sink, Jesus saves him. The following bible passage describes the scene:

AFTER RESTORATION

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:28-33 NIV)

In Lanfranco’s version of the piece, the figure’s expressions and postures are more emphasized than Giotto’s depiction, and the composition is more complex. The viewer’s eye is first drawn to Peter’s distressed face and hands thrown in the air, highlighting his fear. Jesus, depicted with a serene face of love, grasps Peter’s hand. Lanfranco further underlines this relationship representing both Peter and Jesus in blue attire. Compositionally, the scene in the foreground is imposed on a highly charged and dynamic background. Though Jesus’s vestments reflect the turbulence of the surrounding climate, his posture is upright and undisturbed contrasting both Peter and the rest of the Apostles’ active, diagonal stances as well as the tempestuous scenery. Jesus’s left hand gestures upward, urging Peter to recall his faith denoted by the cherubs and break in the clouds. One could also metaphorically interpret the painting reading the storm striking fear in the apostles as representing sin and temptation. As Peter’s faith falters, he begins to sink into the water, but Jesus saves him.

 

The Navicella (“little ship”) of Old Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, mosaic by Giotto di Bondone

The artist, Giovanni Lanfranco (1582 -1647), was an early proponent of the Baroque style, which is characterized by lavishly theatrical settings and scenes, emotionally intense depictions representing both physical and psychological states, and dramatic use of color with strong contrasts between light and dark. The Baroque style flourished in Europe during the early 17ththrough the late 18thcentury, and its influence is identifiable most prominently in the architecture, art, and music of the time. The Baroque artwork is highly ornamented and extravagant, directly reacting to the artistic austerity espoused by Martin Luther and the Reformation movement.

Here are some other characteristic examples of Baroque artwork featured in the Vatican Museum’s Pinacoteca:

Giovanni Battista Gaulli, called Baciccia, (Genoa 1639 – Rome 1709)
Vision of St Francis Xavier, c.1675
Oil on canvas, 64.5 x 46 cm
Cat. 41489

 

Guido Reni, (Bologna 1575 -1642)
Crucifixion of St Peter, 1604-1605
Oil on wood, 305 x 171 cm
Cat. 40387

Lanfranco studied in Parma, his birthplace, under Agostino Caracci and was inspired by Correggio’s fresco work in the surrounding Italian region. He spent the majority of his career in Rome working on frescoes such as those in the Sala Regia, though he also worked in Naples from 1634 to 1646. He made his name as a progressive and efficient fresco artist especially adept at painting domes. In 1626, Urban VIII commissioned Lanfranco to replace an altarpiece (also depicting the Navicella) painted by Bernardo Castello. Upon hearing that his work in St. Peter’s Basilica, the highpoint of his career, would be replaced due to its deterioration, Castello is said to have become distraught.

There is a long history of depictions of this scene in the basilica particularly because of the connection it has with the primacy of St. Peter among the other Apostles. Castello’s previous altarpiece was commissioned by Pope Clement VIII (1592-1605) in an attempt to use the image of Peter as the Vicar of Christ to reaffirm papal power as a response to Protestant publicity. Despite being painted in fresco, Lanfranco’s work also began to deteriorate soon after. It was successively restored 1662 by Raffaele Vanni, then in 1687 and 1694 by Giuseppe Montano. The current composition was transferred to its current place in the Benediction Loggia in 1721 and was replaced by Pietro Paolo Cristofari’s mosaic replica in 1727.

The latest restoration process was sponsored by Bruce Waller from the Illinois chapter in 2013. Thanks to his support, the legacy of this piece and the continued presence of the Navicella narrative will endure for years to come. Lanfranco’s Navicella is by far his most dramatic piece painted in Rome and is considered the peak of his artistic development in the Baroque style.

[1]The current version of Giotto’s Navicella is a heavily restored mosaic reaffixed at the command of Pope Paul V. Only fragments remain of the original after a copy was made in 1675.

 

See you soon Catie

Saying goodbye has never been one of my strong suits and having to say goodbye to all the members of the Patron’s office is no exception. This summer I had the unforgettable experience to intern for an organization that is extremely close to my family’s and my heart. It was a true joy to get to know and work with all of the women in the office…and of course, can’t forget Fr. Kevin! I was blown away by how passionate all of the people in the office are for this organization and how patient they were with myself and the other two interns, Harriet and Zoe.

During my time at the Patron’s, I was assigned the project of creating a case study comparing The PAVM to other similar nonprofits. In doing so, I was able to create a website that laid out what PAVM does well and ideas from other nonprofits that we could implement. Getting to speak with people from the Friends of The Louvre and the Papal Foundation and learn about the ways they run their nonprofits was such a fantastic experience. I was also able to begin the working on creating member spotlights for the new website. I was such a great experience to learn all of the different stories and connections that current members of The PAVM have!

This internship was also extremely spiritual fulfilling. Being able to attend mass each week in St. Peter’s Basilica and to work in a place that is a constant reminder of the Catholic faith was more than I could have ever asked for in an internship.

I cannot thank everyone in the office enough for allowing me to have such an unbelievable experience. The kindness and support that they all showed was so fulfilling, and their hard work and dedication to the organization was beyond inspiring. I will miss each and every member in the office, but I am excited to see how each of them will continue to excel in all of the work that they do.

When it comes to my co-workers, Harriet and Zoe were absolutely the best two girls I could have ever asked to have as fellow interns. They are both so driven and passionate about living life to the fullest and were truly inspiring! Our hard work, ventures around the different galleries, and frequent trips to buy Oreos at the vending machines are just a few of the little things that I will always cherish.

Having the experience to intern for a nonprofit outside of the United States has opened my eyes to all of the potential possibilities that come with working for a nonprofit. While I am extremely sad to leave Rome, I am very excited to see where my future takes me and will always keep this experience extremely close to my heart. Vatican City has always been one of my absolute favorite places, and after this summer that love has grown ten times over! So instead of goodbye, I’m going to say “see you later” because I hope to be back in Rome very soon!

Bundu Costume

Although a rather foreign looking ensemble in the western world, the Bundu Costume bears connotations of femininity, fertility, and regard for the common good.  The costume is used in the women’s Bundu or Sande Society in Africa found across groups in Guinea, Siera Leone, and Liberia.  The role of the society is to educate young women to grow in feminine and maternal values, and to mature into roles in adult society as wives, mothers, administrators, and political leaders.  Part of initiation is to teach young girls the secrets of herbal medications and spiritual rights to help people who are ill in body, mind, and soul. The Bundu costume was worn by women during the ceremony. It consists of a striking facemask, or Sowei headpiece, with a collar made from very long organic plant fibers that completely cover the identity of the woman.

The costume features a carved mask, the only kind worn by women south of the Sahara. Although worn by women, they are hand fashioned by men, remarkably with quite elementary tools.  Each is different its details, but all embody the culture’s concept of iconic female beauty, especially from the standpoint of modesty and moral values prized in the society. Masks are carved with an exaggerated forehead, referencing a noble character, and the downwardly cast eyes indicate humility and modesty. Many masks also have slight slashing marks around the cheek area, which speak of how beauty is not manifested in a pristine exterior, but rather how suffering, serving, and integrating into culture are the marks of beauty.

This piece became part of the Vatican Collections after the Order of the Fathers of the Holy Spirit sent it to be displayed in the Museums’ Missionary Exhibition of 1925.  It is a rare gem, containing not only the mask, but all of the original constructive elements of the costume used in the Sande ritual dance.

 

Restoration & Conservation

When the costume arrived in the hands of the Vatican, there was a great deal for the team at the Polymateric Laboratory to consider.  The first phase of the restoration involved an anoxic disinfestation treatment. Since the mannequin on which the costume was displayed showed problems of stability, it was secured by two metal vertical poles.  A plastic covering was put around the mannequin and the support structure in order to disinfect the piece, a process that lasted 24 days.

Many fibers were stiff and weak. The wired elements had rusted, and the oxidized iron penetrated into the fabric fiber bands were sewn on the jacket using thick twine (2mm in diameter) and, because of their weight, created numerous lacerations on the fabric.  In this phase, the conservators had to perform a series of scientific investigations in collaboration with the Laboratory for Conservation and Restoration Diagnostics that included both x-ray images of the work from a front view, and sampling from various areas to identify plant fiber species and the type of cloth used to construct the jacket and trousers. The restorers could then consolidate the plant fibers with a special substance called jun funori diluted to 1% in a solution of distilled water (60 %) and ethyl alcohol (40 %) using an airbrush spray. Given its critical condition the team decided to temporarily remove the fiber bands from the costume to repair them with greater facility. The whole suit was “vacuumed” with a micro-nozzle dust extractor. Then, a new canvas was dyed to match the original cloth and sewn to reinforce the jacket interiorly.  Finally, the helmet mask had lost its luminosity, and had many abrasions on the surface.  Some of the detailed carved elements on the crown of the mask were missing, evident from the natural light color of the wood that showed through. Pieces of the mask were also repositioned with nails. The helmet also got a good dusting, repair, and plant fibers were re-affixed to it.  Thanks to the dexterity of the restorers’ hands, the Bundu, which embodies connotations of serving others and preserving feminine beauty gives testimony to these core familial values to all who visit the Ethnological Museum.

The Bundu Costume was restored thanks to the Michigan Chapter.

 

MEET THE MAN WITH THE KEYS TO THE VATICAN

Every morning Gianni Crea unlocks the doors to history.

“The real privilege is being able, every day, to walk through this and each day learn something new,” says Gianni Crea, head key keeper of the Vatican Museums. “You’re walking through history and you read lessons that all the popes to this date have preserved.”

The Gallery of Statues and the Hall of Busts showcase works like the Sleeping Ariadne and frescoes painted by Pinturicchio. PHOTOGRAPH BY ALBERTO BERNASCONI, MUSEI VATICANI

“Each morning when I enter the Sistine Chapel I experience a string of emotions,” Crea says. PHOTOGRAPH BY ALBERTO BERNASCONI, MUSEI VATICANI

Can’t make it to the Museums this summer? You can still take a behind the scenes look at the man who opens the collections to the 28,000 daily visitors with Gulnaz Khan of National Geographic.

Khan offers a striking profile on Gianni Crea, the head key keeper at the Vatican Museums, detailing the clavigero’s unique perspective on the beauty and significance of the works he watches over. As a devout Catholic, Crea deeply understands the power and special mission of art in faith.

With complete humility, he states “I’m a simple custodian, but for me the beautiful thing is to conserve and look after the keys of history” as he enables guests from all different cultures and religions to find something moving within the collections.

“I know the smell that is waiting for me when I open the first door is the smell of history—the smell that men before us have breathed in.” It’s the very same ground that they have walked, loved, and cried on, he says.

“I have the keys, figuratively speaking, of the history of Christianity—both Christian history and the history of art,” Crea says. “The Vatican Museums, including the Raffaello Rooms and the Sistine Chapel, are among the most beautiful works of art in the world.” PHOTOGRAPH BY ALBERTO BERNASCONI, MUSEI VATICANI

If you want to read more visit the following link:

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/destinations/europe/vatican-city/key-keeper-vatican-museums-photos/?cmpid=org=ngp::mc=social::src=facebook::cmp=editorial::add=fbp20180707travel-newmankeysvatican::rid=&sf193274793=1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reopening with new layout of the Saint Paul archaeological area

On the eve of the Solemnity of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and exactly five years since its first inauguration in 2013, the archaeological area of the Monks’ Orchard of Saint Paul Outside-the-Walls will complete a long and complex musealisation project, reopening to the public with a new layout, particularly functional and evocative in terms of the museographic and lighting solutions adopted.

In offering to pilgrims and tourists, in an unprecedented and precious look at medieval Rome, the reopening of the site constitutes the concluding moment of an important and complex conservation, restoration and enhancement project that has involved the fruitful interdisciplinary collaboration of various institutional actors, from the Administration of the Papal Basilica as promoter, to the Vatican Museums via the Department of Christian Antiquities and the Conservator’s Office, from the Pontifical Institute of Christian Archaeology to the School for Specialisation in Architectural and Landscape Heritage of “La Sapienza” University of Rome, as well as the Superior Institute for Conservation and Restoration.

The definitive musealisation project involved the completion of the restoration and cleaning of the ancient walls, and of the floor, wall and ceiling surfaces, the production of more structured lighting systems, the improvement of didactic materials, the in situ display of materials discovered during the excavation, the construction of a boardwalk with elements in crystal and steel and, last but not least, the organization of an ordinary maintenance service for the site to prevent its deterioration and to ensure conservation over time, always with the minimal use additional signs and the adoption of the criterion of minimal intervention.

Useful Links: www.basilicasanpaolo.org

 

At the Table with the Gods. Illustrated Plates from the Carpegna Collections

July 4th, 2018
Sala XVII, Pinacoteca

Following the culmination of the Metal Restoration Laboratory and the Vatican Museums Ceramics Department’s careful restoration work, a precious set of illustrated ceramic plates from the Carpegna Collection can be admired before it soon joins a permanent collection. This special exhibit will open for the summer season on July 4th and will be located in the prestigious Vatican Pinacoteca in Room XVII, which has hosted the prior original initiatives of the Museums at Work expositions.

This “little exhibit,” titled At the Table with the Gods. Illustrated Plates from the Carpegna Collection, is curated by Guido Cornini and is based on a previously successful format, established through The Pope’s Museums. The exposition also serves as a lively workshop for study and research, aiming to communicate and enhance the knowledge and the many daily activities within the Museums. Among the pieces in the collection, are thirty-three out of thirty-four illustrated majolica ceramics, which joined the Decorative Arts Department of the Vatican Museums in 1999 from the old collections of the Apostolic Library.

This set of historically and artistically valuable artifacts were made in the late sixteenth century by the skilled majolica masters of Urbino based on designs by painters from the school of Raphael. Although they are some of the most fascinating seventeenth-century collectibles, they constitute one of the least noted chapters.

Four large thematic groups can be identified in the designs and decorations that characterize the precious set of ceramics. They range from biblically inspired scenes, portraying stories from the Old Testament and the Gospels, to mythological depictions, treating both literary and allegorical topics.

The Carpegna plates collection display is a project sponsored by Mr. & Mrs. Carey of the California Chapter 

The Patrons Office Welcomes Three Summer Interns

For the next three months, our office will host three interns to assist us during the busy summer season. Each of the interns has been assigned a project reflecting their interests and will receive guidance from the staff member they are working with most closely. They will all have the opportunity to engage with the vast collections of the Vatican museums, and grow professionally and spiritually in their positions.

Harriet Fink, Catherine Johnson and Zoe Romanoski

Zoe Romanoski is originally from Tucson, Arizona and recently graduated from the University of Notre Dame this past May of 2018. She has a double major in I.T. Analytics & Operations, and Art History, which she hopes will be instrumental to her internship as she works to create a comprehensive database for PAVM. Zoe could not be happier to be back in Rome, having studied abroad here for the spring semester of 2017, and developed a fervent admiration of Italian language, food, music, and art. This summer, Zoe is most looking forward to observing how the Vatican Museums operate from a business perspective, especially regarding the role of the patrons in preserving the Vatican’s timeless masterpieces.

“Thus far the PAVM internship has been nothing short of astonishing- we enter our place of work through the colonnade arms of St. Peter’s and I can’t help but gape at Bernini’s immense accomplishment. Everyday mundane tasks are turned extraordinary as us interns run errands through the Apostolic Palace, or across the Vatican Gardens. It is truly evident that we are amidst some of the greatest minds the world ever knew. I love noting the Barberini bees of Pope Urban VIII on my favorite artworks, and having the opportunity to explore previous restoration projects with my fellow interns. Each day is better than the last, and I cannot wait to see what else the internship has in store for us!”

Catie Johnson is from Atlanta, Georgia and will complete her final year at Auburn University in the fall. At Auburn, she is majoring in marketing with a minor in nonprofit and philanthropy. Catie plans to attend graduate school after graduation and following graduate school, she hopes to obtain a job working for a nonprofit organization. Catie is extremely excited to implement not only her marketing skills, but also her knowledge of nonprofit organizations during this summer internship. While she has been to Rome many times with her family, Catie has never been able to explore Rome by herself and for such a length of time. She could not be more excited to be in one of her favorite cities doing something that she truly has a passion for!

“I was extremely excited to walk into work on the first day but really did not know what to expect. I was blown away with the joy and kindness that all of the employees have not only for their work, but also each other. When you walk into this office it is very clear that all of these women (and Fr. Kevin) have so much passion for the PAVM and all of the people that work for the organization. The other two interns, Zoe and Harriet, and I have had the best first week and I am so excited to see all of the things that we will be able to experience and learn for the next month and a half. Just being able to skip the tour lines was crazy for me…and that is only the beginning!”

Harriet Fink, a Washington D.C. native, will be starting her senior year at the University of Notre Dame in late August. In South Bend, she studies Philosophy and Medieval Studies. She spent the previous semester at the University of Bologna and hopes to continue improving her Italian. Harriet is looking forward to living in a new city and exploring all of the incredible collections at the Vatican Museums. This summer she will be helping our office compile restoration information about past Wishbook projects for an updated website as well as complete some translation work.

“Every morning my walk to work is a completely surreal experience as I bypass the interwoven lines of thousands of tourists waiting to enter the museums. It has been a fantastic experience so far to meet Patrons coming from all over the world and even tag along on some of their tours. I really appreciate the chance to work in an office that genuinely cares about its interns. The other interns and I are all very excited to be working on projects that are tailored to our interests as well as have the opportunity to see how the museums function from an insider’s perspective. It’s truly a humbling experience to not be able to look around without seeing beautiful art or architecture. At the end of each day, I descend Giuseppe Momo’s spiral staircase, which depicts the hundreds of years of history of the museums, thinking about how grateful I am to intern here. This will certainly be a formative experience for me, and I know it’s going to be difficult to leave at the end of the summer!”

We are happy to welcome our three interns and hope that if you have a chance to visit our office in Rome this summer, you can come by and introduce yourself!

THE SOUND OF ART

The Office of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums was pleased to host a group of patients from the Bambino Gesù Hospital, a children’s hospital located in Rome under the administration of the Holy See. Our guests, ranging in ages from 3 to 10, gathered in the Vatican Museums with their siblings and parents for a day of summer camp fun. The Vatican in collaboration with the hospital aimed to provide a day of reprieve for these children who suffered from some form of disability, particularly regarding visual impairments. The children were able to participate in activities that largely incorporated sensory stimulation. They gathered leaves and sticks in the Vatican Gardens, physically interacted with statues and busts in the Museo Gregoriano Profano, and even took a “magic carpet” ride—a mechanism that radiated vibrations from music so those hearing-impaired guests could dance along. Our interns had the opportunity to observe as the children played with sound effects of a dinner party. The children erupted into giggles and clapping as the sounds mimicked a kiss, a breaking plate, and even a burp! Soon after, it was revealed the relevance of the sounds was in connection to the floor mosaic below their very feet, the “Asàrotos òikos” mosaic that is scattered with images of a dirty floor left over in an ancient banquet hall. Through the cohesion of various sensory activities (sight, touch, and sound) that are integral to the experience of artifacts in the Vatican Museums, we hope that the children were able to gain an appreciation for that which is housed within our walls.

Project sponsored by the Italian and International Chapter of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums, Robyn & Kingsley Mundey and organized by Doctor Isabella Salandri – Public Relations Officer of the Vatican Museums.

 

 

FRAGMENT OF A SARCOPHAGUS

Miracles happen every day. 

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 16th century, during the Catholic response to the Reformation.Knowledge of early Church and her works became key.

In the 18th century, 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 the first 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 2nd to 4th centuries, etched in the stone sarcophagi in this collection. This frontal sarcophagus piece is one of many that bears witness to the precious Christian artifacts, as 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 after thrown 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 and next miracle? It is how the Vatican restorers brought this piece of heritage and faith back to life. The sarcophagus is a relief sculpture 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 the surfaces of sarcophagi often show widespread scratches and exfoliation phenomena. 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.