Just over two months after the presentation of Etruscanning, the celebrated Regolini-Galassi Etruscan tomb again becomes the focus of attention on Tuesday 18 June, with a study day organised by the Vatican Museums and the CNR-ISMA, entirely… dedicated to the study and restoration of three ancient carts found among the funerary goods. The Etruscan vehicles, again on display at the Gregorian Etruscan Museum, return to public view and admiration in their new reconstructed forms.
Artist: Carlo Crivelli
Date: 1488 ca.
Dimensions: 105 x 205 cm
Material: Tempera and gold on wood
Restoration efforts made possible by the generosity of the Philadelphia Patrons Chapter
This lunette shaped tablet recalls a rich tradition of other pietas with the same iconography and has long since been identified as the “Painting of Carlo Crivelli representing the dead Christ. The Governo Pontificio bought the piece from Bernardino Giusti for the Capitoline collection in 1831 and placed it in the Vatican Pinacoteca in 1838.
The painting represents the dead Christ is placed in a seated position between the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene and St. John the Evangelist who mourn over him with anguished gestures. The otherwise simple background is decorated with an opaque pattern of winged angels. The foreground is dominated by a ledge on which Christ is laid and from which a woven drapery is languidly hung. The lifeless body of the Son of God is on a parapet and is held in veneration by the faithful, both delimiting the physical space and at the same time separating the scene from the viewer. It also marks an imaginary divide between the empirical and figurative world.
In this same context, the liturgical applications of this separation should not be underestimated considering the original sacred setting of the piece, destined to be looked at from down below as it sat in the niche of an apse. The painting’s origins in the Marche where it was originally found lend credence to the theory proposed by Pietro Zampetti in which the painting of Crivelli would have sat in the lunette of an altarpiece originally in San Pietro di Muralto. This church was a Conventual Franciscan church in Camarino (1488) whose main painting is the Mother and Child in the act of giving the keys to St. Peter amidst a crowd formed by St. Francis, Cipriano, Ludovico di Toloso, Ansovinio, Giovanni da Capistrano and Jacopo della Marca.
This lunette represents a later Crivelli style when, under the influence of the Umbrian school, the monumental presentation of the figures with pathetic expressions are mixed in a slower rhythm favoring their decorative function.
State of Preservation
The support of the lunette presents some difficulties since both the lateral and horizontal supports do not compensate adequately for the natural flexing of the wood, therefore cracks have formed. The presence of certain wood-eating pests has also damaged the wood from the back side.
The pictorial surface also suffers some weaknesses. There are lesions and peeling of the original pigments from the base, particularly in the points of pressure caused by the axis of the supports. The presence of an altered state of the varnish has led to a strong “yellowing” and general darkening of the colors. There are localized chromatic variations that also noticeably affect the reading of the painting.
Date: 19ty-20th Century
Material: Feathers of the Bird of Paradise, Bamboo, Vegetable Fibers, Shells, Wood
This elegant ceremonial headdress with two feathered sceptres belonged to the Mekeo population in Papua New Guinea, and dates from the early twentieth century. These objects were donated in 1925 by the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart to the new Missionary Ethnological Museum.
This ceremonial attire, composed of an elegant ritual headdress was made with feathers of various birds including birds of paradise and cockatoos, commissioned by the missionaries to the Mekeo natives. Thus these pieces are a perfect reproduction of the original traditional attire used in the Mekeo ceremonies. Reports state that the making of such objects was an ancient secret of the mountain people.
In 1629, Pope Urban VIII Barberini, commissioned Bernini to build an altar dedicated to the Blessed Sacrament, but which was completed only in 1673-1674 under Pope Clement X Altieri.
Bernini completed an altar with a tabernacle, flanked by two kneeling and adoring angels, of these two angels produced for the bronze castes, we still have one surviving model.
Materials and Implements
The materials used for these models are mainly clay combined with straw. The straw was used in the impasto in order to prevent the formation of cracks during the drying process.
This impasto, made of clay and straw, is shaped on a wrought iron structure fixed to a vertical wooden support.
In some areas, the internal structure is covered with bundles of vine branches tied with twine used to increase the thickness where necessary.
The mixture of clay was applied layer upon layer with different compositions and thicknesses. The final polished surface is the result of the spreading of a thin layer of fine clay painted with clay-water over the various strata which produce variable thicknesses.
Some documents of the time which refer to the construction of these models evidence the use of materials like bundles of sticks, hay, cart delivered clay, as well as tortori which were braids of straw or hay generally used for cleaning horses.
These materials can be easily seen in those areas where the molded surface is lost, leaving exposed the lower layers also called superfici di frattura.
Preparatory models for the bronze angels of the Chair of St. Peter
These Bernini Angels are very important works because they illustrate how a masterpiece is born, while their high quality gives evidence of Bernini’s direct intervention in their creation.
The purpose of these bronze sculptures was to guard the venerated relic of the Cathedra in wood and ivory, on which, according to medieval tradition, St. Peter sat to instruct the early Christians (however, the throne was given to Pope John VII by the Emperor Charles the Bald in 875 AD).
The Bernini models testify Bernini’s hard work on this project which lasted ten years and was modified several times over this period. The angels, in fact, have different sizes and attest two stages of work. The final Cathedra which is now visible in St. Peter’s, is more than double the original design.
In 1658-1660, a natural size model of the Cathedra was completed in wood and plaster and then placed in the apse of St. Peter to check the proportions of the whole. Right afterward the first models of the angels were placed in their position but they appeared too small to Bernini’s friend and painter Andrea Sacchi who said: “These statues should be a good hand width bigger … and Bernini who had already realized on his own that the statues were too small, decided to remake them” (L. Pascoli, Vite, 1730). With the help of sculptors Ercole Ferrata and Antonio Raggi, Bernini decided to enlarge the models, and performed a second version of the Angels used for casting in bronze.
The room of the Tributes is located at the southern end of the Gallery of the “Ancient Library in the Vatican Museums.” The name “Sala degli Indirizzi” was given to this room during the pontificate of Pio XI (1922-1939), who decided to display the tributes of homage sent to Pope Leo XIII and Saint Pio X by the faithful dioceses throughout the world.
The decoration of the vault, the lunettes and the frieze were all completed by Andrea Giorgini and Filippo Agricola in 1818 during the Pontificate of Pope Pius VII. All the artwork was in very poor condition for a long period of time.
Before the restoration commenced, the painted surfaces exhibited a considerable concentration of debris and scaling of the pigments with eminent loss of colours and cracks on the pictorial surface, especially on the blue background. The surface of the ceiling and lunettes still bears fissures in the wooden material and stucco frames. The lunettes with the prophets display several previous touch-ups done through the centuries.
The restorers Marco Pratelli and Bruno Mattei along with Maestro Maurizio De Luca, Head of the Restoration Labs, and Professor Ulderico Santamaria, Head of the Scientific Laboratory, did several tests to determine which restoration process would be most suitable. After a time of trail, they developed a special process to clean these works given that they have special characteristics – tempera a secco (on the plaster ceiling) as well as on the wood decorations. Their patient application of the scientific method has given wonderful results as you will witness in your visit and as shown in the attached photographs.
They have finished several of the lunettes already as well as various decorative designs in wood. In general the various elements that enter into the work are the following: Vacuum removal of the superficial deposits, re-stabilising the pictorial surface using acrylic resin, cleaning of the painted surfaces, re-stabilising the adhesion between the wall support and the plaster, sealing cracks and crevices, pictorial reintegration by watercolour technique and pigments in powder form.
The lunette of tempera on wood at the end of the hall has been removed and sent to a different restoration department since they were more adapt for this kind of restoration.
The Room of the Tributes was restored thanks to the generosity of Joseph Incaudo of the California Chapter, in loving memory of his wife, Beatrice.
This fragile painting of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary depicts a beautiful and valuable representation of the Virgin Mary offering her sacred belt to the apostle, Thomas. The iconography in this painting was very well known in Tuscany at the end of the thirteenth century and refers to a story found in the apocryphal gospel of St. Thomas. The incredulous apostle Thomas arrives from India at the sepulchre of the Virgin Mary and finds it inexplicably empty. After, Thomas has a vision of the Virgin Mary. In his vision, Mary appears to him offering her cincture as a symbol of the miracle of her perpetual virginity and thus, assumption into heaven. The relic of the cincture of Saint Mary was found in Jerusalem before the Second Crusade and has been kept in the Chapel of the Dome since 1141 in Prato, Tuscany.
In this Assumption of the Virgin, the landscape in the background illustrates hills and mountains leading into the horizon. At the bottom of the composition, lies the sarcophagus from where the Virgin is prodigiously taken to Heaven by the Angels. Surrounding her are St. Rocco, patron of pilgrims and plague-stricken persons, and an unidentified female martyr at her side. Both of these saints are painted in a frontal position to illustrate a sacred conversation among them. St. Bartholomew, patron of tanners and butchers, is also present. What little we can read of the style indicates a strong influence of the fifteenth century, but the face shapes and decoration on the façade of the sarcophagus, is evidence that this likely dates from the early sixteenth century. Unfortunately, the seriously damaged state of the painting does not allow a more detailed reading of the style and subjects.
State of Preservation
Currently, this painting is extremely fragile. The back of the panel is composed of several horizontal boards and crossbars. Unfortunately, the crossbars prevent natural movement of the wood and have caused several cracks and fissures on the painted surface. The entire pictorial surface is damaged and the colors are faded, thus it is extremely difficult to get a clear view of the painted subjects. The extension of these lacunae required the application of a temporary Japanese paper cover.
This exquisite marble statue of Perseus is being restored thanks to the Generosity of the Northwest Chapter of the Patrons of the Arts.
Antonio Canova is one of the most important Italian sculptors of all time. His marble statues are characterized by classical beauty and they are now on display in the most important museums in the world.
Antonio Canova (1757 – 1822) was born in Possagno, a village near Venice. He spent most of his youth studying, with a strong bias towards the art of sculpture, and was greatly rewarded by the benefit of his grandfather’s stonecutting. His move to Rome as a young man gave him the opportunity to examine the splendid relics of antiquity, and put his abilities to the test.
Canova’s Perseus had not been commissioned by anyone, thus he put it up for sale. Giuseppe Bossi, secretary of the Academy of Brera, and personal friend of the sculptor wanted to place the Perseus in the Foro Bonaparte and he had already begun the payments when a letter came from Cardinal Doria informing Canova that Pope Pius VII wanted to buy the sculpture for 3,000 gold coins in order to place it in the Vatican Museum. Thus, the Perseus was moved to the Vatican and was placed on the empty pedestal of the famous Apollo Belvedere which had previously been moved to Paris by the French, following the Treaty of Tolentino. Pope Pius VII also appointed Canova with the prestigious award received by Raphael under Leo X: the Inspector General of Fine Arts. The location of the statue on the pedestal of the famous Apollo together with the nomination of the sculptor as Inspector, consecrated Canova’s success.
The imposing statue depicts the hero of Greek mythology Perseus, son of Zeus and Danaë, with the helmet of Pluto (which had the power of invisibility), the winged sandals of Mercury and the diamond sword given to him by Vulcan.
These gifts were granted to Perseus in order to allow the hero to defeat Medusa, against whom he was sent by Polykleitos, king of the island of Serifos.
Canova represented the Perseus triumphantly raising his left arm with the head of Medusa. The excitement of the action is frozen as is customary of the classical style. The Argive hero has similar proportions and positioning to the Apollo Belvedere.
By following the classical theme of the heroic male nude in action, Canova seems to have been able to achieve results as advised by Winckelmann and the Neoclassical age, according to which the only way to become great is to be inspired by ancient models. Stendhal said that Canova imitated the Greeks, but like them, his genius invented a new beauty.
The Annunciation Near a Seaside Town by Marco Palmezzano came to the Vatican Pinocoteca in 1909 after having first been in the Lateran Pinacoteca from 1844.
The encounter of the Virgin Mary with the Angel occurs outside the entrance of a palatial portico. A seaside town is in the background. The bay is teeming with ships. A second church-like building, crowned with statues at the base of its cupola, lifts heavenward an octagonal tower decorated by ornate classical marble statues and reliefs, framing this angelic greeting in a classical setting.
The Eternal Father who is surrounded by a glory of cherubs with the earth in his right hand, watches over the Annunciation. Mary interrupts the prayers she is reciting and stands from the pillow on which she is kneeling to listen to the words of the divine messenger. On the left Gabriel, kneeling before the Virgin is profiled while his right hand holds a lily and the right is extended in a gesture of salutation. Opposite him, Mary, standing before the ambo, crosses her arms over her chest in an expression of mixed unrest, distress, emotion, and confusion.
This painting was moved to the restoration laboratories due to the peeling of the colors. The previous support was made of ten vertical axis held by three transversal pieces. The frame was fixed with a variety of “butterfly” inserts. These inserts have since caused some problems because they do not allow for the proper flexibility, thus creating new fissures and lesions on the support and pictorial surface. Multiple types of insects have also infiltrated the wood.
The pictorial surface had been darkened by a slight layer of altered varnish that had compromised a correct reading of the colours. These were located above all on the extremities of the painting. Cohesion and adhesion of the pigments were generally satisfactory, but the paint along the junctions of the panels and the unions of the axis of support was in critical condition.
The beams were damaged at several points. The butterfly inserts were also deformed and damaged, thus causing new cracks in several places. Subsequent signs of deterioration were observed in the preparation and on the paint film.
The restoration consisted of a protective coating of the front in order to fix the back structure of the wooden panel and insert wooden wedges along the fractures (fissures). The back of the panel was provided with a new system which will support the movements of the panel itself. In regard to the front, the work was welded at the pigments and a reintegration of the missing parts made possible with water colors. The restoration was completed with an overall aesthetic rendering and a layer of final protective varnish.
This restoration was made possible due to the generosity of Mr. Richard Zappone from the Pennsylvania Chapter.
Maria Ludmila Pustka
Maria Ludmila Pustka has been Director of the Painting Restoration Laboratory in the Vatican Museums since 2011. She received the title of Master Restorer in the Vatican in 2006.
Romina works as a project manager and coordinator, serving as the chief liaison between all restoration laboratories of the Vatican Museums, the Patrons Office and the donors in addition to conducting exclusive Patrons tours.