Three Crosses Restored Thanks to Our Michigan Chapter

Restorations are complete on three beautiful crucifixes!In 2007, Carlo and Lucia Barocchi donated three exquisite crosses to Pope Benedict XVI. One was a 14th century copper crucifix of the “archaic” style, a second in gilded silver was from the 17th century and a third (the oldest) dates back to the late middle ages. After being put in our Wishbook a restoration of these pieces was supported by Tony and Suzanne Rea of the Michigan Chapter. The spectacular final results are due to their patronage and the efforts of our wonderful restorers of the Decorative Arts Department.

Barocchi Crucifixes Collection, Michigan Chapter from Vatican Patrons of the Arts on Vimeo.

Bernini Angel Update

Bernini Angels UPDATE! Restorations continue on one of the Vatican’s prized possessions. Find out why these beautiful Bernini Angels were scheduled to be burned by clicking here!

Bernini Angel, New York Chapter from Vatican Patrons of the Arts on Vimeo.

For more restoration updates check out our behind-the-scenes videos here. 

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:

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

Series of 48 Bookcases Under Restoration

Our Art Historian, Romina, illuminates the restorations on 48 amazing bookcases completed by Mario Cretoni in the mid 19th century. These currently live in the Gallery of Urban VIII.  The delicately ornate bookcases feature scenes of Rome and the Vatican from the 1800s. Thank you to our Florida Chapter for helping us restore these Vatican treasures.

See the video here!

Cretoni’s Bookcases, FL Chapter from Vatican Patrons of the Arts on Vimeo.

Restoration of Etruscan Treasures – Thanks to Our Florida Patrons

One of the most fruitful bronze age sites has been the Tomb of Regolini Galassi. Discovered in 1836 in Cerveteri this tomb can still be visited today. Etruscan tombs of this kind often held ceremonial artifacts in gold, bronze, and silver and excavation here unearthed a chariot, silverware, gilded and bronze ware and precious jewels assumed to be the property of the deceased.etruscan treasures 2

Today, several artifacts from this excavation grace the Vatican Museum and thanks to the support of our Florida Patrons (particularly Mr. and Mrs. John Koch) they are being properly cared for and restored. In particular, eleven bronze ribbed paterae (plates), originally placed along the cell walls of the tomb as well as ceremonial vases of oriental origin that were used in entombment rituals of Etruscan royal classes are being cleaned and refurbished for display. In addition, four ceremonial shields have been restored and their parts reconnected/strengthened using “resina epossidica” – a special artificial acrylic resin that allows the reintegration of missing areas without negative reaction to the bronze surface.

This important project restoring some of the most representative Etruscan artifacts extant, shows a true glimpse into history and the lives (and deaths) of people from over 2500 years ago.

Watch this video of Restorer Chiara Omodei Zorin from the Metal and Ceramics Restoration Lab for more information and a behind-the-scenes look!


If this project interests you – consider becoming a Patron 

Check out more restoration videos on our site by clicking here.

This Dashing Dacian Prince has Been Fully Restored!

With work beginning in 2012, we are happy to say that this colossal statue of a defeated prince has been fully restored and is ready for display. The statue was part of a decorative scheme used to adorn the great Trajan Forum inaugurated by the Emperor in 113 AD. The impressive piece depicts a Dace prince dressed in a long tunic – arms crossed in front of his body in a attitude associated with prisoners. The sculpture is made of pavonazzetto – a white marble extracted from purple veins in the quarries of ancient Phrygia, in the heart of Turkey.  These pavonazzetto sculptures were larger than those in white marble, thus they were possibly placed on the top of the decorated arcade.

How do you restore a prince?

A Deep Wash:

The process of restoration was extensive and took meticulous effort. Primarily, cleaning of surface deposits were accomplished using  compresses of deionized water. This brought out the real sheen of the purple veined marble.

Keeping his integrity – with lasers!:

During the restoration, a light coating applied in ancient times was discovered that probably balanced the stone material’s integration. Restorers Dr. Giandomenico Spinola and Dr. Claudia Valeri decided to respect this and with laser cleaning were able to approximate the original look of the statue.

No such thing as a small surgery:

Parts of the piece had to be dismantled in order to finish the job. A steel pin from the 1800s that held part of the cloak in place was replaced and his nose had to be removed to care for the wax-resin that had anchored it in ancient times.

Finally the fingers:

In the end, the original parts of the fingers were repositioned and adhered with plaster colored to match the statue using watercolors.

Though not yet on display because of finishing touches on the pedestal – prepare to see the Dacian Prince in all his glorious defeat very soon in the halls of the museum.

Before Restoration

Before Restoration


During Restoration

After Restoration

After Restoration







NEW EDITION of a Beautiful Text: “The Painted Word: The Popes and The Art”

One of our hidden gems is a publication that the Vatican Museums Patrons Office originally put out in 2011. The new edition, amended in 2014, now features an introduction by Fr. Mark.

The book is the fourth in the popular “Painted Word” series and includes  a reproduction of memorable speeches and letters regarding art and artists  delivered by several of our most recent popes.

The text has been illuminated with beautiful photographs of notable Vatican treasures while highlighting the work of the Patrons Office from years past.  Specifically, this book reproduces the full text of the “Speech on Memorable Artists” that Benedict XVI delivered on November 21, 2009 in the beautiful setting of the Sistine Chapel, introduced by the words of Card. Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, and ornamented by an evocative chronicle of that day from Antonio Paolucci, director of the Vatican Museums. This is followed by the “Letter to Artists” by St. John Paul II from April 4, 1999, and the “Homily for Artists” by Pope Paul VI from May 7, 1964.Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 8.50.22 AM

This valuable evidence of the love of the popes for the art world is an exquisite addition to any collection, and the entire series is remarkable for its direct connection to the works in the Vatican Museums.

Click here to purchase a copy directly from the museum.

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 8.51.51 AM

Wrapping Up Another Restoration: Vatican Mummy Project

Thanks to the generosity of Cecil and Susan Hawkins of the Canadian Chapter, the Vatican Museums is proud to announce that the conservation of the Mummy of an Unknown Man has been completed. The mummy was in dire need of preservation due to degraded bandages and evidence of infestation. However, due to the hard work of Dr. Alessia Amenta and her team, the mummy has now been preserved for future generations.

Before the work began on the project, the Egyptian department knew that the mummy was a male likely between the ages of 35 and 50. The corpse was completely wrapped in bandages except for his face and two toes. This uncovering was likely due to inappropriate handling during the original excavation in the late 19th century.  This mishandling was perhaps due to thieves trying to steal amulets that the Egyptians would place between the bandages for protection.

This mummy was the second in a series of seven that are yet to be preserved. This ‘Vatican Mummy Project’ will not only ensure the conservation of these artifacts, but it is also leading to new discoveries! During the work on this mummy the team found two platforms located directly between the should blades. These beams, of unknown substance, would have supported the corpse while the doctors performed the embalming process, which is something Egyptians felt was necessary to ensure a safe travel to the afterlife. The restorers were also able to identify twelve bandages, four shrouds, and three different textile types. These discoveries are not only helping to better inform the Vatican Museums, but are enabling a better understanding of these people and their burial rituals throughout the scholarly community.

Next time you visit the Vatican Museums, make sure to stop through the Egyptian Galleries and say hello to one of the mummies on display. Whether you see them before or after they go to the labs for preservation, they are truly one of the most unforgettable parts of the Vatican Museums!



The Mummy before his restoration


The skull uncovered during the restoration process


The bandages after their cleaning


Filling in the Gaps: Etruscan Vase Restoration with Behind the Scenes Video!

From the 7th to 4th Century B.C. the Etruscans produced volumes of expressive greek pottery making them the largest producer of such work outside of Greece. Amazingly, over 2500 years later we are still able to reconstruct these artistic treasures while preserving their narrative and respecting their age and importance.

In the restoration labs at the Vatican we are currently working on 17 precious Etruscan vases with restorations expected to be finished this May. There are a few intriguing aspects of these particular reconstructions which are being completed by restorer Giulia Barella.

See the video behind the scenes!

  • What is conservative restoration?


Shards of pottery can get lost over the millennia leaving small gaps in the artistic imagery. Instead of trying to guess at possible filler for these lost pieces, Barella has chosen to retain the full integrity of the piece as we understand it. Where there are gaps she uses a monochrome touch up piece that resembles the background of the base. This kind of conservative restoration means that there are no assumptions and viewers have an unblemished and unbiased view of the existing work.  See the video for how this looks!

  • Sometimes earlier restorations can hinder the work today

For example, one vase on display had to be disassembled before it could be restored. Restoration in the 1800s was crude by today’s standards. Therefore, we melted away the animal based glue they used in the 19th century and separated the 30 composite pieces before Ms. Barella was able to  continue with her own work of puzzling the shards back together with more modern and sustainable adhesive.

It is thanks to the Canadian Chapter that we can continue restoration on these amazing pieces. Stay tuned for more information on this demanding and rewarding project that allows a glimpse into artisans work from thousands of years ago.

(And for a glimpse into life inside the Ceramic and Metal Restoration Laboratorysee this video!)


Vatican Museums Director, Antonio Paolucci

Vatican Museums Director, Antonio Paolucci


Once an experimental technique, now laser cleaning is the norm.

by Mary Angela Schroth–

The process of cleaning artwork requires the most selective and non-destructive tools so that minimum impact is made on the pictorial layers during cleaning. Laser technology is one of the techniques utilized by modern restoration laboratories because it is a high-tech solution that can be used with traditional cleaning techniques. Laser technology can be used to clean many different materials: stones, stucco, wall paintings, metal and wood. It guarantees the precise cleaning of objects without any damage to the substrate. Recent laser cleanings have taken place in the restoration of the Santa Rosa Necropolis in order to remove layers of alteration, thus preserving the original pictorial layers. A parallel situation is going on now at the Chapel of S. Lorenzo in the Scala Santa (see photo), where laser technology has been instrumental in various removals of overpainting, one of the difficulties of the project.

The instrument can operate on extremely degraded substrates without pre-consolidation, allowing the restorer to work with high precision and control because of the pointing system. It’s small size makes this machine perfect for use in laboratories and inside the Museums themselves and for outside projects such as the Scala Santa. This laser is extremely easy to use, allowing the restorer to choose the operating mode directly from the display screen.

The laser’s reliability and precision makes it an essential tool in correctly preserving the timeless treasures within the Vatican Museums, especially because it allows restorers to clean those pieces that cannot be manually cleaned. After attempts with different types of lasers (thanks to the Patrons, the Museums have purchased 2 machines in the last decade), researchers have developed an absolutely innovative laser device. Eos Syntesis is the first laser system set up for laser cleaning that allows restorers to tune the pulse duration by nanoseconds to hundredths of a nanosecond to microseconds. This laser allows for two different pulses to merge in the same laser beam, creating a brand new and innovative process in restorative cleaning. The EPS Synthesis machine is part of the 2015 Wishbook so we are strongly urging its purchase by any individual Patron or Chapter. This will eliminate the high cost of renting the machine (current practice at the Museums), and will thus increase productivity for the various conservation projects as well as represent a long-term investment.


Laser-detail-LO-RES1 Scala Santa