April 1 – June 12, 2016

Cortile delle Corazze

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

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

Prof. Antonio Paolucci


Egyptian polychrome sandstone lid

FOTO DIGITALE Oftentimes a restoration project not only requires studying the principal materials and execution techniques inherent to the work, but is also an opportunity to research and test new operational methods in general. This, in turn, provides a better context within which we may conserve cultural heritages.The restoration work was carefully handled by a close and fruitful collaboration between the art historian, the scientific expert and the conservator.

Regarding the restoration of this Egyptian Polychrome Sarcophagus Lid, sponsored by the Archbishop of Seattle J. Peter Sartainthere, Patron of the North West Chapter were various problems that arose during the conservation process: the structure of the stone support, deciding which techniques to utilize, and distincely different levels of decay and deterioration which needed to be uniquely handled.  The restorers carried out the appropriate and necessary steps to identify the adequate methods of intervention, and supported these with extensive scientific analysis.

The main issues faced during the restoration were those related to:

  • Removing the substances used during the maintenance and/or previous restorations;
  • Consolidating the stone support and the layers of paint;
  • Reassembling and Grouting the fragmented parts of the piece, for its transfer and exhibit  in the Vatican Museums.


FOTO DIGITALEBelow  is a brief description of what has been carried out to date:

The surface substances were removed using chemical materials. Restorers conducted studies and researched various supporting substances that could maintain the suspended solvent mixtures. They tested specific products which are not found in normal commercial availability. The results were first verified by comparing data from the microanalysis of induced fluorescence (polished sections, SEM-EDS, spettrofotometrie infrared, gas chromatography), and then appropriately documented in summary tables.

The surface substances were removed using laser ablation. Five different laser models were used to perfom 37 analyses in order to identify how best to match the different constituent pigments of the original paint layer. The blue and green Egyptian colors, especially, required the utmost attention. The efficiency of these machines has been regularly verified by measurements performed with a “Power Portable” meter, where each analysis is graphically shown on a general mapping. Restorers reported the parameters used in defining the characteristics of the ablation laser that was used on a specific operating table. The test of the results has been carried out by comparing data from colorimetric and microanalytical (polished sections) investigations.

The cohesion defects of the sandstone support were solved. Laboratory tests were executed on sandstone blocks in order to verify the effectiveness of four different consolidating products. Based on the obtained results, all borders and sections of unpainted decoration of the lid have been consolidated through repeated applications of nano-silica in different concentrations. The results were then verified through microanalytical surveys (petrography, SEM-EDS, mineralogical analysis).

The cohesion defects of the paint layer were repaired. Based on the results obtained from specific colorimetric investigations, restorers repeatedly apFOTO DIGITALEplied a suitable consolidation product (Jan Funori) by using a spray gun. The restorers then injected a mixture of polymer, vinilbutirrate and nanosilica in order to consolidate the interfaces.

Different binding agents were tested in order to identify the most suitable product in order to create plaster similar in color and weight to the original stone, and which could be removed later if necessary. The final binding agent consists of a mixture of acrylic resin in solution and nanosilica.

Since the three subdivided sections of the lid required assembly, restorers considered it appropriate to design an assembly system. Using 3D scanning techniques, a perimeter frame was constructed to allow the work to be easily handled and exhibited within the Museums. This process is ongoing.


From the Final Restoration Meeting

The Restaurer Michela Gottardo explaing the conservation process during the final restoration meeting

In addition, the Egyptian sarcophagus lid has been the subject of two discussions during last APLAR 5 Congress, on the use of laser ablation in the preservation of cultural heritage, which occurred September 18-20th at the Vatican Museums, demonstrated  the further role advanced lasers can play in the world of art restoration. Special thanks to our California, D.C., Florida and International Chapters for their help in securing laser technology for the Vatican that is the envy of the museum community.

Two articles on this restoration project will be published in the Acts of the aforementioned  conference and in the next Bulletin of the Vatican Museums. It is clear that the initial conservation project has been modified during the course of its work, involving additional operational modes, studies and research. This also means that there have been necessary time delays for the work but which also have allowed the emergency of results otherwise unattainable using more traditional methodologies.

Fading Colors Still Create an Everlasting Message

Daring. Dazzling. Degrading? Abounding in bright colors and bold brushstrokes, Vincent Van Gogh’s uniquely creative work has withstood much criticism, and his Pietà also depicts a Truth that will never pass away. But little did he know that, in contrast, his pigments were extremely susceptible and would quickly breakdown. In this way, he was not alone; other 19th century artists (i.e. Renoir) dabbled with similar vulnerable pigments, particularly reds.

Some red pigments—like red lake—were shiny and alluring, but faded oh-so-fast, even during Van Gogh’s own lifetime. They were made either from the cochineal insect or eosin, a fabricated dye. The artist’s pink rose blossoms faded to white…his purple irises turned blue as their red fleeted away. Now, art restorers can identify Van Gogh’s original colors using X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, in which they scan residual elements left on the canvas. Eosin has bromine in its structure; as it degrades that bromine is left behind. So, where there are traces of bromine, there probably were reds that have since disappeared.

Red lead can also go dead! Too much light basically blanches it white. How does one know if it’s read lead or lead white? For super-sleuthing this one, X-ray diffraction aids in sensing the crystalline structure of each mineral; red will be different than white.

Vincent Van Gogh; Pietà; olio su tela; 1890 ca.; Musei Vaticani; Palazzi Apostolici Vaticani; Collezione di Arte Religiosa Moderna

Vincent Van Gogh; The Pietà (after Delacroix), first version 1889; oil on canvas; Collection of Modern Religious Art; Vatican Museums


Hide-and-go-seek pigments could have very detrimental effects to a painting. Can you imagine his Pietà without the hauntingly illustrative reds that adorn Christ’s wounded head? Color moves us. Here, Van Gogh’s reds illuminate Christ’s suffering for the Kingdom while Mary’s lips portray her silent docility, for she allowed the Word in her arms to speak of what true sacrificial love means.

Thanks to our wonderful restorers, this masterpiece—donated by the Archdiocese of New York and restored by the California Chapter in 2001—still reveals to each Vatican visitor the message of everlasting love through the massive brushwork of the Dutch painter.

Van Gogh once wrote to his brother, “Paintings fade like flowers…all the more reason to boldly use them; time will only soften them too much.” His fading pigments exemplify that, indeed, “the grass withers and the flowers fall,” yet the subject matter of his Pietà illustrates that “the Word of God endures forever” (Is 40:8).