Hantai – Le Manteau de la Vierge

Simon Hantai (1922-2008); Le Manteau de la Vierge; olio su tela; 1960; Musei Vaticani; Palazzi Apostolici Vaticani; Collezione di Arte Religiosa Moderna

Simon Hantai completed Le Manteau de la Vierge in 1961 using his signature style, the “pliage” technique. Between 1960 and 1962, the artist experimented with this method, which involved folding the canvas and applying paint before stretching it in order to create an effect of random color encrustations and unpredictable blank areas. He developed this abstract style in France, after breaking with the surrealist movement, but he remained staunchly attached to the avant-garde movement, seeking to reinvent painting. He described his iconic procedure stating,

“…you could fill the folded canvas without knowing where the edge was. You don’t know where things stop. You could even go further, and paint with your eyes closed.”

As a young child, Hantai was temporarily blind, which according to the artist, influenced his creative process when devising this technique. The Franco-Hungarian painter grew up in a small, traditional rural village in Hungary steeped in its strong Catholic beliefs. In fact, his faith is apparent in this piece and many of the other artworks he created during his lifetime. At the peak of his career, he represented France at the 1982 Venice Biennale, but promptly retired from the art world following the exhibition in order to pursue a life of isolation. He continually turned down different commissions and invitations from various world-renowned museums until his death in 2008.

This work is one of the twenty-seven pieces in the Mariales series. The names of the series and the Vatican Museums’ painting itself are a religious allusion referring to the Virgin Mary’s protective mantle featured in many medieval and renaissance works. This image, like the others in the series, almost looks like a stained glass window, highlighting the devout nuance. The blue tones used in this piece in particular are especially stunning. Its sheer size, in addition to endless creases, is captivating, making viewers feel like they themselves are enveloped by the Virgin Mary’s mantle. Along with the artist’s specific technique, the spirituality and mystery present in Hantai’s oeuvre make it some of the most inspiring and significant art of the late 20th century.

Le Manteau de la Vierge was originally displayed in the Collection of Contemporary Art on a frame smaller than the canvas size for lack of sufficient space. The difficulty in transporting the piece became evident in 2004, when it needed to be moved for an exhibit at the French Academy, Villa Medici in Rome. To address these two issues, restorers created a new custom-made aluminum frame and steel stretcher with the ability to fold, so that the work could be moved more easily and would be properly supported by a correctly sized frame. Without altering the piece, restorers concocted a solution to protect the folded canvas from over bending and causing strain. These methods dramatically decreased the risk of damage, and it is now possible to fold the work to almost half its size for ease of transportation. After the aforementioned exhibition, the difficult, irregular surface was retouched; the flaking paint layer was consolidated and the entire piece was dusted. The canvas perimeter was also hemmed to prevent future fraying. The restoration procedure, directed by Francesca Persegati of the Paintings Laboratory, was completed in 2017.

 

Image of the artist in his studio by Archives Simon Hantaï – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46605158

See you soon Zoe

As my time at the Patrons Office comes to an end, I look back on my experience with an ear-to-ear smile. The past three months have been the most enriching time of my life—from accompanying Patron tours of the museums, to observing the techniques in the restoration labs, I have truly been enveloped by the mission of the Patrons. My admiration for all the good work the PAVM does has grown immensely and I hope my future continues to hold involvement in the appreciation and preservation of art. Having majored in Art History, my love for the Vatican’s works was only fortified as I had the opportunity to witness all the care and effort that goes into restoration projects, in the hopes that these pieces may be available to people across time and space. The work that the Patrons do truly is one of the most meaningful missions that any person can contribute, as I am now firm in the belief that The Vatican’s artworks are integral to the heart of Catholicism.

Today I took one of my last walks through the galleries, and I couldn’t help but note that the walls of the Vatican Museums radiate an essence of magnanimity. I will especially miss counting the number of Barberini bees down any given hallway, the undulating clay forms on Bernini’s angels, and of course, the pristinely restored walls of Bramante’s courtyard that seem to emulate a papal white. To think Rafael, Michelangelo, Pope Paul V, and even our current Pope Francis have walked in the very place we have the privilege of visiting, is a truly awe-inspiring realization.

I am incredibly grateful to the entire office for their warm welcome and unwavering willingness to foster my knowledge of the work that they perform here. My internship project greatly revolved around the launching of the Database, which I hope soon will be a great aid in the everyday operations for the PAVM. It was a pleasure to work with and learn from Aubrey Del Rio as I worked closely with data that will lay the foundations for this database. Being that my primary major was in I.T. Management, it was very impactful for me to experience how the cohesion of technology and art is not only possible, but also imperative for the smooth operation of an office such as ours.

In addition to my amazing coworkers, I would like to especially thank any patron that I had the pleasure of meeting—in particular the Texas Chapter Gala back in August, which was one of the most special nights of my life and I feel extremely privileged to have met with that inspiring group. Finally, I cannot express enough how thankful I am for my fellow interns Catie and Harriet. From our daily snack runs for “Più Gusto” lime chips, to even traveling around Italy together, I had the experience of a lifetime learning the ropes of the PAVM with them, as well as growing a deep friendship. We each brought our own unique love for The Vatican and I will be leaving this internship with a full heart. So grazie mille to everyone who contributed to my time with the PAVM, I intend on returning to Italy very soon!

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.