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.

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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: http://mv.vatican.va/3_EN/pages/z-Info/MV_Info_Conferenze.html

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

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?

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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!)

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Vatican Museums Director, Antonio Paolucci

Vatican Museums Director, Antonio Paolucci

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Focus on the Augustus of Prima Porta

On the occasion of two-thousandth anniversary of the death of the first emperor of Rome, the marble masterpiece Augustus of Prima Porta returns to the Vatican Museums following its great public success in exhibitions in Rome and Paris.

Found in the villa of Livia in Prima Porta, the statue is a portrait of Augustus as a handsome and young ruler, wearing a decorated cuirass and a tunic, with the figure of Cupid riding a dolphin on his side.

Look closely, though, and you’ll notice something curious: the Emperor has no boots. Art historians debate the significance of this, however, appearing barefoot was an attribute of divinity in art of the ancient world. Though likely based on a bronze statue created during Augustus’ reign, according to many scholars, the Prima Porta must be posthumous, since the Roman Senate deified Augustus a month after his death two thousand years ago in AD 14.

In other words, the Prima Porta Augustus, (named after the villa where it was found, which once belonged to his widow, the Empress Livia), is not simply a portrait of Rome’s first emperor – it is also a vision of a god.

You can admire the statue at the Vatican Museum at the entrance of the Gregorian Profane Museum. Special thanks to the Florida Chapter of patrons who helped us restore this iconic statue as one of their first projects.

If you want to be involved as a patron in your local chapter and participate in important projects like the one that restored the Augustus, contact your local chapter leader.

 

The Augustus of Prima Porta is based on the Doryphorus, a famous antique statue by Polykleitos portraying the ideal human proportions of an Athenian athlete.

The Augustus of Prima Porta is based on the Doryphorus, a famous antique statue by Polykleitos portraying the ideal human proportions of an Athenian athlete.

Tiberius made a significant addition to his marble copy: on the chest plate, he added scenes depicting the Roman victory over the Parthians.

Tiberius made a significant addition to his marble copy: on the chest plate, he added scenes depicting the Roman victory over the Parthians.

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Augustus wanted to portray himself as a perfect leader with flawless features, personifying the power and authority of the emperor.



 

The Sistine Chapel Twenty Years Later: New Breath, New Light

A two day conference marking the 20thanniversary of the restoration of Michelangelo’s frescos in the Sistine Chapel opened on Thursday October 30th in Rome.

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With the new lights and proposed new air conditioning system, the Sistine Chapel is at the forefront of everyone’s mind.  Now 450 years after the death of Michelangelo and 20 after the conclusion of the famous restoration in 1994, the Vatican Museums honor this double anniversary with a symposium.

The long-awaited event, will consist of two days of intense work and studies of the health of Michelangelo’s frescoes and their future conservation. Registration for the conference is closed – but surely we will learn a great deal from the symposium to share with our Patrons.

The conference began at 10 AM  when his Eminence Cardinal Bertello greeted all participants. This was followed by a talk led by Vatican Museums Director Antonio Paolucci.

Friend of the Patrons, Dr. Arnold Nesselrath,  Managing Director for the Science Departments and the Laboratories of the Vatican Museums will also present on “The Reason to Restore” and “How do we Illuminate Michelangelo?: The Philosophy of the Project.”

We’re excited about the coming together of all these innovative minds in the world of restoration as well as the focus on the Sistine Chapel. More images and insights to come… Check out this link to the Vatican Museums website for more information.

Conference on Sistine Chapel Lighting

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The Vatican Gardens: Restoring the Apollo

You never know where helpful hints will come from in the world of restoration.  When Mr. and Mrs. Hazelwood of Tennessee dropped by to check out the work that’s being performed on the Apollo section of the Vatican Gardens they’ve adopted in honor the memory of their daughter and niece, they were able to talk to the restorers about the new techniques they are using to keep the statuary clear of moss and other biological material that affects the stone masterpieces. The restoration of this section is part of a pilot project that will flower into a strategy of conservation for all the statuary in the gardens.

As one aspect of this, restorers just began testing a new restoration technique adopted from the invention of a farmer in Iowa. And it was a Patron that suggested it! The homeopathic agent, an American product known as “Moss Buster”, is cleaner and less abrasive than the biocides that restorers used in the past to clean the outdoor statues.  Also it is more effective – with the cleaning lasting much longer than ever before. Previously, even with modern chemicals, staining moss would return in just a couple months. The Moss Buster kills what is on the surface and restorers then perform a further removal with a gel product that is spread over the surface. When the gel hardens, they peel it off leaving a clean statuary underneath.   Director of the Vatican Museums Restoration Laboratory for Stone, Guy Devreux, calls Moss Buster  “a huge help in the atmosphere in the gardens.” After the peel, restorers have begun applying essential oil of oregano, a final protective measure that keeps the statue clean and prevents it from yellowing. A chemical peel and essential oil rub-down? Sounds like a nice day at the spa.

Thanks to our patrons, an Iowa farmer, and Moss Buster, our statues are restored to their natural beauty and can be more easily maintained. The Hazelwoods were so glad to hear that their patronage went toward this important innovation in outdoor restoration and so are we! It means that supporting the gardens is even easier and donations go further. Adopting a section of the gardens is a particularly rewarding experience as it connects the natural and man made worlds with the history and spirituality of the Vatican.  It is rewarding to see the continual growth and beauty in that counterbalance. Something truly delightful to share with all our visitors.

This Wednesday, Director of the Vatican Museums, Antonio Paolucci visited the gardens to oversee the progress and talk to restorers and curators.  He was amazed at the results of the restoration and was happily surprised to hear that the Patrons were critical in revealing a new technique. The collaboration of the Patrons in restoration always uncovers surprises!

If you would like to adopt part of the Vatican Gardens see our WISHBOOK 2015 Projects online, here: http://www.vatican-patrons.org/restorations/restoration-needs

Our Patrons from Tennessee, the Hazelwoods, with restorers in front of their adopted "Apollo" Section.

Our Patrons from Tennessee, the Hazelwoods, with restorers in front of their adopted “Apollo” Section.

Detail of Restoration Work

Detail of Restoration Work

 

Guy Devreaux the Director of the Vatican Museums Restoration Lab for Stone Artifacts and Father Mark Haydu with our IL Patrons during their Chapter Visit

Guy Devreaux the Director of the Vatican Museums Restoration Lab for Stone Artifacts and Father Mark Haydu with our IL Patrons during their Chapter Visit

Restorer with the Apollo Statue

Restorer with the Apollo Statue

Director of the Vatican Museums, Antonio Paolucci, Visiting the Project

Director of the Vatican Museums, Antonio Paolucci, Visiting the Project

 

Ohio Chapter’s Restoration of the First Popemobile

Traditionally, when a pope wanted to travel, he was carried in the sedia gestaoria: a chair carried on the shoulders of a number of papal attendants. Transportation at the time was such that the Pope rarely could leave the hallowed halls of Vatican City. However, in the  mechanized age, Papal transportation began to be more modernized. in 1930, during the priestly jubilee of Pius XI (1922-1939) a special automobile arrived. Pius XI’s actually received a few cars, but possibly the most remarkable was a Graham Paige limousine given to him by the Graham brothers from America (members of the Knights of Columbus – he also had a prestigious Citroën “Lictoria” made in Milan, and a Nurburg style Mercedes Benz).

The limousine was presented in the Vatican on November 9, 1929. Carriage-work was made by the famous American coachbuilder, LeBaron and the sumtuous upholstery was in silk of Havana brown and silver, with the metal accents in gold. Recently, due to the efforts of the Ohio Chapter, the car was restored and now resides in the Vatican Carriage Museum. It remains one of the most fascinating exhibits there.

Today, when we picture the Popemobile, it’s the Mercedes with the bulletproof glass.  Since an assassination attempt on then-Pope John Paul II in 1981, the head of the Roman Catholic Church has customarily used the custom-made glass-sided Popemobile when in public. But Pope Francis told a Spanish newspaper that he prefers not to use a bulletproof Popemobile despite the dangers of an assassination attempt because it walls him off from people.

Link to Pope Francis’s Popemobile interview

“It’s true that anything could happen, but let’s face it, at my age I don’t have much to lose,” he told Barcelona newspaper La Vanguardia in an interview published Friday and reported on in English by Vatican Radio. “I know that something could happen to me, but it’s in the hands of God.”

Never been to the Carriage Museum? That’s because it’s been a bit difficult to find inside the Vatican – and that’s a shame, because it houses some wonderful pieces. Help us bring more traffic to the Carriage Pavilion – with your help we can create a new modern entrance that attracts visitors and befits the grandeur of the exhibits – be a Popemobile patron! http://www.vatican-patrons.org/new-entrance-of-the-carriages-museum-2205

See the classic car (and much more) at the Carriage Museum. It’s not to be missed.

Dr. Sandro Barbagallo, Assistant Director of the Vatican Museums, with the Graham Paige Limo.

Dr. Sandro Barbagallo, Assistant Director of the Vatican Museums, with the Graham Paige Limo.

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Proposed plans for the new Carriages Museum Entrance in our 2015 WISHBOOK.

Proposed plans for the new Carriages Museum Entrance in our 2015 WISHBOOK.

Illinois Patrons during their Chapter Visit in the Carriage Museum with Vatican Museums Director Antonio Paolucci

Illinois Patrons during their Chapter Visit in the Carriage Museum with Vatican Museums Director Antonio Paolucci

The Day The Bernini Angel Moved

In it’s own day this complicated beauty would be slated for destruction. Why?

This past week marked a milestone in the completion of a labor of love: the restoration of a Bernini Angel. When crafting bronze sculptures, Bernini would make plaster molds for the smelting process. As models for bronze pieces that framed the altar at St. Peter’s Basilica, these statues were not meant to be preserved and would generally have been burned if not, in this case, for a very famous creator. Molds like these are unique in construction, and  and therefore very difficult to care for. This angel, for example, was in some marked disrepair before the office was able to embark on its efforts to bring it safely back to display in a state or preservation.

The clay exterior hasn’t even been fired, so it is simply dried fragile dirt that makes up the piece. A hollow shell, the statue is more like paper than stone and therefore it is necessary to think of it from the perspective of a document restoration.

This piece is fascinating because it can connect directly to Bernini and how comparable artists worked in the 1600’s. It’s a map to show how they realized sculptures and how models were made. Again, because these were not meant to have a long life, there are very few left in existence. “That’s why they’re in this room of the Pinacoteca,” says restorer Flavia Callori, who runs the ceramics and metals laboratory. “They’re very important… [The Angel is] not only Bernini, but Bernini and his century, Bernini and his techniques. The most important thing is that Bernini worked on these statues, not the bronze ones that were made FROM these casts. So here you find the fingerprints of Bernini, you find his intention.”

Because of the support of our patrons – a glass laboratory workplace was constructed to address the unique needs of these pieces. Sealed in under optimum humidity conditions the Angel had to be approached carefully with great attention paid to the acidity of the materials used on the surface. A further consideration for this workspace was accessibility from the outside. By giving it a transparent walls, onlookers could see how the restoration is progressing, making it a kind of living museum piece. The head of the Vatican Museums, Antonio Paolucci, is very pleased with the new workshop and hopes to use it in the future for large artworks including tapestries and paintings.

Says Ms. Callori, “We had to look in other laboratories where they have materials that are fragile, like paper. [The use of] Cellulose  is totally new. We saw it in the the laboratory of the paper restoration… and thought maybe we could use materials not normally used in clay, or metals.”

When the angel was finally restored, then began the arduous task of moving it. The hollow interior makes it vulnerable to cracking meaning that the process would be  extra labor intensive. An engineer was brought in to create a special base and then the Angel was slowly able to be moved into a new place.

And, just as the Kneeling Angel leaves the floor, another one of the same vintage, has been waiting in the wings to take its place. This next Bernini Angel will get the same loving treatment and be available to see on exhibition soon.

“We could not have done this without the New York Patrons,” said a restorer. Our thanks go out to them – with their support we are given an opportunity to salvage what otherwise would have been lost to history and at the same time to discover crucial information about Bernini and his process.

See the New York Patrons Office HERE.

Kneeling Angel in the glass laboratory workplace before it was transferred to the  Pinacoteca Gallery

Kneeling Angel in the glass laboratory workplace before it was transferred to the Pinacoteca Gallery

Head restorer of the project, Alice Baltera, with Bernini's Kneeling Angel

Head restorer of the project, Alice Baltera, with Bernini’s Kneeling Angel

 

The Director of the Vatican Museums, Antonio Paolucci,  with the Bernini Angels

The Director of the Vatican Museums, Antonio Paolucci, with the Bernini Angels

The Laboratory

The Glass Laboratory

Glorious Globes: Two 17th Century Painted Globes

Two Globes crafted by G.J. Blaeu (1571-1638) were transferred in the Paper Restoration Lab in 2008 to be painstakingly restored.  One is the globe of the earth while the other shows the 48 constellations as cited by Ptolemy. The two papier-mâché globes are covered in painted incised paper. See the pictures of the process needed to restore them here.

Blaeu was a student of famous astronomer Tycho Brahe, and made the artistry of globes and maps his whole life.  In 1599, he founded a printing press dedicated to the manufacturing of globes,  as well as nautical and scientific instruments. In 1625, he founded the Blaviana Office in Amsterdam, the official map maker for the Indian Company. His most famous work is the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum sive Atlas Novus, published in two volumes in 1635 was reprinted many times until 1655. One interesting facet of the pieces, two globes were continually “updated” with copper as new discoveries were made.

In the Diagnostic Lab, the globes was analyzed through reflectography, photographic documentation with UV fluorescence, analysis of the pigments and stratigraphic analysis.  Restorers studied the components order to define typology and to identify the process and technique with which it was assembled. There are few documents about these globes, so they had to collecting information on other similar globes located in Museums in Bologna and Florence in order to track down the history of these beautiful works of art. Thank you to our California Chapter for helping us to keep preserve treasures like these.

Antonio Paolucci, Director of the Vatican Museums, in the restoration labs with the Blaeu Globes

Antonio Paolucci, Director of the Vatican Museums, in the restoration labs with the Blaeu Globes

When the Jesuits Met the Guarani: Colonial Era Christian Art of 17th & 18th Century Uruguay

On Friday, September 12, the Vatican Museums open a traveling exhibition of carvings, paintings, and drawings from historic Jesuit missions in Uruguay. The exhibit, entitled “Maderas que Hablan Guarani”, curated by Luis Bergatta, will be hosted in the museum entrance until Sunday, September 28, 2014. This is the very first time Uruguayan Native/Jesuit pieces like these have been displayed in Italy. See more info here.

These impressive feats of artistry are works claimed from Jesuit missions, known as reductions, built deep in the jungle on the land of Guaranis people during the 17th and 18th centuries. Today, excavations continue on five of these sites, each of which have unearthed intriguing sculptures and native artwork. The pieces on exhibit authentically depict the dedication and skill of those who worked to bring the Christian faith to remote areas in South America. The religious artifacts are a testament to the brave work, profound nature, and universal message of the word of God.

 

Virgin Dolorosa: Woodcarving polychrome . XVII - XVIII. Historical Museum National .0.33 x 0.12 x 0.08 m

Virgin Dolorosa: Woodcarving polychrome . XVII – XVIII. Historical Museum National .0.33 x 0.12 x 0.08 m

Lord of Patience Woodcarving polychrome [ incomplete ] . XVII - XVIII [ s aura . XIX ] .  Historical Museum National . 1.15 x 0.42 x 0.28 m .

Lord of Patience Woodcarving polychrome [ incomplete ] . XVII – XVIII [ s aura . XIX ] . Historical Museum National . 1.15 x 0.42 x 0.28 m .

San Jose and Child Woodcarving polychrome . XVII- XVIII centuries .Monsignor Historical Museum Lasagna Pius College -Villa Colón, Montevideo. 0.28 x 0.15 x 0.07 m

San Jose and Child Woodcarving polychrome . XVII- XVIII centuries .Monsignor Historical Museum Lasagna Pius College -Villa Colón, Montevideo.
0.28 x 0.15 x 0.07 m