A note on the Author
The Italian artist Spinello Aretino (c. 1350 – c. 1410) was the pupil of Jacopo Casentino, and his style grew primarily out of great influence by the medieval painter and architect Taddeo Gaddi (c. 1290 – 1366). Giotto’s workshop welcomed this fine artist rom 1313 to 1337, during which time Aretino’s style blossomed into a medley of characteristics from the schools of Giotto and that of Siena.
As a young adult, Aretino worked in Florence as an assistant to his master Casentino, frescoing the churches of Carmine and Santa Maria Novella. Later between 1360 and 1384 his brushes graced the walls of churches in nearby Arezzo, though many of the have unfortunately been lost. After the sack of Arezzo in 1384, Aretino returned to his beloved Florence from 1387 to 1388, this time illustrating scenes from the life of Saint Benedict in the walls and vault of San Miniato’s sacristy.
These frescoes epitomize that of Giotto in their composition, and although now remain in poor condition, were originally rendered with a decorative brilliance using Sienese colors. Aretino completed another six frescoes between 1391 and 1392, still viewable on the south wall of the Campo Santo of Pisa. These images illustrate the miracles of St. Potitus and St. Ephesus. Also not to be forgotten are Aretino’s later works, including his fresco cycles painted between 1407-1408 on the walls and vault of a chapel in the municipal buildings of Siena. Sixteen of these frescoes represent the war of Frederick Barbarossa against the republic of Venice. Although these works suffer from intermediate restorative efforts, they still exemplify Aretino’s refined skill.
Also one of his later paintings, the Virgin and Child with a Goldfinchby Aretino manifests the artistic acumen attained by the early 15thcentury. This work is composed of three poplar-wood panels on which we see an image of the Virgin Mary seated with the baby Jesus on her lap. Jesus is holding a small goldfinch in his right hand, and clutches his mother’s mantel with his left hand. Angels surround the Virgin’s throne, delightfully embellishing the background with their decorative effect.
Restoration of the Virgin and Child with a Goldfinch
At the onset of the restoration, the painting suffered from being poorly conserved in the previous centuries. Firstly, significant termite damage characterized the wooden panels, and there were many vertical fissures in the wood. The bright colors characteristic of a Sienese hand had been dulled due to oxidation and overcoats of varnish that aged and yellowed over the years. A good deal of meticulous work would be required to bolster and restore the painting.
The first step in restoration involved giving the painting a brand new support system. The original structure was constructed using steel bars that did not allow flexibility for the natural “breathing” of the wood, resulting in many cracks. Thanks to the work of Massimo Alessi, our specialist in wood supports, both the wooden panel and the frame were fortified by instituting a new system of springs and screws in order to prevent any further damage. Current cracks were carefully filled with Stucco. As for cleaning, it was first necessary to remove all previous attempts to restore the piece in order to arrive at the actual pictorial layer. The effects of oxidation were carefully removed. The restorers then began a “revival” process for both the pictorial surface and the gilded sections.
The restoration team truly achieved a reinvigoration of Arentino’s work. They brought the piece back from near catastrophic damage. The author’s distinctive use of bold color and magnificent forms reminiscent of the 15thcentury were discernable once more, and appreciated anew.
We have the utmost gratitude for the Canada Chapter for their support in addressing this important and marvelous work of Aretino.