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2016-11-08 Terracotta Warrioers British Museum exhibition
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How Much is that Rembrandt on the Gallery Wall?

Ruth Osborne

How Much is that Rembrandt on the Gallery Wall?

Do we question the money – and the hands holding the money – behind all the art world’s headline-grabbing exhibitions, restorations, and museum expansions? Furthermore, do we consider exactly how that money is being acquired? It may surprising to some that in the very act of fundraising for such projects that will supposedly help prolong an artwork’s lifetime and educational capabilities, the physical condition of said artwork is actually put at risk! Consider the following…

CORPORATE SPONSORSHIP

2016-11-08 Raphael Deposition

Raphael’s Deposition (1507), restored.

Throughout ArtWatch’s 25 years of intervening on behalf of art, we have seen much done hastily with the support of corporate sponsors. Take, for instance, Jaguar’s funding of Raphael’s Deposition in the Borghese Gallery (2005), which removed a not-so-old 1960s-70s varnish only to apply a new coat of “protective varnish” (which will of course yellow as well and have to be removed and replaced in another 50-60 years). Other well-respected restorers heavily questioned the treatment, insisting the work was actually in perfect health already. This is simply one example of restoration being done on a work of art without first establishing a consensus of experts on that artist, who would be able to more thoroughly consider the precise needs of the work in question. Each work of art is a unique living organism unto itself – and it must be treated as such.

It should also be noted that this Raphael restoration work involved the ENEA (Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development). It is an Italian Government-sponsored research and development agency which, according to its mission undertakes research for the purpose of developing and enhancing Italian competitiveness and employment.

In some cases, an emergency repair is indeed required – such as Prada’s recent support for restoration of Vasari’s The Last Supper (which had been destroyed in the Florence flood of 1966). But oftentimes, treatment is taken not with the aim to improve the health or integrity of the artwork. For instance, the Estée Lauder-sponsored treatment of paintings by Tintoretto, Raphael, and San Giovanni at the Palazzo Pitti in Florence between 1999 and 2000.

2016-11-08 Tintoretto Exhibition Palazzo Pitti

Tintoretto Exhibition at the Palazzo Pitti.

Funds from Lauder did not prioritize care for works needing minor treatment that might go unseen by the public eye, which would actually be  appropriate, as any conservator’s handling of a painting should better reflect the original author’s hand rather than make obvious the conservator’s hand. Rather, the works selected for treatment were those the “erotic intrigues” of Venus that, according to former minister of culture Antonio Paolucci in the small catalogue for the exhibition of these completed restorations, served as a “deliciously effective public relations message.”

In 2007, Morgan Stanley sponsored a significant traveling loan from China to the British Museum: that of a squad of terracotta warriors from the excavated mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. The warriors were included among over 100 fragile, and rather priceless, objects shipped from Xi’an, China to London. This exhibition was intended to draw more attention to on-going excavations at the site, even though the presence of increasing numbers of visitors since the discovery in 1974 has drawn greater concern over environmental damages to the works in situ. Concerns center on the deterioration of pigments on clay sculptures, in addition to other delicate materials such as silks, woods, and bronzes, with the corrosive elements, bacteria, mold, and other foreign pollutants in the environment  around the enclosed tomb. The British Museum show, which would also travel to the High Museum in Atlanta, ended up spinning off a second exhibition, “Terra Cotta Warriors”, which brought the ancient sculptures even farther afield – to Santa Ana, CA, Houston, Washington, D.C., and then New York City.

2016-11-08 Terracotta Warrioers British Museum exhibition

Terracotta Warriors at the British Museum exhibition. Courtesy: Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images.

2016-11-08 Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum 2007

Terracotta Warriors at the British Museum exhibition. Courtesy: Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images.

But the question remains to be asked: why are major companies and donors sponsoring millions in art conservation and loan exhibitions where the money goes in the door and back out again? Millions are being drawn on for temporary treatments that will only last till the next generation of conservators changes their minds, or temporary exhibitions that will only last a few months or years. The Bank of America Art Conservation Project, on which we have posted in here and herecontinues to be praised for the great impact and reach it has across many museums in the U.S. Meanwhile, many historic collections are drastically losing general operating support from donors and grant agencies that goes into the long-term care of works of art. Indeed, the breaking up of the Corcoran collection, the National Academy’s move, and the Thomas Cole painting in limbo in the Seward House Museum’s collection all point to the consequences of operating support going out the window.

2016-11-08 Credit Suisse National Gallery London

Credit Suisse at National Gallery 2015. Courtesy: National Gallery.

Other issues come along with major corporate sponsors of restorations or loan exhibitions, including the demand that their marketing campaign cover the historic facade and gallery walls of a museum. Last year’s exhibition of Goya portraits at the National Gallery (London), sponsored by Credit Suisse, also brought prominent marketing opportunities for the Swiss banking group. The banner that ran around the outside of the Gallery in Trafalgar Square featured Credit Suisse nearly as prominently as it did examples of Goya’s portraits for intrigued passersby.

2016-11-08 Albright-Knox Gallery Buffalo NY

Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, NY. Courtesy: Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

Exhibitions and restoration is not all that is getting funded where operating and research are left in the dust. Major building expansions are also carrot that pulls donors’ hands out of their deep-pockets. Take, for instance, the $100 mil Buffalo’s Albright-Knox Gallery managed to squeeze out for an ambitious expansion.

The press release highlights four major points this huge gift will address:

  • “Provide much-needed space to exhibit the collection of masterworks […]
  • Create first-rate facilities for presenting special exhibitions
  • Enhance the visitor experience with new and better space for education, dining and special gatherings
  • Integrate the museum’s campus within Frederick Law Olmsted’s Delaware Park”

As to the specific ways in which the funds will improve curatorial and registrarial care for the works now going out on display, the press release continues with a more ambiguous statement below: “the museum is also seeking to increase its endowment funds to broaden organizational capacity and ensure that an expanded Albright-Knox can thrive in the twenty-first century.”
Sponsors certainly prefer to support the restoration of major mastorworks, rather than ones that might go unseen on the gallery walls. They like to put their name beneath traveling exhibitions that draw millions from around the globe, and in so doing put the artworks at greater risk to exposure or damage. The epidemic of promotional restorations, exhibitions, and expansions is one in which museums market their collection and their cultural relevency like one markets products. How is this trend in sponsorship impacting the care of collections for the future? We would like to pose a few questions as our readers consider other examples of corporate sponsorship today:

  • What are the strings attached with corporate sponsorship? How much restoration is now being used as a “come-on” for financial support?
  • How is a sponsor’s desire to stick their name brand on the walls of a gallery balanced with the actual work done on the art they are “supporting”?
  • How greatly is a company’s sponsorship of art restoration or a traveling exhibition diverting public attention away from some less scrupulous activities they are simultaneously involved in?

 

CROWDFUNDING RESTORATIONS

Historic collections are also increasingly given to crowdfunding from local residents for conservation projects, creating a sort of conveyor belt-type of system for ongoing work. In many instances, this involves an up-close and personal tour or event in the space or gallery with the collection. But what also occurs at these events are the heavy passed hors d’oeuvres and drinks that get added to the same space with the collection and that can, paradoxically, encourage the objects’ deterioration.

 

2016-11-08 Vatican Museums Wishbook Patrons

2016 Wishbook. Courtesy: The Patrons of the Arts in The Vatican Museums.

The Vatican Museums’ “Patrons of the Arts” program, which has been going on for over 30 years, sponsors restoration projects throughout its collections that are listed in the annual “Wishbook”. We reported on recent festivities to honor the support of these patrons – a five-day VIP treatment at the Vatican Museums, including “lectures on museum restoration projects, catered dinners in museum galleries, a vespers service in the Sistine Chapel … and even a one-on-one with Pope Francis himself.”

 

Do we really think we are helping aging works of art live longer by these activities? Issues of the frescoes’ deterioration acknowledged in recent years has brought forth a new call for funding that, instead of working towards a sustainable operating environment and visitor [maintenance] that could slow down deterioration, would enable the millions of annual visitors to view the frescoes enhanced by new LED lighting in the chapel. Instead of seeing a work close to the way it would have been experienced originally as an organic part of the larger structure of the chapel, this new lighting proposes we experience, as Michael Daley has reported  “ ‘a completely new diversity of colour’  […] the product of artificially selective sources of lighting, quite unlike anything found in nature and unlike previous systems of artificial light used in churches and chapels.”

2016-11-08 Vatican Museum Patrons

Patrons of the Arts of the Vatican Museum.

Italy in particular has become known in recent years for unapologetically reaching out into the pockets of other countries. Major grants have been provided in the past nearly 20 years by the Washington-based organization Friends of Florence. This group of American funders provided $910,000 for the re-opening of the “Botticelli Room” at the Uffizi in Florence in just a few weeks ago on October 18th, where 19 works by the Renaissance master (listed here) were said to be restored before re-installing in two newly lit gallery spaces. As far as we know, there has yet to be published the thorough reasoning behind the restoration of all 19 works at once.

Another organization that provides Italian works of cultural heritage with funding for restoration is the International arm of FAI (Fondo Ambiente Italiano, founded in 1975), organized to promote American and English, as well as broader European, support. Its New York chapter states on the website that it aims at: “safeguarding of that culture through the organisation of events, trips, conferences, seminars, exhibitions and concerts throughout the States.” As American art appreciators and donors are increasingly approached to sponsor restoration, exhibition, and expansion projects at museums both at home and abroad, we would encourage a heightened level of awareness for the long-term impact their support can have on the works themselves.

 

2013-08-13 - Lisa Gherardini skull Mona Lisa Florence Italy

Speculation and Sensationalizing: Art and History through the Lens of CSI Archeology

Ruth Osborne
2013-08-13 - Lisa Gherardini grave Mona Lisa Florence Italy

NBC coverage of Gherardini grave excavations in Florence, Italy. Courtesy: NBC Today show.

Over the weekend there occurred a surge in news reports about excavations at the graves of the husband and sons of Lisa Gherardini, the supposed subject of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa (1503-6, 1517).

NBC reported on Friday that a centuries-old crypt in Florence was opened to extract DNA from these skeletal remains in order to compare it with samples from an earlier excavation.[1] The purpose of this extensive project is to confirm that one of eight different tombs, unearthed in 2011, contains the body of the famed Mona Lisa; the same woman that has become the subject of public domain and many a pop culture parody.

 

What startles ArtWatch about this recent effort to unearth Mona Lisa is its chiefly speculative nature and invasive disregard for the individuals’ tombs in question (see also ArtWatch UK Director Michael Daley’s interview in NBC news segment). They are treated not as cultural property to be cared for, but instead to be ransacked in a quest to put “scientific” theories to test. In an NBC News segment, one reporter refers to this project as “masterpiece CSI.”

 

Two direct descendants of Lisa Gherardini, the Princesses Natalia and Irina Strozzi, perform for the newscasters as authenticators of this project: “At first the excavations bothered them. But now they too have caught the fascination.”  The work is posed as a way to satiate public curiosity for “how she really looked” and why her smile “seems off.”[2] The emphasis here on an eye-opening and audience captivating discovery is symptomatic of the modern appetite for an authentic, film-like version of history.

 

2013-08-13 - Lisa Gherardini skull Mona Lisa Florence Italy

Skull presumed to be that of Lisa Gherardini. Courtesy: EPA.

Kristina Killgrove, a bioarcheologist at the University of West Florida, reveals to NBC the largely unscientific nature of the search for the “real” Mona Lisa: “This will probably bring in some tourist dollars, but other than confirming that this is the Mona Lisa, I don’t see any scholarly relevance to it…And these bones, as far as I can tell from the pictures, are in fairly poor condition.”[3] If the 500 year-old skeletons are so fragile, what authority decided it was worth the tourist revenue to open up a church floor and take apart these tombs?

 

The search for excavated remains of the Mona Lisa began in 2011 at the determination of Silvano Vinceti, neither an archeologist nor a scientist, but rather a television host and producer who also claimed to have opened the tombs of Caravaggio, Dante, and Petrarch. He follows “instincts” and “hunches” that lead him to seeking after these discoveries. Other pseudo-discoveries include uncovering symbols in Mona Lisa’s eyes and asserting the sitter was in fact a male model.[4]  What does this say about Vinceti’s motivations? He contends to uncover the “truth,” but on what grounds and for what end? For the sake of revealing the spectacular to a public waiting with baited breath.

 

2013-08-13 - Silvano Vinceti Lisa Gherardini tomb Florence Italy

Silvano Vinceti above family tomb of Gherardinis. Courtesy: Maurizio Degl’Innocenti / EPA.

After much speculation, excavation, and detailed testing, we may be able to acquire a CGI image of the skeleton and see how it aligns with Leonardo’s painting. Meanwhile, a USA Today reporter admits, “there is the possibility that none of the skeletons are Lisa.”[5]  Killgrove asserts that it is impossible to use facial reconstruction to truly identify the face of the Mona Lisa on skeletal remains: “what we cannot do is throw around ideas willy-nilly and claim that we can solve Dan Brown-style mysteries with our capital-S science.”[6] Vinceti’s claim certainly is far-fetched, but it has captured much the public and media attention, and that gets the dollars to fund such purportedly significant archeological projects.  Yet another project in the works by another team of archeologists is set to exhume the skeletal remains of William Shakespeare.[7] Such speculation behind Vinceti’s and other projects tests out unscientific hypotheses at the expense of artistic and cultural heritage.

 


[1] “DNA Test to prove real identity of Mona Lisa,” TODAY. NBC News. 9 August 2013. http://www.today.com/video/today/52712209#52712209 (last visited 12 August 2013).

[2] “DNA Test to prove real identity of Mona Lisa,”; “Who is the real Mona Lisa?” USA Today. 9 August 2013

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/usanow/2013/08/09/mona-lisa-dna-test-florence-excavation/2635177/ (last visited 12 August 2013).

[3] Alan Boyle, Science Editor, NBC News, “ ‘Mona Lisa’ skeleton and her kin’s remains are due for DNA testing,” NBC News. 9 August 2013. http://www.nbcnews.com/science/mona-lisa-skeleton-her-kins-remains-are-due-dna-testing-6C10874613 (last visited 12 August 2013); Kristina Killgrove, “Return of the Mona Lisa (or at least her bones…)” Powered by Osteons. 19 July 2012. http://www.poweredbyosteons.org/2012/07/return-of-mona-lisa-or-at-least-her.html (last visited 12 August 2013).

[4] “Next on CSI: Renaissance, Who Killed Caravaggio?” TV Host Silvano Vinceti Probes History’s Coldest Cases. WSJ.com. 10 March 2010, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704486504575098031390061888.html (last visited 13 August 2013).

[5] “Who is the real Mona Lisa?”

[6] Killgrove, “Return of the Mona Lisa (or at least her bones…).”

[7] Killgrove, “To toke or not to toke…Will Shakespeare’s bones tell us? Uh, no…” Powered by Osteons. 26 June 2011.

http://www.poweredbyosteons.org/2011/06/to-toke-or-not-to-toke-will.html (last visited 12 August 2013).

2007-02-05 - Lorenzo Ghiberti Gates of Paradise Baptistry

Paradise Lost?

In October, the stunning announcement was made that three panels from Lorenzo Ghiberti’s bronze doors for the East side of the Baptistery in Florence, Italy, will make an unprecedented journey to the United States in 2007.

The planned three-city tour will begin at the High Museum in Atlanta, where an exhibition is scheduled from 28 April to 15 July, The Gates of Paradise: Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Renaissance Masterpiece.

The exhibition, which has been in the works for a number of years, was organized by the High Museum in partnership with the Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore and the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, which conducted the restoration of the doors. After the High Museum, they will travel to The Art Institute of Chicago and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The panels selected for shipment are all from the left door, illustrating the Biblical stories of Adam and Eve, Jacob and Esau, and David and Goliath. They will be accompanied by four other figures from the left door frame, two standing figures and two busts.

The 3-ton doors, of which replicas have been placed in their original location since 1990, have undergone an extensive restoration campaign, one panel at a time, that has lasted for more than a quarter of a century. The last of these panels, depicting scenes of Noah, has only recently been completed, and was unveiled on November 3rd in Florence, one day before the 60th anniversary of the flood that was blamed for much of the damage to the doors. Even though the restoration project was not the result of the planned exhibitions, the issue of restoration will be a primary one for the 2007 show. In preparation for this, the High Museum instituted a workshop in Florence to study the creation and treatment of the doors. In addition, of the two standing figures and two busts to be shipped with the panels, one of each will be shown in its pre-restored state as a means of demonstrating the effects of the modern cleaning campaign.

Increasingly, art restoration has been tightly linked with these blockbuster exhibitions, and hence with tourism. The High Museum in the past has used the incentive of restoring a work of art as a means of bargaining for more and more high-profile loans. In 2003, the High funded the restoration of Andrea del Verrocchio’s bronze David, with its same interest in the scientific and technical aspects of the cleaning, in return for its loan to the Atlanta museum for a nearly three-month period in late 2003 to 2004. In fact, the exhibition, which was the first time in its over 500-year history that the statue left Italy, was entitled Verrocchio’s David Restored, emphasizing the notion of discovery via new technology over the object itself. This idea that something must be made “new” in order to entice visitors to the blockbuster show is something that underlies the Ghiberti exhibition as well.

It is true that the High Museum did not assist in the financing of the Gates of Paradise restoration, which was funded by the Italian government with assistance of the American group Friends of Florence (who pay for the restoration of high-profile objects, including the recent controversial cleaning of Michelangelo’s David). Nonetheless, financial support of a future restoration project was promised in return for the loan: the High Museum has agreed to fund the cleaning of the Silver Altar of the Baptistery, now housed in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.

There seems to be an awareness of the risk of sending these irreplaceable objects on a three-city trans-Atlantic tour, as well as of the fragility of their state. Even after restoration, the doors will never be returned to their original outdoor setting on the eastern face of the Florentine Baptistery. Nor will they ever travel again, according to Italian officials. Instead, they will be placed in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in hermetically sealed, oxygen-free cases, in order to protect them as fully as possible from environmental threats. Special cases are being designed for their transport, and the panels will travel separately.

Regardless of any attempts to ensure the safety of those pieces of Ghiberti’s doors, there are risks involved in the shipment of any art object, ranging from damage caused by transportation, the threat of catastrophic events such as airplane crashes, to theft. The question is, does the financial benefit of the partnership between the High Museum and the Opera of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence warrant the assumption of those risks, especially in the case of an object so precious that the decision has been made never to take those chances before, or again in the future? The Director of the High Museum referred to Ghiberti’s doors as a “major pilgrimage,” which is undoubtedly true. But it is up to the pilgrim to make the journey.

2006-06-22 - European University Florence
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The European University in Florence

Piero Pierotti

The European University in Florence, which occupies several buildings in Fiesole, including the Badia Fiesolana, has decided to construct additional housing in the surrounding area, land which has traditionally been protected. From what has so far appeared in the press, the Comune of Florence appears willing to grant permission.

Firenze, 20 giugno 2006

L’Università Europea, che ha preso sede a Firenze nel vecchio convento dell’abbazia fiesolana, ha necessità di dare ospitalità permanente ai propri professori e pertanto ha deciso di costruire 60 villette nei terreni di sua pertinenza. Questi terreni si trovano appunto alla base delle colline fiesolane, in un’area sinora protetta. Il Comune di Firenze, per quanto si apprende dalla stampa, si è dichiarato favorevole alla richiesta e si appresta ad approvare una variante al piano strutturale che consentirà l’operazione. In cambio – sempre secondo notizie di stampa – riceverà un ettaro di terreno libero da destinare a verde pubblico. Non è dato di sapere che cose ne pensa la Soprintendenza, che per il momento tace.
Assisteremo perciò probabilmente a una gara, certo non nobile, per decidere chi, fra Comune di Firenze, Unione Europea e Soprintendenza fiorentina ha meno scrupoli nell’invadere con una distesa di nuove villette il paesaggio delle colline fiesolane.

prof. Piero Pierotti
Presidente di ArtWatch Italia
artwatch@tin.it
pierotti@arte.unipi.it

 

2005-06-15 - Raphael Deposition Borghese Gallery detail

Jaguar Sponsors Promotional Restoration of Raphael’s “Deposition”

Raphael’s Deposition in the Borghese Gallery, a masterpiece from his pre-Roman phase, has recently undergone a vigorous cleaning at the hands of restorer Paola Tollo Dickmann (after the original chief restorer, Laura Ferretti, resigned citing personal reasons).

Even though the work had been restored and reintegrated between 1966 and 1972, according to Kristina Herrmann Fiore, Direttore Storico dell’Arte at the Borghese, the intervention was necessitated by the detachment of the paint from the panel at the seams. In addition to addressing the issue of the adhesion of the pigment, the recent intervention also examined the efficacy of supports added to the back of the panel during the 1966-72 cleaning. Varnish, said to have been applied at that time and blamed for obscuring the colors, was also removed with an alcohol mixture, although the restorersthen applied a new coat of “protective varnish” (which it is acknowledged will yellow and have to be removed and replaced in 50-60 years).

2005-06-15 - Raphael Deposition Borghese Gallery detail

Raphael, The Deposition, 1507 (detail) Courtesy: Borghese Gallery.

Despite the proud acclamations of those involved in the restoration, there have already been several voices of dissent, and from within the restoration establishment itself. The Roman restorer Antonio Forcellino wrote a long item in the daily paper Il Manifesto on 8 May 2005, questioning the very need for the intervention and asserting, “This reconfirms how crucial and dubious the situation surrounding the care and the conservation of masterpieces is.” Other critics of the cleaning have also emerged. One is Carlo Guarienti, who was trained at the Istituto del Restauro and contributes to ;Nuances, the journal of ArtWatch’s French associate ARIPA. Another is restorer Laura Mora of the Istituto del Restauro, who worked on the Deposition during its last intervention, and who therefore has intimate knowledge about the work and its condition. Both spoke out in interviews for Il Messaggero on 14 May. Guarienti, when asked about the results of the cleaning, said bluntly, “They have ruined it. It is a disaster.” He argues that the cleaning was too severe, and rather than just removing later applications of varnish, the restorers removed Raphael’s own velatura, the translucent layers of pigment used to harmonize the underlying colors. Mora, whose name has been invoked as the teacher of Paola Tollo Dickmann, argues that the work was in perfect health, and was in no need of restoration.

The recent restoration, which also involved the Opificio delle Pietre Dure of Florence, l’Enea and the Vatican Museums, was carried out with the sponsorship of Jaguar Italia S.p.A., who put forth 40,000E for the project. The considerations of deep-pocketed sponsors, as always, seem to affect the decisions regarding which objects require interventions. As Guariento notes, private sponsors are only interested in the works of major masters, like Raphael, Botticelli, Michelangelo, and Titian, and in the end, they expect a noticeable change in the work. The result has been an epidemic of these “promotional restorations,” which for financial reasons the restoration establishment has been all too willing to carry out. Raphael’s broad appeal has made him a favored artist for this practice, presumably for his public relations value in the eyes of marketing experts who advise companies like Jaguar and Estee Lauder, the latter of which in recent years sponsored the restoration of Raphael’s ;La Fornarina and the diagnostics (i.e. pre-restoration) of his La Bella.

For Jaguar, the sponsorship fits into its thematic Year of Culture, during which they’ve sponsored various events, as well as an exhibition in Naples’ Museo di Capodimonte, Caravaggio, l’ultimo tempo 1606-1610. Jaguar has related its passion for masterworks to their interest in technology and the design of their automobiles. In sponsoring the restoration, the company has expressed its desire to leave permanent evidence of their involvement, which they term the “Jaguar Difference.”

The museum, too, appears to have had one exceptional motive — besides the well-being of the painting — for carrying out the restoration. Even at the time of the 15 March 2004 announcement, there was already a plan for a blockbuster exhibition at the Borghese Gallery, now set for the Spring of 2006 and entitled Raffaello a Roma. 1507. The newly restored work, which was executed in 1507 for Raphael’s Perugian patron Atalanta Baglioni, will be its star attraction. Undoubtedly there is an interest in capitalizing on the success of the recent Raphael show at the National Gallery in London, which rode on the coattails of the media buzz surrounding the purchase of the Madonna of the Pinks, and to which the Borghese lent their recently restored ;Lady with a Unicorn. And the show will be a blockbuster indeed, as it will be the first major exhibition on the artist in Rome, for which they fully expect international cooperation.

Despite the protests of several restorers, the press is largely celebrating the results of the cleaning, championing Raphael as a great master of color and writing of “Un’esplosione di colori freschi e cangianti”, recalling the spectre of the Sistina restoration. Yet with the underlying thought of a major exhibition looming, one cannot help but be skeptical that, as Forcellino stated, the urgent conservational need regarding this painting may have been overstated. Perhaps the desire to establish Raphael as a brilliant young colorist at the end of his Florentine period (in which case the work could be compared to the similarly over-restored Doni Tondo of Michelangelo) and right before his move to Rome — where Michelangelo would display his use of bright, unmodulated hues in the Sistina (as they now appear post-restoration) — was enough to whet the appetites of the powers involved. According to the eyewitness account of an ArtWatch member in Rome, the results are highly negative, despite the promises that the cleaning would be done with “absolute delicacy and maximum prudence”.

In this case and today, more the rule than the exception, interventions are done without first establishing a consensus — or at least engaging in a debate among experts in the various fields involved — regarding the need for and the goals of such an intervention, so that there are no controls whatsoever. In fact, it has been claimed that the Istituto Centrale del Restauro was not consulted or advised even as decisions were made regarding the cleaning, and that uninvolved experts did not see the restoration while in progress. ArtWatch believes that potentially opposing voices should, for the sake of the object itself, be solicited by the superintendents and the museums, so that the aesthetic judgments or underlying motives of a small and intimately involved group of individuals do not permanently affect the oeuvres of the great masters. And just as it is both right and necessary to question these motives, we should also make the public aware of the potentially hazardous influence of corporate sponsorship, and urge them to refuse to buy products of those companies who sponsor such illicit interventions.

2005-02-10 - Michelangelo David head

DAVID MANIA!!!

James Beck

A recent trip to Florence’s Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David  brought back the memory of a quote by Franca Falletti, Director of the Museum: “But we couldn’t bear to commercialize David.

2005-02-10 - Michelangelo David head
Well, turns out the Accademia can bear to commercialize the David, and do it to excess.  In an ongoing and prolonged celebration of the 500th anniversary of its installation (2004), the museum’s gift shop has been re-vamped and re-stocked with a new collection of objects.  From two large kiosks, one at the entrance and another at the exit, t-shirts, books, postcards, calendars and coffee mugs proclaimed the celebration of “David Mania.”

With more than one million tourists visiting the David each year, the Accademia certainly has the mania it wants.  So much so, that after the much contested and unnecessary cleaning of 2003-2004, the museum is now planning to install what is described as a “wall of air” around the statue to protect the statue from its fans.

2004-12-09 Michelangelo Medici tombs San Lorenzo

Honoring Agnese Parronchi

“On the evening of December 8th, 2004, ArtWatch International presented its annual Frank Mason Prize to Agnese Parronchi, the Italian restorer. She resigned from the project to restore Michelangelo’s David rather than carry out the cleaning in a manner demanded by the authorities at the Accademia, which she considered injurious to the 500-year-old sculpture. Previous winners of the prestigious award include art historian Sir Ernst Gombrich, critic Alexander Eliot, and restorer Leonetto Tintori.

The citation was read by Professor James Beck of Columbia University, Founder and President of ArtWatch:

Agnese Parronchi is a rare example of a conflation of two worlds, that of the creative artist, as a sculptor, and that of a respectful conservator of the art she loves. Trained in Florence, for centuries the territory where art flourished, she graduated from the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, one of Italy’s two national restoration institutes, having specialized in the treatment of sculpture. Over the past twenty years, Agnese Parronchi has been entrusted with some of the finest marble sculpture located in Tuscany — Ancient, Medieval, and Renaissance, and among her accomplishments have been the base of the Perseus by Benvenuto Cellini and a classical group, both in the Loggia dei Lanzi. She is world-renowned as an expert on the work of Michelangelo, employing her understanding of the artist to treat several of his earliest works, including the Madonna of the Stairs and the Battle of the Centaurs, both located in the Casa Buonarroti, significantly in Michelangelo’s house.

The result of her cleaning of the sculpture of the Medici Tombs in San Lorenzo is a triumph of restraint, patience and respect for the intention of the creator and for the intervention of time.

 

2004-12-09 Michelangelo Medici tombs San LorenzoWhen the Superintendent of Art in Florence assigned her to treat Michelangelo’s David, an awesome project on every level, those who might have wished that the Gigante be left alone were satisfied that there would be no danger to the integrity of the statue posed by Agnese Parronchi. It would be the crowning jewel of her life’s work, which would give her the kind of world recognition she had earned. When the Florentine officials wanted to impose upon her a very vigorous treatment which included the use of solvents, she did the impossible. She resigned, refusing to carrying out a cleaning which she considered too severe.

If there is any meaning to ArtWatch’s mission and the prerequisites of the Frank Mason Prize, it is precisely the preservation of the dignity of art, and Agnese’s actions are exemplary. At great personal sacrifice, she chose to maintain her standards rather than participate in an activity which she believed to be harmful to one of the greatest icons of western culture.

2016-09-29 - James Beck Memorial Lecture - Art Students League New York
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ArtWatch International 12th Annual Meeting (Arts Student League of New York)

2016-09-29 - James Beck Memorial Lecture - Art Students League New York

The Art Students League on W. 57th St. in Manhattan

Please join us for our 12th annual meeting,
Wednesday, December 8th at 6:00 PM,
Art Students League,
215 West 57th Street, NYC

Dear ArtWatcher,

It is ironic that more money is raised to finance unnecessary cleanings and the ‘sprucing up’ of famous objects to the absolute neglect of monuments desperately in need of critical intervention and conservation. For more than a year ArtWatch battled the aggressive and pricey cleaning of Michelangelo’s David, located indoors at Florence’s Accademia. When the intervention was proposed, several organizations and celebrities stepped up to contribute large sums of money for the project. Consequently, the Accademia — in order to justify the allocated funds — opted for an excessive cleaning (that is to say, an excessive spending). In the end, they saw to it that the donors got their money’s worth.

Meanwhile, only blocks away from the crowds lining up to see the newly cleaned David, another major monument is literally disintegrating. For years, the roof of Santissima Annunziata has been leaking from rainwater, resulting in calcium deposits that have leached through the architectural trompe-l’oeil decoration of the entire tribune and transept vaults. Despite the need for urgent attention, the Florentine city council has announced that they do not have the funds to make necessary repairs, which would account for a full quarter of their annual budget. This is not a new problem, but one that has been ongoing for many years and had been observed by ArtWatch already in the summer of 2002. There is no mistake that the “David dollars” would have better spent at the Annunziata. Had the matter been addressed in its early phase or as a maintenance issue, then perhaps lesser budgetary allocations could have minimized what is now a serious problem. And this is but one example.

It is all about media and hype. In this respect ArtWatch believes that the flagrant misuse of funds for the cleaning of the David is not unlike the recent purchase by the London National Gallery of the so-called Raphael Madonna of the Pinks. Although there are as many as 48 different versions of the picture, the National Gallery purchased one which has only been known since the 19th century belonging to the Duke of Northumberland. More than half of the record 60 million dollar cost came from tax abatements and public funds, obtained by the National Gallery by pulling the public’s heartstrings and arguing that this work should remain in the country.

Despite all of this, ArtWatch is making a difference. Our effort opposing the cleaning of the David resulted in an intervention that was decidedly less severe than that which had been planned, and thus our campaign must be regarded as a success. Beyond this, there is a lot more art to save.

ArtWatch needs your help. We are unique in our mission since there is no other organization that seeks to protect cultural heritage on this level. This mission can be accomplished, but we need your membership and contributions to carry on the work. Donations can be made by credit card on this website, or by checks mailed to ArtWatch, c/o Prof. James Beck, 826 Schermerhorn, Columbia University, New York, NY, 10027.

Sincerely,
James Beck

ArtWatch gratefully acknowledges the support of the Bunnelle Charitable Trust, the Dino Olivetti Foundation, Inc., the Peace Foundation, the Charles H. Stout Foundation, the Friends of ArtWatch, and all of our individual donors.

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Giotto and Business as Usual

The tragic events which unfolded on the 11th of September in New York and Washington are so far reaching and so momentous that it might seem superfluous to bring up issues concerning the world’s artistic heritage at this time.

James Beck, Professor and President of ArtWatch.
October 10, 2001

Upon reflection, it is precisely those values and traditions which also lie at the core of what is at stake. All one needs do is think back to the bombing of Uffizi Gallery in Florence just a few years ago or the devastation of the Buddha statues in Afghanistan even more recently. The world’s artistic and spiritual heritage appears at risk along with other aspects of our civilization.

Whatever ones views may be concerning the nuances of culpability and retribution, we can all agree that the icons of earlier art — from the Mona Lisa to Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescoes to the dome of Florence’s cathedral — are statements that must be preserved if we value mankind’s genius. Since, along with equivalent monuments all over the world, they constitute symbols of past attainments, we must guard, preserve and maintain them with all our energy. And given what might be regarded as a state of emergency which now exists, it seems to me ironic that the danger to the very integrity of such objects and institutions can come from within the system as well as outside of it.

The mania to spruce up the masterpieces sees no signs of slackening on the part of the restoration establishment and on the part of the officials in charge, and no pause for reflection seems in the offing. What is occurring in Italy is “business as usual” with regard to its treasures.

A highly risky (and expensive) restoration of Giotto’s frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel in Padova are just beginning to be carried on under what many, including the undersigned, regard as an ambiguous methodology. The usual sycophantic praise by certain art critics is a disappointingly blind reaction to a potentially damaging intervention. Obviously not all cleanings in the past were successful: sometimes they were downright bad and in other instances they were harmful. Despite warnings by nearly fifty Renaissance specialists from all over the world, half of which are Italians, we may soon witness a totally unnecessary and clearly dangerous cleaning of Leonardo’s Adoration of the Magi in the Uffizi. Essentially it is little more than an under-painting anyway, making it quite impossible to bring back its “”original glory,”” as the usual rhetoric would have it. A “”cleaning”” of Michelangelo’s David (as has just been done to the Moses in a spectacular but useless endeavor) has also recently been proposed, although it has been indoors for a century and a half, and looks pretty good right now.

There has been an unwitting campaign over the past couple of decades which will, in my opinion, be regarded as highly questionable to our art treasures by future commentators. The real problem has been an inability on the part of art scholars, art restorers, art managers, and museum curators and directors to create a truly open and generalized debate about what has been accomplished in the recent past, what is going on currently, and what goals should be created for the future. Considering world conditions, is this not the appropriate historical moment to pause in the “business as usual” syndrome and formulate a wide-reaching debate on these issues, including that of shipping art objects around the world, before making irreversible alterations to the original texts?

Aosta. Presentazione dei Atti, Medioevo aostano: La Pittura intorno all’anno mille in Cattedrale e in Sant’Orso.

L’esito finale di una iniziativa messa in opera più di una decina di anni fà, quando allora c’era il signor Rollandin, Presidente della Regione, René Faval, Assessore alla Cultura, il Dr. Domenico Prola e Flaminia Montanari alla Soprintendenza delle Belle Arti, si é concrettizzata oggi con questi volumi che contenono gli atti del Convegno. Prima di tutto é doveroso per me offrire a voce alta i miei ringraziamenti, la mia ammirazione e la mia stima alla bravissima redattrice dottoressa Sandra Barbieri che a cominciare dal progetto del ” Medioevo Aostano: La pittura intorno all’anno mille in Cattedrale e in Sant’Orso” fino alla pubblicazione degli atti ne è stata la locomotrice assoluta. Ha eseguito tutto il suo compito con intelligenza, buon gusto e con accuratezza esemplare. Se il libro dovesse appartenere soltanto ad una persona, sarebbe sicuramente suo, complimenti Sandra! Desidero aggiungere che senza il minimo dubbio questa pubblicazione rimarrà nella storia un testo essenziale per tutto il mondo. Nel frattempo altri storici e ricercatori di diversi livelli sono intervenuti, mentre all’origine c’era anche l’architetto Renato Perinetti che, come abbiamo sentito, possiede un assoluto controllo sulla materia aostana medievale e sui problemi, come ha rivelato nel suo contributo degli atti, colmo di novità di dati e di concezioni. Ha inoltre offerto uno spunto rigoroso per farci comprendere l’archeologia,”se si puo’ dire” della cattedrale stessa, con le riconstruzioni e molti suggerimenti tutti convincenti. Naturalmente tutta l’operazione si è svolta in un’atmosfera di completa collaborazione interdisciplinare tra architetti, storici dell’arte, studiosi di storia, restauratori, e scienziati. Il risultato dei test dendrocronologici, per esempio, offre una conferma per gli anni della costruzione, tesi sostenuta da Perinetti. Questo fu reso possible con l’intervento del Laboratoire Romand de Dendrochronologie, Moudon-Suisse. D’altro canto Daniela Vicquery si è occupata degli affreschi di lunga data. E’ stata lei a dirigere i lavori delicatissimi del restauro del ciclo, partendo dal 1987. Il suo desiderio operativo fu di non indirizzarsi “verso una musealizzazione del ciclo pittorico; ma si è tentato invece di alterare il meno possibile l’ambiente, in modo da non smarrire il riferimento spaziale all’ interno del contesto architettonico”. E questo deve essere condiviso ed applaudito.

Il discorso di Joseph-Gabriel Rivolin che tratta d’ un esame profondo delle fonti locali delle due chiese principali in argomento: la Cattedrale e la chiesa Sant’Orso, affrontando problemi di antica data sulla istoriografia, sulla cronologia nonché su i presunti costruttori delle chiese, sulla fantomatica chiesa di San Giovanni Battista, e in generale ha realizzato un quadro storico che resterà essenziale nei tempi per comprendere la pittura dell’epoca.

Il contributo focale e altrettanto impegnativo è quello proposto di Hans Peter e Beate Autenrieth, che in un certo senso rappresenta la parte più rilevante del libro, dedicato a Domenico Prola il predecessore di Perinetti in qualità di Soprintendente che diede il via ai primi lavori per il ritrovamento degli affreschi. Questi due studiosi hanno lavorato senza sosta per quasi un quarto di secolo, per approfondire argomenti sulla pittura murale aostana. Questo rimarchevole saggio diventerà da oggi un sine qua non per gli studi della pittura aostana mediovale, e anche europea di quegli anni. Il loro testo arricchito da più di 300 note sarà una miniera per i futuri studiosi. E’ quasi impossibile fare un resoconto adeguato di questo lavoro, poichè fu eseguito con passione, percezione acuta, e amore. Cominciando dal tesoro della documentazione fotografica, dalle ricostruzioni, dagli studi sulla calligrafia, dai paragoni stilistici tra gli affreschi della cattedrale e quelli di Sant’Orso. Gli autori hanno ponderato le iconografie dei murali nella Cattedrale, notando particolari unici per l’epoca, come la rielaborazione delle storie di Sant’Eustachio, e la combinazione dei soggetti del Nuovo e Vecchio Testamento. Hanno aggiunto infine che “…l’iconografia …non è ancora chiarita in tutta la sua complessità.”

Non soddisfatti di studiare soltanto le immagini nel loro contesto, gli Autenreich hanno anche esaminato la tecnica pittorica e problemi sulla distinzione delle mani sia nel ciclo della cattedrale, che in quelle di Sant’Orso. Hanno individualizzato due pittori distinti nella Cattedrale, uno
di quali, loro concludono, fu il pittore della Collegiata di Sant’ Orso. Questi loro suggerimenti di connoisseurship saranno un punto di partenza per tutti gli studi futuri.

Gli storici dell’arte sono, in genere, molto interessati, se non addirittura fissati, sulle datazioni. Dal canto loro i nostri autori hanno concluso proponendo una data intorno alla metà del secolo XI, specificatamente il 1040-50, che sembra essere confermata dall’esame dendrocronologico. Inoltre questi studiosi hanno preso in considerazione i delicati problemi che il restauro comporta. I loro commenti sui restauri combaciano molto bene con i miei, quando dicono “noi proponiamo a questo punto di desistere assolutamente da ogni ritocco o restauro pittorico….e di rinunciare a sostanze protettive. ”

A riprendere il soggetto affascinante della iconografia sia del ciclo della Cattedrale che di quello di Sant’Orso è stata la professoressa Costanza Segre Montel in un ampio studio. Montel pur prendendo in considerazione spunti da altri, fa le sue osservazioni basate molto su esperienze provate in Piemonte. Essa riconosce anche i rapporti fra i due progetti e pone più enfasi sulla loro corrispondenza. In particulare modo ha portato alla luce il registro con gli antenati di Cristo ricostruendoli a cominciare da Abramo a Santa Maria. Per quanto riguarda l’altra serie, Montel sottolinea che ci sono vescovi a mezzo busto che offrono problemi iconografici ancora molto difficili. Anche questo studio rientra nel contesto dei problemi delle “mani” dei due cicli, che vede un maestro presente in tutti e due. Questo contributo è munito di un ricchissimo apparato di note.Investigazioni di carattere scientifico vengono presentate da varie persone in rapporto al restauro, con differenziati contributi tecnici che formano una documentazione fondamentale per il futuro. Il commento di Lorenzo Appolonia, Simonetta Migliorini e Carlo Vaudan asserisce che “il processo di restauro è, di per sè, un atto di aggressione sulla superficie dell’opera d’arte.” Questo importante riconoscimento dovrebbe essere scritto in lettere maiuscole in tutte le officine di restauro. Ciò non vuol dire, però, che il restauro non debba essere fatto su un oggetto, ma è preferibile che si riconosca almeno l’esistenza e la possibilità di un’altra scelta. In questo caso, come ci ricordano gli autori, non si poteva individuare la pittura che era coperta da un voluminoso spessore, senza restauro.

Anche i restauratori hanno ragionato sul loro intervento, in cui la parte più problematica, almeno per me, si trova nella rubrica “Il ritocco integrativo.” I tecnici rilevano che: “Si è quindi cercato di intervenire in modo limitato, ma adeguato a dare una omogenea leggibilità ….alle superfici.”

Per chi si intende questa leggibilità? Per gli specialisti, per i visitatori qualificati, o per i turisti in media? Il problema della leggibilità è antico e molto complesso: ci sono soluzioni che richiedono molta ridipintura fino al punto di offrire una tonalità neutra. Poi, senza proseguire troppo su questo argomento, ci si deve chiedere fino a quando possa essere leggibile, perchè gli anni 1980 sono senza dubbio diversi da quelli del 1990, chissà come si presenterà una buona leggibilità nel 2010? Anche le questioni di reversibilità sono molto argomentative e difficili, ma di questo si può discutere altrove più adeguatamente. Cito, comunque, il testo del chimico dell’ Opificio delle Pietre Dure di Firenze [Mauro Matteini] che scrisse di recente: “I restauratori sanno bene quanto sia difficile realizzare nella pratica un’effettiva reversibilità e come sia quasi impossibile, in particolare, andare a rimuovere un consolidante a distanza di tempo.”

Nel campo del restauro uno dei punti più urgenti è una manutenzione continua e il controllo ambientale con tutti i problemi. Per esempio, alla Sistina, dopo il restauro degli affresci di Michelangelo, si mise in operazione un sistema allora considerato moderno e, secondo il Vaticano, efficace. Per vedere le soluzioni proposte per la Cattedrale di Aosta, si consulti l’articolo di Carlo Vaudan e Simonetta Migliorini negli atti.Un contributo di un genere totalmente diverso è stato offerto dallo storico Giuseppe Sergi, che presenta un quadro delle condizioni politiche nel presunto in cui gli affreschi furono eseguiti. Storico-artistiche sono, invece, le osservazioni di Andriano Peroni, che propone i punti di partenza per la programmazione degli affreschi nell’ottica di una architettura fittizia, ricreata con l’aiuto di minime tracce rimaste. Il contributo di Herbert L. Kessler è centrato sul problema iconografico-culturale del ciclo di Sant’Orso dove sussiste una mescolanza di immagini del Nuovo Testamento e di eventi agiografici. Questi appaiono del tutto casuali e frammentari per certi studiosoi mentre per altri fanno parte di un programma coesivo. Siccome non è possibile risolvere completamente il problema, Kessler li connette con altri cicli presenti ad Assisi e a Roma, fino al punto di collegare Sant’Orso (anche dedicato a San Pietro) al Vecchio San Pietro.

In una lezione presentata da Paula D. Leveto, che concentra la sua attenzione su i famosi murali di Castelseprio, che per mezzo secolo se non dippiù sono stati discussi dagli specialisti per quanto concerne la loro datazione. Con l’aiuto di modernissimi metodi, come il Carbone 14, e con una esaminazione tecnica dei materiali, Leveto è giunta a una conclusione, contraria di quella esposta da Bertelli, per cui gli affreschi sarebbero stati dipinti durante una fase posteriore alla construzione dell’edificio, un tipo di argomento questo molto rilevante per gli affreschi aostani. Nel caso di Castelseprio, esistono indicazioni fisiche che dimostrano che la preparazione e la dipintura furono eseguite in un singolo processo. La situazione contemporanea della pittura murale sono state studiate da Marie-Thérese Camus per certe chiese nella Francia centrale che ci offrono paragoni assai indicativi con Aosta, mentre Joaquin Yarza Luaces fa un confronto con la pittura e le miniature nei regni di León e Navarra intorno all’anno Mille.

Armata di un bibliografia formidabile, che comprende dozzine di manoscritti, con questa pubblicazione si è aggiunto un immenso e utilissimo repertorio fotografico dei due cicli. A parte, il secondo volume potrà essere utile agli studiosi con cui facilmente potranno fare i confronti dei due monumenti: questo “Atlante Fotografico” è in sé un modello di qualità.

Sono, devo ammettere, molto orgoglioso di aver fatto parte di questa pubblicazione anche se minima, con la convinzione che abbiamo davanti a noi un modello di come si deve fare uno studio di questa complessità. Sono anche convinto che con la presenza di questi due volumi la centralità di Aosta per il sviluppo della pittura subito dopo l’anno Mille, ironicamente giustamente 1000 anni fa, sarà confermata. Nel senso non di retorica politica, ma dal punto di vista della qualità sia per gli studi, sia per le pubblicazioni, sia per tutto il lavoro dedicato alla presentazione dei lavori fatti che hanno reso visibili questi meravigliosi dipinti, la Regione della Valle d’Aosta deve essere vivamente congratulata.Voglio augurare, infine che tra non molto un simile congresso possa essere organizzato per la scultura aostana della stessa epoca come era stato già programmato, con particolare attenzione a Sant’Orso, e con la speranza che Sandra Barberi avrà ancora la forza di portare avanti questa iniziativa.