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Letter to the Mayor of Florence: Michelangelo’s “Victory”

In an open letter to the Mayor of Florence, ArtWatch is calling for an immediate halt to the restoration of Michelangelo’s statue group known as “Victory”.

James Beck June 22, 1998

Dear Honorable Mr. Mayor,

On behalf of ArtWatch International, Inc. and its affiliate in Italy, ArtWatch Italia, I am asking at this time for an immediate halt to the projected restoration of Michelangelo’s sculpture group known as Victory, presently in Palazzo Vecchio in the Salone dei Cinquecento. In our opinion the matter is most urgent because scaffolding have already been constructed around the sculpture, making it ready for the intervention.

ArtWatch, a watchdog organization with nearly 1000 associates worldwide, has taken a stand against drastic and/or unnecessary treatments of our artistic treasures. Activity on the Victory should be halted until information about the projected intervention is made public. Among the points that require full disclosure are:

  1. an explanation of the assumed need for such an intervention or treatment at all;
  2. the goals for the intervention and what is hoped to be attained;
  3. the proposed methodology of the intervention, i.e. what techniques are planned, for example, with the restores use scalpels, mico-sand blasters, lasers, chemicals?

Once the data is made available ArtWatch also calls upon the Mayor to organize an open public debate, preferable in the Salone dei Cinquecento, in which international experts on Michelangelo, specialists devoted to Renaissance sculpture and Italian Renaissance art in general, specialists on marble restoration, as well as all interested parties may participate. ArtWatch believes that, as in the field of medicine, second and third opinions are essential before a restoration is undertaken. In fact, sometimes the most effective cure has been to leave the patient alone. ArtWatch makes these requests on the basis of the operative assumption that works of art of the caliber of Michelangelo’s Victory do not, strictly speaking, belong to the city of Florence, nor, to the government of Italy, but ultimately belong to the entire world, and that the city and state officials in charge are guardians whose role it is to preserve the objects in their trust for future generations. To take any action in relative secrecy is effectively a violation of that trust.

Thanking you for attention to this matter, I am Sincerely Yours,

(signed James Beck)

For Immediate Release: Andrea del Verrocchio’s “Baptism of Christ” to be Restored at the Uffizi

ArtWatch International has learned that Andrea del Verrocchio’s most famous painting, the Baptism of Christ, a panel created for the church of San Salvi in Florence around 1475, has been removed from the wall of the Uffizi.

One of the most prized masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance, it was executed by Andrea Verrocchio in collaboration with the young Leonardo da Vinci, who painted the head of one of the angels and probably landscape elements. Another who collaborated on the same painting was Botticelli.

The head of the angel represents the first independent statement in painting by Leonardo da Vinci. Therefore, the Baptism is of prime importance historically as well as aesthetically, being an early indication of the new style which was to emerge during the opening years of the sixteenth century and has been called the High Renaissance, that is, the style practiced by Titian and Michelangelo.

This precious object has come down to us in rather good condition, considering the passage of 500 years, and previous restorations, not always of the most gentle nature.

ArtWatch’s worst fears have now been confirmed: the work is in the restoration laboratories of the Uffizi and work is about to begin. Given the complexity, delicacy, and the historical and artistic importance of the work, and in particular its absolute rarity since there are only a handful of works by Leonardo, ArtWatch is extremely concerned about any intervention that goes beyond normal maintenance.

ArtWatch urges that all the pertinent data concerning the state of the work, its condition, and the planned treatment be made public immediately. The Uffizi and its Restoration Department should describe precisely the need for a drastic intervention, the goals it hopes to obtain, the methods of cleaning and restoration that is planned, and the results of all qualitative and quantitative analyses. We believe that second and third opinions should be solicited from independent, disinterested parties.

For the moment ArtWatch is calling for an immediate halt to the restoration of the painting until the secrecy is lifted and information is made available concerning the need as well as a clear statement of goals of the intervention.