by Melinda Gallo

A peek behind a couple of restorations

Today I went on my first organized tour in Florence. I was invited by ContextTravel to participate in one of their tours, and I chose the one called "Salvaging Art: Current Restoration Projects in Florence." There is scaffolding all over town and I have watched them clean some of the statues and monuments, but never before had I had the opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look and meet with the actual master restorers of important works that Florence holds in its treasure chest.

Living in Florence :: A peek behind a couple of restorations

The director of the Friends of Florence, Simonetta Brandolini d'Adda, handed us the latest issue of The Florentine, in which there was an article written by Alexandra Lawrence about the restoration of the San Marco cloister. I was excited because I had read the article and couldn't wait to meet the two main restorers, Giacomo Dini and Bartolomeo Ciccone.

Inside the San Marco cloister, we were led behind the scaffolding and up narrow steps to the workspace right below the loggia. We were so close that we could almost touch the ceiling. We stood above the walkway where the restorers spend every day working on the frescoes. I took this photo in the loggia of the San Marco cloister where the restorers were working.

They discussed how they do research to try to find out everything they can before restoring. They define what they will do and have to work quickly on each small portion of the restoration because of many factors, like the materials used, the weather, and the reactions of all the elements used with the actual fresco.

It's hard to imagine that they sometimes detach entire pieces to restore them elsewhere. We learned that most of the work is done on the spot regardless of the weather, even if the temperatures are low or if it's raining.

They showed us pictures of the frescoes before they began restoring them, which was always quite dramatic because the fresco was now more defined and with more vibrant colors. It's almost as if the fresco was behind a veil and the restorers lifted it for us all to enjoy.

After our two-hour visit, we crossed the busy street in the piazza and hopped into two taxis. We were let off right in front of Dante and walked to the entrance of the chiesa where we met the head restorer working at the chiesa.

She led us behind the work area where the altar is located. The scaffolding went up so many levels to the ceiling that there was even an elevator built to reach them. The woman told us that we needed to each pick up a hardhat, but she added, "Basta tenerlo in mano. You just need to hold it in your hand."

We walked up a few flights of stairs and stood at least thirty feet above marble flooring to where the "Crucifixion" by The Master of Figline Church of Santa Croce was horizontal on a raised platform. I had seen it many times hanging above the altar, but never so close that I could see the state of the entire structure with its cracked paint, broken wood, and darkened areas.

The woman told us how much of the structural damage to the "Crucifixion" was due to it being hung because it was most likely built to be leaning on a wall instead. She showed us the burned area on the Christ's feet where candles must have burned below it because the mark was in one spot only on the "Crucifixion."

She pointed out many details of the masterpiece and how it needs to be cleaned as much as possible before restoring it. She talked about how different colors came from different elements, like lapis lazuli for blue, lead for white, and copper for green. Unfortunately the red that is on the painting is from a clay that no longer exists, so they will have to come up with another solution.

The work will be completed for the cross next year, but the frescoes behind the altar will need a bit more time to be finished. They said that the scaffolding will be in the church for at least five more years so that they can take tours to see the frescoes up close after restoration.

After we walked down the stairs and back in front of the altar, I saw the entire work area with the scaffolding. It is impressive to see so much work taking place in the chiesa and how many people were sitting in front of frescoes restoring them. I looked at the area where the replica of the "Crucifixion" was hanging and was surprised at how small it looks from afar.

I was very impressed with my visits to two very different, but still incredibly amazing, restoration projects funded by the Friends of Florence. I'll be keeping an eye on future tours that ContextTravel organizes because I found this one to be not only interesting, but also eye-opening.

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