Vatican City Arts
Since the mid-1950s, new and important interventions have affected the artistic collections and historic buildings of the Vatican. It was above all the complex of the Vatican Museums, one of the most important in the world, at the forefront also for the organization and for the services offered to visitors (including a path particularly equipped for the disabled), the one that was more increased by new buildings and exhibition rooms.
During the pontificate of John xxiii (1958-63) it was decided to reunite in the Vatican the museums already housed in the Lateran Palace, that is, the Gregorian Profane Museum, the Pius Christian Museum and the Ethnological Missionary. To house these collections, a new museum building was built, based on a project by Studio Passarelli. The building, adjacent to the rooms of the Pinacoteca, officially inaugurated on 5 June 1970 by Paolo vi, also houses, in the basement, the collection of papal carriages together with the first cars used by the popes. The Historical Museum, which collects the relics of the dissolved pontifical armed bodies (Guardia Nobile, Guardia Palatina, Gendarmerie), together with a collection of ancient weapons, already preserved in the Vatican Apostolic Library, the last remnant of the ancient Armory constituted by Urban viii (1623 -44), initially placed in these same rooms, was then (1985) rearranged, and increased, in the papal apartment of the Lateran Palace.
The concern of Paul there for the artistic collections of the V is demonstrated mainly by the creation of the modern religious art collection, opened at the presence of the Pope June 23, 1973, which exhibits more than five hundred works of art (more or less half of ‘ entire collection), created by major artists around the world on the theme of the sacred. The Collection, housed in the Borgia and in the adjoining small rooms, visually testifies to the ” reconciliation ” between the Church and art, desired by Vatican II by sending an evocative Message to the artists. Important reorganization interventions of the collections concerned above all the Pinacoteca, which presents a rational rearrangement together with a new section, that of the Byzantine and oriental icons, already preserved in the Vatican Apostolic Library. A new and more modern layout also presents the Gregorian Egyptian Museum and the Gregorian Etruscan Museum, which has been enriched with other collections, such as the Azzarita and Guglielmi Collections.
Even St. Peter’s Basilica has grown with new works of art. In particular, the bronze doors of G. Manzù, Vatican Crocetti, L. Minguzzi, and L. Scorzelli, as well as the funerary monuments of Pius xii, by F. Messina, and Giovanni xxiii, are worthy of mention. work of E. Greco. The new museum of the Treasure of St. Peter is housed in the rooms adjacent to the Sacristy.
The interest in art, which increasingly involves more and more masses of visitors and pilgrims (in 1994 the number of visitors to the Vatican Museums exceeded two and a half million), has also produced a rich season of exhibitions, generally set up in Bernini’s Braccio di Carlo Magno, while exhibitions of Vatican works of art have been held in numerous countries, in Europe, America and the Far East. The enhancement of this immense heritage of art and faith was accompanied by the commitment to its care and conservation with a vast and demanding restoration campaign, which involved both mobile works, such as Raphael’s Transfiguration, and monumental environments., both pictorial cycles.
Undoubtedly the most important intervention, both for the results achieved and for the attention of public opinion, also prompted by the controversies that accompanied it, was the restoration of the frescoes by Michelangelo Buonarroti in the Sistine Chapel, carried out during the pontificate of John Paul II. This extensive restoration, which returned the surprise of a colorist Michelangelo, hidden for centuries under layers of dust, lampblack and glue, began in 1980 and ended in the spring of 1994. The first phase of the work, which concerned the frescoes of the lunettes, was completed in 1984. The second phase, also carried out in four years (1985-89), concerned the vault, while the last phase involved the restoration of the vast wall fresco of the Last Judgment.
The restoration of Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel was the final, albeit the most demanding, act of a vast plan of interventions that involved the entire building, which began in 1964. From that date, and up to 1974, they were subjected to restore the two wall cycles, with the Stories of Christ and Moses, frescoed in the late fifteenth century by the major Umbrian-Tuscan artists of the time, such as Perugino, Ghirlandaio, Cosimo Rosselli, Pinturicchio, Pietro di Cosimo, Luca Signorelli, etc. In 1975, the anniversary of the 5th centenary of Buonarroti’s birth, the restoration of the large room above the vault, originally intended to house the guardhouse, was carried out. On this occasion, a very light grilled metal surface was installed at half height, in order to avoid, in case of roof maintenance work, walking or placing weights on the extrados of the vault. In 1979-80 the two frescoes on the counter-façade were restored, made by Matteo da Lecce and Hendrick van der Broeck in 1565 in place of the two fifteenth-century originals, severely damaged by the disruptions that had struck the Sistine Chapel in the first half of the sixteenth century.
It was on this occasion that an inspection of Eleazaro’s lunette led to the identification of very minute flaking and falls of the chromatic film of the frescoes, essentially due to the contraction, due to variations in the environmental microclimate, of the thick layer of glue applied over the centuries. on Michelangelo’s frescoes. Careful inspections made it possible to ascertain that the phenomenon affected, in a more or less serious way, the entire Michelangelo’s decoration. The laboratory tests also made it possible to ascertain that the frescoes were covered as well as by dust and lampblack, produced by the candles and oil lamps used over the centuries to illuminate the chapel and by the ” foconi ”, the large braziers used for heat the environment,
To carry out the restoration work on the vault, a mobile scaffolding was prepared which, for the supports of the sliding tracks, used the same holes used to support the sorghum of Michelangelo’s scaffolding, which were brought to light during the preparatory inspections. Finally, the intervention made it possible to collect numerous information on the painting techniques used by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel, which turned out to be those of the ” good fresco ”. To create the lunettes, Michelangelo worked very quickly, almost without any repentance, painting well-finished parts and others simply sketched or left in a rough state. Every ” day ” of work is exceptional; generally Michelangelo used only three per lunette, which explains his fast progress, without the use of cardboard: in fact there are no traces of dusting and engraving. The situation is different for the figures on the vault, for which the use of cartoons is systematic. The drawing is constantly carried over with the dusting, at least in the first half of the vault (which as it is known was frescoed in two successive moments), and the execution is extremely accurate, often with insistence on secondary details.
This extensive restoration – it should not be forgotten that the frescoes of the Sistine vault alone cover an area of over 1200 m 2 – also provided an important mass of data, relating to the frescoes themselves and to the interventions that took place during the centuries. These data have been entered into a computer; together with the photogrammetric survey of the vault, made for the occasion, it is thus possible to obtain all the information relating to the restoration, placing them on graphic schemes, corresponding to Michelangelo’s cartoons.
The most striking novelty arising from the restoration work was undoubtedly that of color. Removed the thick layer of dirt, lampblack, and foreign glues, a new face of Michelangelo’s painting appeared, very different from the one we were used to knowing, but certainly more truthful because it was perfectly inserted in the pictorial tradition of his time: a color that as regards the frescoes on the vault appears to be of typically Florentine extraction, the result of his youthful attendance at the Ghirlandaio workshop and which was rightly related to the color of the first Tuscan mannerists. On the other hand, the speech for the Judgment is different, created by Buonarroti about thirty years after the work of the vault, where the tones are softer and warmer,
A solvent mixture was used to remove the darkening layer, which has been in use for years with good results. This mixture, which acts in contact time with an average duration of about 3 minutes, is made up of a mixture of carboxylmethylcellulose, ” desogen ” (a surfactant with bactericidal and antifungal action), ammonium carbonate, diluted in distilled water. Obviously this procedure was used only for the fresh parts; while for the few dry parts, cleaned last, after fixing them with Paraloid B 72, specific water-free organic solvents were used. A slightly different technique was used to clean the Judgment, consisting of a preliminary washing of distilled water and a subsequent treatment with a 25% solution of water and ammonium carbonate.
The novelty of this unprecedented color by Michelangelo has sparked some criticisms on the validity of the restoration intervention, based mostly on aesthetic evaluations and personalistic considerations, often without even direct knowledge of the restoration techniques used and without having seen the results closely. of work. The controversy, however, gradually faded with the progress of the works, also because they were emptied of credibility by the positive consensus and appreciation of the major art historians, Italian and foreign, and of the restorers and qualified technicians. The restoration work on Michelangelo’s frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, already qualified as ” the restoration of the century ”, was conducted by G. Colalucci, assisted by M. Rossi, P. Bonetti and B. Baratti, under the direction by F. Mancinelli, with the scientific coordination of N. Gabrielli and the supervision of C. Pietrangeli. An advisory commission, made up of art historians and restoration technicians constantly followed the work, photographed and filmed in full by one team of the Japanese Nippon Television, which funded the restoration.