April 28, 2021

The Palette is available to all interested with an e-Subscription

In this issue:

Ancient Cave Painters May Have Limited Their Oxygen for Creative Inspiration
Not a Leonardo! Clue to wax bust’s attribution lies inside a sperm whale
Sale of Chinese painting shows art value rising in pandemic
Why do some Picasso paintings deteriorate faster than others? Researchers have solved the mystery
President George W. Bush's Paintings Celebrate Immigrants
Even Street Artists Don’t Like Seeing Their Work Tagged. Now, Chemists Have Developed New Methods to Clean Murals of Graffiti
Remembering Gianluigi Colalucci, who oversaw the 14-year restoration of Michelangelo's frescoes in the Sistine Chapel
Italy's Uffizi discovers lost frescoes during COVID shutdown




Ancient Cave Painters May Have Limited Their Oxygen for Creative Inspiration
Cavernous conditions and fire may have contributed to an “altered states of consciousness,” according to researchers at Tel Aviv University.

French artist Marcel Duchamp once scorned the painters of his time as “intoxicated by turpentine,” mocking their outdated adherence to the medium. The artists of the Prehistoric era, it turns out, may have had a similar problem. A new study found that history’s earliest painters created their works on the innermost walls of deep, dark caves that required lighting by fire, deliberately reducing their oxygen levels to induce “altered states of consciousness.”

The paper was published by researchers at Tel Aviv University in Time and Mind: The Journal of Archaeology, Consciousness and Culture. They focused primarily on caves in Spain and France from the Upper Paleolithic period (between 40,000 and 14,000 years ago) to investigate why humans sought to decorate their most cavernous spots.

By simulating the effect of torches on oxygen concentrations in comparable settings, the authors found that oxygen levels decreased to a state of hypoxia — a condition that boosts the release of dopamine in the brain, potentially resulting in hallucinations and out-of-body experiences.

“Entering these deep, dark environments was a conscious choice, motivated by an understanding of the transformative nature of an underground, oxygen-depleted space,” the paper concludes.

Hey, whatever works to get those creative juices flowing, right? Hyperallergic


Not a Leonardo! Clue to wax bust’s attribution lies inside a sperm whale
New scientific report confirms that wax bust of the goddess Flora—bought by the eminent museum director Wilhelm Bode—dates to after the Renaissance

A Leonardo, or not? Scholars and scientists are locking horns—and the media is frantic. No, they are not fighting over the Salvator Mundi, or even the drawing nicknamed the Bella Principessa. But rather a wax bust of the goddess Flora, bought by the Berlin Royal Museums in 1909 as a work by the Florentine master, sparking controversy around the world. Two years after the purchase, more than 730 articles had been recorded all over Europe, arguing for and against the Leonardo attribution, says Ina Reiche, who led a study proving that the work was in fact more likely by the 19th-century English sculptor Richard Cockle Lucas, or a contemporary inspired like him by Old Masters.

Wilhelm Bode, who chaired the Berlin museums from 1905 until his death in 1929, acquired the 70cm sculpture in London for the steep price of 185,000 Goldmark, convinced that the work was by Leonardo because of its resemblance to figures painted by him. Reactions were immediate, as there were no other known Renaissance sculptures made of wax. Bode and other art historians argued that Leonardo was renowned for his constant innovations with materials. But Gustav Pauli, a Hamburg museum director, suggested it might be by Richard Cockle Lucas, known to have created a large number of sculptures in ivory, marble and wax inspired by ancient times. Lucas was a successful sculptor, known for his medallions and reliefs. Trained at the Royal Academy, where he regularly exhibited his works, he was also a good sketch artist, an engraver, a photographer, an antiquarian and an amateur architect, who built his two houses in Chilworth (Hampshire), and named his son Albert Dürer. An eccentric character, believing in fairies, Lucas would photograph himself in various disguises from Antiquity or the Renaissance, and was often seen driving around Southampton in a Roman chariot.

In 1910, his son claimed that the Flora bust was his father’s work, made in 1846 out of burnt candle stubs. He produced a drawing made after the bust and described how he helped his father stuff it with newspapers and wood pieces, which were indeed found in it. But then Bode, who stubbornly maintained his Leonardo attribution until his death, claimed this evidence came from a 19th-century restoration, an argument regularly used in all disputes about fakes. Forensic examinations remain inconclusive. The debate raged for years, some claiming Bode had been duped by a forgery while others believed it was indeed a Renaissance work, albeit not by Leonardo.

The mystery has now been solved. According to a study published by the journal Scientific Reports today Ina Reiche, working with the French Museums’ laboratory and the Institut de recherche de chimie de Paris, and formerly with the Rathgen laboratory in Berlin, studied the wax material, using Carbon-14 dating, along with Lucile Beck and Ingrid Caffy, from the Paris-Saclay University Laboratoire de mesure du C14.

This was no mean feat. The analysis of samples taken from the bust confirmed that the material was spermaceti wax, which comes from the head cavity of the sperm whale and was commonly used in 19th-century candles, with a small addition of beeswax. Radiocarbon dating is therefore complicated by the mix of terrestrial and marine sources as, the article explains, “carbon consumed by the organisms in deep and shallow seawater is older than that consumed on land”. According to the article, “to further complicate the procedure, the location of the marine source must be known to accurately calibrate marine material”, and whales and cachalots are known to travel long distances. So, the researchers had to find a formula to combine the atmospheric and marine calibration curves, respecting the proportions of each component in the bust.

The analysis showed a spectrum ranging from 1704 to 1950, so the work was definitely not from the Renaissance. The components were also compared with samples taken out of a relief of Leda and the Swan carved by Lucas from the Berlin Museums, that served as references for the Flora calibration, because, the report says, the wax spectra of the samples from both sculptures proved to be “almost identical”.

So, it seems, the formidable director of the Berlin Museums was wrong and the artist’s son was probably right. The Art Newspaper


Sale of Chinese painting shows art value rising in pandemic
A Chinese painting from 1924 is expected to fetch at least $45 million in a Hong Kong auction next month

A Chinese painting from 1924 is expected to fetch at least $45 million in an auction in Hong Kong, as collectors' appetite for art continues to rise even amid economic uncertainty brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.

The painting by influential Chinese modern artist Xu Beihong depicts a slave hiding in a cave and a lion. It is based thematically from ancient Roman mythology and Aesop’s Fables, according to Christie’s auction house, which unveiled the painting Monday.

Xu frequently uses the lion in his work to exemplify his faith in the rise of the Chinese nation. The lion in the painting is wounded, but remains dignified, righteous and proud – a symbol of the Chinese spirit, the auction house said.

The “Slave and Lion” painting is considered a groundbreaking work that inspired Xu’s later paintings and one of the most important oil paintings in Chinese art history.

“Xu Beihong himself is one of the most important modern artist in China who has influenced generations of painters and artists,” said Francis Belin, President of Christie’s in Asia Pacific. “That kind of work and that kind of size, and that kind of prestige, does not come to the market very often.”

The painting is estimated to fetch between $45 million to $58 million in a single-lot auction on May 24.

Belin said there is a diverse appetite for modern and contemporary masterpieces and the market is expected to remain strong.

Last year, a 700-year-old Chinese painted scroll titled “Five Drunken Princes Returning on Horseback” from the Yuan Dynasty fetched $41.8 million at a Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong. abcNEWS


Why do some Picasso paintings deteriorate faster than others? Researchers have solved the mystery
A three-year research project looked at the materials in four works from the same period to explain their differing conditions

International researchers have discovered why one of four closely related paintings by Pablo Picasso has deteriorated more quickly than the others.

The multidisciplinary project—one of the first of its kind to combine studies of chemical properties with observations of mechanical damage—marks a leap forward in conservators’ efforts to prevent degradation through environmental control, the researchers claim.

The study centred on four paintings inspired by the Ballets Russes, the Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev’s itinerant dance troupe, which Picasso produced in no more than a few months while working at a friend’s studio in Barcelona in 1917. During the period, the artist used new mercerised cotton canvases and bought materials—including oil paints based on drying oils such as linseed and sunflower, as well as animal glue with which he coated the canvases—from a limited number of suppliers.

Stored in Picasso’s family home until 1970 and donated to the Museu Picasso in Barcelona thereafter, the works have been exposed to identical environmental conditions. Staff therefore questioned why one of the works, Hombre sentado (Seated man), has deteriorated more severely than the other three paintings.

“[Hombre sentado] shows signs of extreme cracking all over the painted surface,” Laura Fuster-López, professor of conservation at the Universitat Politècnica de València, tells The Art Newspaper. “It is like looking at a river bed once the water has dried up, with cracks and creases visible on the surface.”

To solve the mystery, the museum launched “ProMeSa”, a three-year research project funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation which began in 2017. Fuster-López, the project’s coordinator, was joined by a conservation and heritage scientist from Venice’s Ca’ Foscari University, material scientists from Queen’s University in Canada, experts in mechanical damage from The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts and specialists in non-invasive techniques from the CNR Institute of Applied Physics in Florence.

Similarities between the works’ composition and age, and the fact they have never been separated, meant researchers could isolate variables to accurately determine which materials have caused degradation, Fuster-López says. The team used both chemical analysis and non-invasive techniques—including x-ray fluorescence, infrared and reflectography—to study various strata, from surface paint films down to the canvas ground layer.

Picasso used a canvas with a tighter weave for Hombre sentado, coating it with a thicker ground layer of animal glue, researchers found. Both factors meant larger internal stresses formed when the paintings were exposed to fluctuating humidity, while chemical reactions between certain pigments and binding media sparked chemical reactions that caused paints to degrade. As a result, the paints gradually cracked when stresses built, Francesca Izzo, a conservation and heritage scientist at Ca’ Foscari, tells The Art Newspaper.

In the past, conservators have relied mainly on chemical analysis to determine how some materials lead to deterioration. Combining such studies with those of more tangible signs of mechanical damage offers a more rounded picture, allowing conservators to take more informed conservation decisions. “As a conservator-restorer I was finding it difficult to define a conservation strategy: the chemical perspective was not enough, so I started looking for a complementary perspective,” Fuster-López says. The team's discoveries, she hopes, will aid other conservators. “It is our responsibility to supply them with the right tools and understanding of materials.”

The study’s findings were published in SN Applied Sciences at the start of this year. The Art Newspaper


President George W. Bush's Paintings Celebrate Immigrants
His new book of portraits, 'Out of Many, One,' highlights their inspiring stories

Former President George W. Bush, 74, has found a post-politics passion: painting. You can see his latest work in a new book, Out of Many, One: Portraits of America's Immigrants, which features 43 portraits of remarkable people who have come to the U.S. from 35 countries around the world, accompanied by his descriptions of their unique challenges and valuable contributions to American life. The paintings will be displayed in an exhibit at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas through Jan. 3, 2022.

The president's hope? To “help focus our collective attention on the positive impacts that immigrants are making on our country,” he writes in the book. (A portion of its sales will benefit organizations that help immigrants resettle, as well as the Bush Institute and its work to reform immigration policy.)

Here are five of his paintings, with his comments, adapted from the book.

I met Annika at a 2011 clinic we hosted for young golfers with First Tee, a nonprofit organization that introduces children to golf and builds character by teaching the “nine core values” associated with the sport: honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, courtesy, and judgment. Annika was the perfect person to inspire the 125 inner-city kids who had shown up for that clinic. Born in Stockholm, Annika came to the U.S. in the 1980s, and she would go on to dominate women's professional golf. After Annika retired in 2008, she created the Annika Foundation, which provides golf opportunities for girls in America and around the world, teaching them skills that will help prepare them for the next chapter of life. Annika's example and commitment to young people add to the character of our nation, and I am proud that this world champion chose America as the place to hang her visor.


Carlos and I met just as I was beginning to work on Out of Many, One. Carlos had emigrated from El Salvador during a civil war that displaced more than a million people; prior to the war, he had never considered leaving his culture, his family and his childhood memories. Fearing for his safety, Carlos arrived in the U.S. on a student visa, but he was terribly homesick and unprepared for life in America — and deeply worried for his family back in El Salvador. He began to question his identity and found himself at the First Presbyterian Church in Wichita, Kansas. Through the church's kindness, Carlos was able to gain citizenship, not just for himself but also for his family.

Now, 40 years later, Carlos has had a prestigious career as a college professor — he teaches federal and Texas government to first- and second-year college students at Tarrant County College South in Fort Worth, Texas, and he is the first Hispanic individual to do so. Speaking with Carlos about his experience, I find that his gratitude and admiration for America and the opportunities provided to him always stand out.


Roya was born in Afghanistan, but she and her family fled to Iran to escape the oppression of the Taliban. In 2003, with al-Qaeda and the Taliban in retreat, Roya and her family returned to Afghanistan, where she immersed herself in her studies and developed an affinity for computers and technology. After graduating from university, Roya started a software company, making her one of the first female tech CEOs in the country. Roya's business was dedicated to building free internet-enabled classrooms across Afghanistan, which allowed more than 160,000 female students to connect to the world; Sheryl Sandberg highlighted Roya's efforts in Time magazine's “100 Most Influential People in the World.” Unfortunately, in 2013 the Taliban still loomed large in Afghanistan, and Roya's success and efforts caught their attention. Roya knew it was time to leave. She was able to secure a work visa and arrived in New York to begin her business again — without the overwhelming fear that it could all be taken away from her.

As the United States and our allies make decisions about our future in Afghanistan, it's important to remember stories like Roya's and what life was like for them prior to 2001. Only five thousand Afghan girls were enrolled in primary schools at that time; today, there are more than 3.5 million. We all benefit when women and girls are empowered to realize their full potential and become contributing members of society.

Gilbert is from a tiny village in southern Burundi, where he ran everywhere. His family gave him the nickname “Tumagu,” which roughly translates to “fast wind.” When he started going to school, he would run more than six miles each way, and by his junior year of high school, Gilbert became Burundi's national champion in the four hundred- and eight hundred-meter runs. The next year, Gilbert was running for his life. Violence between the Hutu and Tutsi people broke out in the region, including in neighboring Rwanda. A group of Hutus — including one of Gilbert's best friends and track teammates — came to Gilbert's high school, roped all the Tutsi they could find together, forced them into a building, and set it on fire. Somehow Gilbert was able to survive, emerging from the building that now housed his dead classmates with third-, fourth- and fifth-degree burns on 30 percent of his body, including his legs. Not knowing what else to do, Gilbert did what he did best: He started running. He found his way to a hospital, where doctors told Gilbert he would never run again. It would take him three months of painful recovery, but Gilbert defied the odds. He trained for his country for the Olympic Games and ran for an NCAA school, and in 1999, he won the Division II national championship in the eight hundred meters. He graduated from Abilene Christian University with a business degree and began training local runners under his racing company, Gilbert's Gazelles.

I met Gilbert through one of his students, my daughter Jenna. Today, Gilbert runs his charitable organization, the Gazelle Foundation, and thanks to his efforts, more than one hundred thousand people, both Hutus and Tutsis, now have access to clean water.

Thear was born in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, during the Khmer Rouge, a Communist regime led by Pol Pot. By year four of his time in power, Pol Pot had presided over the deaths of 2 million of his people. Thear's family somehow managed to survive the genocide, escaping to a Thai refugee camp before moving to America under the sponsorship of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services. Thear's mother and father worked minimum-wage jobs to support their family, and the five kids pitched in by rooting through trash and redeeming cans for a nickel and bottles for a dime. They wore donated clothing and initially lived in housing projects in West Dallas, where they often received calls telling them to “go back” to their country; they feared for their safety. With the support of a local church and two individuals — Ron Colwart, a local police officer who got Thear involved in a scouting group he had started for Southeast Asian students, and John Gallagher, Thear's third-grade teacher, who advocated for her education — her life was transformed.

Today, Thear works with more community organizations than there's room to list, including the boards of directors of the Texas Women's Foundation, the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum, and the Boy Scouts of America. As a Presidential Leadership Scholar in the 2019 class, Thear took on a personal leadership project, engaging men in the conversation about invisible gender differences and how women and men can work together to solve the gender equality issue. When I talk to Thear, she will say, “We have come full circle, from receiving help from others when we were in need to now serving others in need." AARP


Even Street Artists Don’t Like Seeing Their Work Tagged. Now, Chemists Have Developed New Methods to Clean Murals of Graffiti
The chemistry is complicated, but the resulting product is easy to use and could revolutionize the field of street art restoration.

It’s part and parcel of the trade: If you’re a street artist, your work won’t last forever. It will corrode with the elements, it might be knocked down along with the building, and will probably be hit with graffiti tags.

Given the increasing popularity—and market value—of street artists like Banksy, a team of scientists have created a new way to clean vandalized street art, reports Ars Technica.

“There is a need now for conservators and restorers to begin to think about how we can preserve pieces of street art,” said chemist Michele Baglioni, one of the researchers unveiling the (environmentally friendly) method at this year’s American Chemical Science conference.

“The main problem with preserving street art,” he added, “[is] it’s usually done with materials that are not intended to last long, and it’s accessible by people, not conserved in an enclosed and protected environment—anyone can go and paint over it.”

One of the biggest challenges is removing overpainting without damaging the underlying work, “because, from a chemical standpoint, the materials of the actual piece of street art are almost the same as the overpaint,” Baglioni said.

The researchers developed a new system using low-toxicity solvents to give conservators control over how the cleaning agent is applied, and to make it possible to clean just the top layer of paint.

After formulating a nanostructured cleaning combination, they loaded that solvent into a highly retentive hydrogel, printed in thin sheets only a few microns thick. Once applied to the overpainting, the hydrogel slowly releases the solvent, softening and swelling the top layer of overpaint without penetrating the mural below. After a few minutes, the offending paint can be easily scraped away.

There are already some products on the market to protect street art from graffiti before it happens, such as MuralShield, which claims to chemically fuse paint layers to protect murals from vandals, weathering, and sun damage, and allow restorers to wipe away overpainting.

Meanwhile, Goldman Global Arts has been using an anti-graffiti coating for its rotating display of artworks on the Houston Bowery Wall in New York.

“The two-part varnish provides a thick, candy-coated clear shell over the mural and provides a barrier of protection from vandalization,” the wall’s project manager, Troy Kelley, told Artnet News in an email. “The amount of creativity, time, and work that goes into these murals makes it so important for our team to keep them protected.”

Some street artists have been doing battle with graffiti for decades. “I’ve had to reclaim and repair my street art spots countless times,” veteran street artist Shepard Fairey told Artnet News. “If an artist chooses to protect their work through vigilant maintenance or the use of a protective product, I respect that. Even though I accept the defiant and competitive nature of street art and graffiti culture, in my opinion, there are always more places to get up than just over another artist’s work.”

Other artists have no problem with their work being painted over. Adrian Wilson has painted 12 murals on the roll-down gate of the Bowery Martial Arts Supplies store in Soho for the Lisa Project since September, sometimes replacing them once they’ve been defaced.

A recent piece, titled #StopAsianHate, of a girl releasing Chinese lantern in the style of Banksy’s Balloon Girl, was tagged three separate times over the course of five weeks, the last so badly it wasn’t able to be repainted.

“Ultimately, the street is an ever changing place, and I believe art and graffiti should reflect that,” Wilson told Artnet News in a Instagram message. “Of course there are spectacular murals and graffiti that remain intact because they are respected by the street art graffiti community, but anyone who paints on the street should move on to indoor or canvas work if they can’t deal with the inevitability of having their work destroyed.”

And it happens even to the most famous of artists. A new work by Banksy in Bristol was tagged shortly after its creation for Valentine’s Day—perhaps by a graffiti artist eager to piggyback off his notoriety.

“I’m kind of glad the piece in Barton Hill got vandalized,” Banksy said on Instagram. “The initial sketch was a lot better.”

But for those artists wishing to reclaim their work from tags, the scientists hope to offer a new solution.

So far, they’ve conducted testing on different kinds of paint, based on acrylic, vinyl, and alkyd polymers binders, and developed a cleaner that works on all three. The resulting method could potentially even be used to conserve traditional paintings on canvas or panel, as well as street art.

“We hope,” Baglioni said, “that the whole conservation community will benefit from the development of our systems.” artnet news


Remembering Gianluigi Colalucci, who oversaw the 14-year restoration of Michelangelo's frescoes in the Sistine Chapel
The restorer expertly honoured the "oneness of a work of art" and always balanced its historical and aesthetic qualities

When Pope John Paul II inaugurated Michelangelo’s restored frescoes in the Sistine Chapel on 8 April 1994, Gianluigi Colalucci was not present. Instead of figuring prominently at the pontifical mass together with the art historian Fabrizio Mancinelli, artistic director of the whole enterprise, and his other close collaborators, Colalucci chose to offer his expertise on television, commenting on the newly cleaned murals and on their primary function as an adornment to papal ceremonies. In his autobiography, Io e Michelangelo (2015), Colalucci described himself as someone who rarely let his emotions show.

Colalucci enjoyed his work tremendously— whether he was restoring Titian in Padua or Giulio Aristide Sartorio in the Italian parliament buildings, whether working for the Vatican or in his own business, or when teaching at the Universitat Politècnica de València for Pilar Roig or lecturing around the world. His claim to fame is the restoration of Michelangelo’s Sistine frescoes in 1980-94, and the professional ethos he showed in that work. Maintaining a consistent level of cleaning over 14 years, and over a large surface—about 1,200 sq m. between the vault and the altar wall—was a great achievement and the prerequisite to bringing back a unity to Michelangelo’s two creations: the ceiling with The Creation of Adam (1508-12) and, above the altar, The Last Judgement (1532-41). Since the scaffolding where Colalucci worked was open to scholars, artists, journalists and the occasional VIP, the enterprise became not only a demonstration in fresco technique but also a visual tutorial in what Colalucci’s mentor, Cesare Brandi, advocated in his Theory of Critical Restoration (1963)—that a restoration had to honour the “potential oneness of a work of art” and to respect and keep in balance both its historical and its aesthetic qualities.

A retiring character caught up in public controversy

Colalucci was a perfect match for Mancinelli. They enjoyed the Sistine Chapel limelight together, but also faced criticism from colleagues and artists, as well as an intense controversy, built up in the media, about the extent of the cleaning. Colalucci was too wise to trespass on questions of attribution or dating, while Mancinelli always related his art historical conclusions to the technical evidence. Bringing Michelangelo’s colour to the people in their exciting lectures, each in his own way answered the Michelangelo expert Michael Hirst’s request: “What do we learn about the artist?” Their restoration continued the earlier work on the chapel’s 15th-century frescoes, which ­Deoclecio Redig de Campos, then artistic director of the Vatican Museums, had undertaken in the 1960s and 1970s. While De Campos had wisely avoided a clash of the quattrocentisti with the “dark” Michelangelo, the revelation of Michel­angelo’s colours in Colalucci’s work later enabled a further approach to Perugino, Botticelli, Ghirlandaio and Cosimo ­Rosselli, which we completed for the Papal Jubilee of 2000, cleaning their wall paintings to the same level as those of Michelangelo. Thus, all three phases focused on the aesthetic unity of the chapel.

Mancinelli died in 1994, less than two months after the conclusion of the work in the chapel. At the funeral, Colalucci again declined a prominent role. He did not want to join Fabrizio’s pallbearers, but as the coffin passed him by, he reached out to touch it for a personal, almost venerating, farewell. Colalucci was instrumental in choosing Mancinelli’s successor and convinced me to accept the position, since he was concerned that “someone who knows how we work” should ensure the continuity of De Campos’s idea of the Vatican restoration laboratory.

Colalucci retired at the end of the same year as chief restorer, but remained as a consultant to the Vatican Museums. At the time, the restoration of Raphael’s Stanze in the Vatican Museums had reached The School of Athens, perhaps Raphael’s most emblematic wall painting. In the face of unfounded outside criticism, and after analysing the painting under layers of fixings and retouchings for several months, the restorer in charge, Enrico Guidi, reported: “There are 57 figures in the fresco, and there are 57 states of preservation.” A work of this importance requires a clear vision of what a restoration can achieve before work starts—something Colalucci always insisted on. Carlo Pietrangeli, the director general of the Vatican Museums from 1978 to 1995, who had to approve decisions, faltered—as he had previously done at the beginning of the Sistine restoration. Colalucci proposed that he would restore one figure­—that of Ptolemy­—and that if the result was satisfactory, we would continue, or otherwise cease work. Colalucci again put his own and the laboratory’s reputation on the line. He frequently contemplated the great responsibility involved in maintaining such icons of Western culture, but relished the challenge.

This was not Colalucci’s first crucial encounter with the artist from Urbino. In the mid-1970s, before he became chief restorer at the Vatican, he had intervened with De Campos, then director of the Vatican Museums, about the restoration work being done in Raphael’s loggie on the second floor of the Vatican Palace. Treatment with an inorganic chemical product was destroying the frescoes. Colalucci’s action saved the decoration, and what one sees today in the vault of the second bay of the loggie—where Raphael has illustrated the story of Adam and Eve—is his retouching of what remains. He followed even in this situation the principles of Brandi’s Theory, of not covering up damaged work but making a balanced adjustment which does not hide the ruins. It had required all Colalucci’s learned and practical culture to deal with such a challenge. He would evoke the events of Raphael’s loggie —where he was confronted with what he saw as the most troublesome work of restoration of his experience—as a warning whenever he felt the Vatican Museums were becoming too self-assured.

Colalucci was not a tall man, but he was attractive, self-confident and serene. His soft, pleasing voice gave him a touch of charisma and conveyed his competence. He was born into a Roman family of lawyers, though his father worked as a journalist, initially as a theatre critic. Gianluigi did not conform to this family tradition, but it perhaps gave him his powers of reasoning and his clear exposition of a topic. He enrolled in 1949 at the recently founded national restoration school—Cesare Brandi’s Istituto Centrale di Restauro (ICR)—and took his diploma in 1953. Brandi’s Theory of Critical Restoration, a seemingly simple but highly philosophical book, does not provide instructions for conservators but stimulates a methodical approach to a work of art or architecture.

Colalucci was a personification of Brandi’s holistic approach to artworks. This determined even his relationship to his art historical counterparts. He insisted that a restorer propose several different levels of cleaning and their relative implications, but that the art historian directing a programme of restoration had to decide how far to go. He urged people to consider the work of art in its entirety at all stages of a restoration.

Trained in the ruins left by the Second World War

In his twenties, Colalucci received his training in restoration among the remains of works destroyed by bombing during the Second World War, including Mantegna’s Ovetari Chapel in Padua. It gave him experience for a lifetime as a restorer. After Colalucci had worked for seven years in Crete, Assisi and Palermo, it turned out that De Campos, then director of the laboratory at the Vatican Museums, was looking to transform it into a professional institution, an approach he repeated as director general of the scholarly department when he appointed Mancinelli. Looking for someone who could “restore Raphael”, De Campos turned for advice to the ICR. Colalucci thus entered the Vatican Museums in 1960 as an outsider, free of the usual recommendations and “family bonus”. He maintained his independence and became chief restorer in 1979 until his retirement. He was convinced that “the value of an institution derives from the people who lead and represent it; in other words, their level of quality, efficiency and reliability, and not only from its history”.

I met him for the last time on his final visit to the Sistine Chapel, in February 2020, when Raphael’s tapestries—which first hung beneath Michelangelo’s ceiling in 1519—were exhibited in the chapel once more, for just one week. It was a rare chance to see the chapel’s decoration, which he had done so much to preserve, as a whole—as it had been intended in the lifetimes of Michelangelo and Raphael. Gianluigi was, he said, satisfied with what he had achieved.

Gianluigi Colalucci; born 24 December 1929; died 28 March 2021 The Art Newspaper


Italy's Uffizi discovers lost frescoes during COVID shutdown

The Uffizi Gallery in Florence used the winter COVID shutdown to push ahead with renovations, discovering lost frescoes that will greet visitors when the leading repository of Italian Renaissance art reopens on May 4.

Uffizi director Eike Schmidt said the six months of closure were put to good use: renovating 14 new rooms that will open to the public next month, and discovering frescoes that would otherwise have remained hidden.

But he hopes that the most recent reopening — the third during the pandemic — will be the last.

“We very much hope that now we will be able to open stably and without further closures. We hope so for the museum, but we hope it also for the world and for human society,″ Schmidt said.

The previously hidden frescoes include a life-size figure of a young Cosimo II de Medici — part of the Renaissance family that commissioned the Uffizi — dating from the 1600s, as well as decorative plant motifs from the 1700s on the walls and ceiling of nearby rooms.

They are located in the museum's west wing, which is where the new visitors' entrance will be when the Uffizi reopens.

Schmidt said the new entrance facing the Arno River would provide “a glorious introduction” for visitors. Classic statuary will be added to the entrance in the future.

Workers also completed restoration on new rooms dedicated to 16th Century high and late Renaissance art from central and northern Italy, beyond Tuscany. They complete the sweep through art history from the Middle Ages with Giotto, to the Renaissance masters Botticelli, Raphael and Michelangelo, beyond to the counter-reformation and Venetian galleries.

"You can now seamlessly walk through, or hike through, art history if you wish to do so,'' Schmidt said.

Under the Uffizi's new entry system, visitors will buy tickets, deposit coats and bags in the west wing and cross through a courtyard to the east wing, where they will pass through metal detectors and pick up audio guides before starting their rounds of the museum.

The number of visitors at the museum last year dropped to about a quarter of those in 2019 due to the COVID lockdowns in the spring and fall, with some 1.2 million people visiting in 2020, down from 4.4 million a year earlier.

Booking requests have already started coming in for the summer months, which the museum will be able to satisfy now that an opening date is official, Schmidt said.

With prospects for the resumption of international tourism only beginning to come into focus, Schmidt expects the gallery will operate at about half its capacity for the foreseeable future. Pre-pandemic, peak visitation reached as many as 12,000 people a day.

“Actually to visit the museum now and over the next few months will mean you will really feel even more as if you are part of the de Medici family,’’ Eike said. “Especially if you come in the early morning, you might be in the Botticelli room to yourself for two or three minutes before someone else arrives. That never, ever happens.”

The Uffizi has been closed since Nov. 5 except for two weeks in January when Tuscany was under Italy's lowest level of restrictions. Italy on Monday begins a gradual reopening. Along with museums being allowed to open their doors, restaurants in low-risk zones on Monday will be allowed to offer outdoor dining before a 10 p.m. curfew. Associated Press


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