The restoration of a sculpture the artist created for his tomb sheds light on the psychology of the aging Renaissance master.
FLORENCE, Italy – Michelangelo was an old man when he began work on a sculpture he envisioned as an altar for his tomb: it was a marble pieta, containing the Virgin Mary, St. Mary Magdalene and the Pharisee Nicodemus. Supported by Jesus was depicted. Whose face is a barely carved self-portrait of an aging artist.
Michelangelo worked on the project between 1547 and 1555, while he was in his 70s, and it was a difficult project from the start. His friend and biographer Giorgio Vasari wrote that the marble block was flawed and full of inaccuracies and that “the chisel often produced sparks.” Michelangelo became frustrated, eventually giving up the work, and Vasari wrote that Michelangelo tried to destroy it.
But the sculpture survived, and last week the Pieta was publicly celebrated here after its first major restoration in nearly 470 years.
Timothy Verdon, director of the MSGR Opéra del Duomo Museum, which has been home to the statue for the past 40 years, said, “It is Michelangelo’s most personal work, not only because it contains his own portrait and was destined for him.” Tomb, but because it expresses her tormented relationship with Marble.”
An analysis of the marble during the restoration revealed that it did not come from Michelangelo’s go-to quarry Carrara in Tuscany, as was believed, but from quarries in Cerveza, about 10 miles away.
The restorers also saw why Michelangelo might have left the work unfinished. The marble is imperfect, does not have a uniform color throughout the block, and contains traces of pyrite, a sulfide mineral that reacts with the metal, which explains why the sparks fly when Michelangelo walks away. The marble block also showed fractures and small cracks, which were not necessarily visible when Michelangelo began forging, but were easily broken when struck. Such a fracture would have taken Michelangelo by surprise while he was carving the left arms of Christ and the Virgin Mary; One flaw was so unmistakable that Michelangelo was forced to throw in the chisel, as it were.
“He suffered a fracture, he may have tried to work around it, but in this case he wasn’t able to do much,” said the project’s lead restorer Paola Rosa.
After deciding to leave her, Michelangelo presented the statue To his servant Antonio da Casteldurante, who entrusted it to one of Michelangelo’s pupils and occasional collaborators, Tiberio Calcagni, who reworked the statue into the semi-finished state it now houses.
Around 1560, the work was sold to the banker Francesco Bandini, and the work became known as the Bandini Pieta. It made its way from Rome to Florence, where it was installed behind the main altar of the city’s cathedral, beneath large candelabras with traces of wax dripping.
But it was the plaster cast taken from the statue in 1882 that changed it most significantly. The idol was badly cleaned after the cast was taken, leaving it white and scorched. Cathedral conservators at the time decided to apply advocate of amber-colored wax, which had been reapplied for decades, especially on the most exposed areas. Aged wax, and plaster and other materials – joined by some fragments that had broken off – oxidized, so that the sculpture became speckled.
“We joked that it looked like a Dalmatian,” Rosa said.
The current restoration began in 2019, and was carried out in an open restoration laboratory at the Museum of the Opera del Duomo, which has been owned by the institution and, for 700 years, has overseen the maintenance of Florence’s cathedral and other buildings. There, visitors could see Rosa and her team working on the sculpture (when the museum was not closed due to the coronavirus).
In an interview last week, Rosa said that removing the layers of wax and grime brought back “the original idea of Michelangelo’s sculpture”, adding that it was a “difficult job”.
Rosa has restored several sculptures of Michelangelo in Florence, including the famous David in the Accademia Gallery, as well as the so-called “Pitti Tondo” and a statue of Brutus, both in the city’s Bargello Museum.
“The first time I laid my hands on Michelangelo I was 40, now I’m 62,” Rosa said, her voice breaking with emotion. “It’s very moving, very special, and I still don’t feel like I know him,” she said. “With just a few blows with his scalpel, he’s capable of doing amazing things,” she said.
The Opera del Duomo Museum has one of the best collections of late medieval and Renaissance sculpture in Italy, and some 600 sculptures were restored when the museum was closed and reopened in 2015.
“We basically engaged every reputable restorer in central Italy to do this blitzkrieg on the dirt on our sculptures for a period of two years,” Verdon said.
The Pieta was the only major work that was not restored at the time, as it required “expertise and time” and would give the museum a new opportunity to display its collection later, the museum’s director Verdon told a media report. Said at the conference. Friday.
Antonio Natalie, a board member of the Opera del Duomo, said in an interview that while another Michelangelo Pieta was more famous – created for St Peter’s Basilica in Rome when the artist was 24 years old – the restored work was “the most” of them all. to touch “
This Pieta was also one of Michelangelo’s most torturous works. Carving it, he looked to his death, even as he feared that marble—a material he had mastered—would not adhere to his chisels.
In his biography of Michelangelo, Vasari wrote that he met the artist late at night and found him working on the sculpture, “trying to make changes” on one of the feet of the figure of Christ. Looking at Vasari, “Michelangelo released the lanterns from his hand, leaving them in the dark,” to prevent Vasari from seeing it.
Michelangelo then said to Vasari: “I am so old that death often pulls me from the cape to accompany him, and one day, like this lantern, my body will collapse, and the light of life will be extinguished.”