After an “online only” last edition and with the goal to create synergy between Cultural Heritage and New Technologies, the conference Florence Heritech will take place in Florence from 16 to 18 May 2022, in same place and at the same time as the Florence Biennial Art and Restoration Fair.
Florence is since century a recognised cultural hub and it has an unrivalled tradition in the conservation and restoration field, as well as in the diagnostic one, with several private and public centres.
Florence Heri-Tech was launched in 2018 by the Department of Industrial Engineering of University of Florence (DIEF) and Association that runs the Fair. With its dense 3 days programme, articulated in 5 main topics: ICT and digital heritage, Diagnostics and monitoring, Engineering, Environment for CH and Materials Science and sustainable architecture for CH, this year the conference will be held both on line and on site, with free access to all.
The Conference will involve a large number of research projects and scholars from around the world and put the industry’s current issues under the spotlight, focussing on innovative techniques and technologies developed specifically for Cultural Heritage applications.
The city of Florence will therefore welcome experts and enthusiasts from around the world with significant opportunities for exchanges between researchers and companies, for the promotion of excellence and technological evolution, the greater use of culture and the improvement of educational field, the creation of opportunities for graduates and PhD students.
Do not miss it!
Crypto currency, NFT and a (fake?) Kandinsky for sale on a Russian website “to help the soldiers of Donbass”
The Terricon Project, Art for Victory, selling art, is being advertised online apparently “to help those in need” because of the war, i.e.. Russians, trying to grasp the opportunity offered by cryptocurrency: “in Russia, as well as Russians living abroad, there is more than 30% of the world’s total cryptocurrency. Now many are faced with the problem of blocking accounts, the inability to send finances. (…). It is here that you can absolutely anonymously help the Russian people right now”.
However, although signed and dated to 1909, the Kandinsky artwork for sale is likely to be a fraud. It was actually already questioned in 2005 when it was published in an “alternative” catalogue raisonné that provoked a scandal and the sharp criticism of the Kandinsky Society.
This is not surprising as the Russian Avant-Garde authentication world is a disaster, where the forgers are abundant and there are more fakes than genuine pictures.
It was the fall of Communism to fuel the Avant-Garde black market. The subsequent crisis paved the way for a market flooded with forgeries.
In the mid of 1920ies, Malevich and other contemporary artists were attacked by Stalin, who defined their work as “bourgeois” and confiscated many artworks. Once Russia liberalized its economy in the 1990s, their fate was reversed and such paintings became status symbols among Moscow’s oligarchs, and prices skyrocketed.
Another consequence of the collapse of the Soviet Union, was that major state museums and conservation institutes—including the Tretyakov Gallery and the Grabar Restoration Center—went into the business of issuing certificates of authenticity.
In some cases it was a too tempting occasion. If it is hard to imitate a Rubens, it is apparently much easier to invent a Malevich or a Kandinsky worth tens of millions each, and even simpler to issue fraudulent certificates.
The painting on sale for the Terricon project is supplied with certificates issued by the Department of Expertise exactly by the Tretyakov Gallery. And, this is far to be a reliable proof.
An internal Tretyakov investigation established that among the 212 paintings that had been examined by the museum’s department of expertise, 96 were mistakenly certified as genuine. As a consequence in 2006 the Russian ministry of culture prohibited institutions under its control from being involved in the certification of artworks. Yet, although in 2016 the Department of Expertise was disbanded, such certificates still circulate and may deceive naive collectors.
The painting offered on the website also appeared in the monumental monograph, “Kandinsky in Russia”, written by Valery Turchin, an art historian and professor at Moscow State University, whose publication was supported financially by the Russian government.
However, if there is one artist of the Russian avant-garde whose heritage has been sheltered, this is Vasily Kandinsky. In fact, neither Sotheby’s nor Christie’s nor any other major dealer will accept an artwork unless the Kandinsky Society in Paris has accepted the work for its catalogue raisonné.
The society, which is based in the Pompidou Center, was established in 1979 by the artist’s widow to protect and promote Kandinsky’s legacy. The directors of the three museums that hold the major part of Kandinsky’s works in the West—the National Museum of Modern Art at the Pompidou Center, the Lenbachhaus in Munich, and the Guggenheim Museum—are also members. The society does not hand out certificates; it informs owners that it will—or will not—list their works in its ongoing multivolume catalogue raisonné.
However, in practise it is a monopoly on Kandinsky authentication, that has raised more than one eyebrows. And it risks to cause political clashes as in Moskow not everybody agrees that should be a Western institution to decide on a Russian artist.
But it is certainly not challenged by Turchin and his “Society of Admirers of the Art of Wassily Kandinsky”, established in 2004. The organization has no headquarters. Its official activities have been limited to the publication of Turchin’s monograph and the installation of a memorial plaque on the house where Kandinsky lived in Moscow.
In fact, Turchin even certified a fake painting by Kandinsky that was confiscated by Italian police in 2011.
According to the Terricon Project, Sotheby’s has estimated the canvas at €10m. However, a Sotheby’s spokesperson told The Art Newspaper that the auction house “does not confirm estimates for artworks without first inspecting them in person, and establishing their authenticity”.
For what we can see on the website, there are no bids for the NFTs, and we hope that the war will end soon and certainly before anyone pays 10millions for a fake.
Kyoko, how did you become a restorer? What was your educational path?
I have always enjoyed the world of art, especially painting and music, since childhood; my parents took me to painting courses for children; at home I admired the collections of international art catalogues and art encyclopedias, for hours and hours, browsing among the various artistic techniques.
The interest in conservation and restoration, however, came later, and is linked to moments related to the world of Italian restoration. I associate the first moment to reading the special article on “Gijutsu Shincho”, an art magazine well known in Japan, on the restoration carried out by the Opificio delle Pietre Dure (OPD) in Florence, in the 1980s, on Botticelli’s “Primavera”, belonging to the Uffizi Gallery. I was particularly struck by the story of the restorer, Paola Bracco, and of her joy when, returning from work, she discovered in her garden the same species of flowers painted in the artwork.
The second moment is associated with reading the interview with Leonardo Passeri, former chief restorer of the OPD, in the magazine “Brutus”, also well known, on the profession of restorer. He spoke of the importance of the union of science, the history of art and the technique of restoration.
Finally, a decisive moment was the visit to the exhibition, “Florence: Renaissance Art and Restoration”, in Kyoto in 1991, curated by Antonio Paolucci, then Superintendent for the Artistic and Historical Heritage of Florence and Pistoia, Giorgio Bonsanti, at that time Superintendent of ‘OPD and Annamaria Petrioli Tofani, former Director of the Uffizi. It was the first Restoration exhibition in Japan, I think, and it fascinated me immensely.
Who would have imagined that after some time, I would have met all of them in Florence and would have had the honor of their teaching in Conservation and Restoration trainings! I still owe to them deeply.
I decided to come to Florence to become a restorer of cultural heritage in 1992, and initially attended the Institute for Art and Restoration, ‘Palazzo Spinelli’, then the Higher Education School of the Ministry of Culture, Opificio delle Pietre, after passing its very competitive selection.
I had the honor of attending lessons by excellent restorers, art historians, scientists and photographer.
At the same time I also worked in the atelier of Leonardo Passeri, a master of art, as well as a restorer.
My educational path is long and continuous; after the OPD, I also got a degree at the University of Tuscia and participated in numerous national and international trainings.
Let’s talk now about your work. With Art-Test there have been many opportunities for collaboration, which one do you want to remember?
Thanks to Art-Test I was able to obtain the radiographic analysis for an oil painting on canvas of the XVII century, belonging to the Uffizi Gallery. The Xrays analyses were very important in taking a decisive direction in designing the overall restoration.
They allowed to investigate the state of conservation of the original layers, hidden by the ancient fillings, and repaintings.
The X-ray plates showed that underneath the massive fillings in many parts the original canvas was still present, however not so was the original color, which was almost lost.
After considering the outcome of the investigations and the observations carried out on the work, it was deemed appropriate to carry out a differentiated cleaning operation.
It was decided not to remove some not original parts, probabily dating back to the seventeenth century. The old canvas was not removed, as it did not compromise the stability of the work.
With a deep experience as a restorer, in some cases it is possible to ‘guess’ the technique of execution and/or the state of conservation. Very often, however, this is impossible without scientific diagnosis, as in the case just discussed. Allow me to compare it to the field of medicine; who would dare to ask the doctor if the tumor is benign or malignant without taking a biopsy?
In general, what are the most common problems encountered during a restoration in which diagnostics tests are most useful? And what are the advantages for a restorer to combinea restoration project with a targeted diagnostic campaign?
I would say that a preliminary scientific diagnosis campaign is always useful and desirable. As I said before, it helps to understand the technique of execution and the state of conservation of the work; which is important in order to plan an appropriate conservation and restoration intervention. If the conservative problems are major and difficult to deal with, a diagnostic campaign becomes indispensable.
The public institution such as the OPD with which I have collaborated for various conservation and restoration and research projects, always conduct a diagnostic campaign before carrying out any conservation and restoration work. While as a private restorer (even when working for public artworks) this is not always feasible for financial reasons. Personally, I always carry out at least the non-invasive photographic diagnosis, such as UV fluorescence, IR, IR false color, for both public and private works.
The most critical problem arises when more sophisticated and expensive diagnoses are required (Radiography, IR Reflectography, Tac, XRF, FT-IR, IR-Raman, FORS, Cross-section, etc.) especially when the need arises only during the restoration.
When the budget is limited, however, it is still possible to reduce the type of analysis to the most necessary ones and analyze only some significant areas of the work with the fewest detection points. Therefore, obviously, it is important to have a good knowledge of the characteristics of each diagnostic analysis and of the conservation status of the work in order to be able to select: the type of diagnosis aimed at your specific case, the number of detection points, the area (points) of for the sampling, etc.
You have been working in this field for many years, what changes have you noticed, for example in terms of customers, prices and clients?
I work mainly for public institutions. For this category of clients, I have not seen a drastic change in the lasts twenty years. I probably belong to the “transient” generation. In general, I have always had to participate in a tender with several competitors to receive an assignment; the difficulty of winning was always there. In recent years, the difficulty has become greater as the opportunities to participate in a tender, in my opinion, have decreased, probably due to a ‘circularity’ of candidates in a metropolitan city like Florence where there are countless restorers.
I also work for private collectors; I am pleased when some of them return after so many years having appriciated the work performed.
Dialogues at the Salone Monday 16 May from 5.15 pm to 6.30 pm - Sala Brambilla
Two years ago, just in these days, we were given the opportunity, timidly but finally, to resume our work. Florence was silent and lonely
Now, after months of virtual meetings, the time has finally come to see each other in person: the Salone del Restauro returns to Florence, from 16 to 18 May, in a new location in the center of the city, in the Palazzo della Borsa of the Chamber of Commerce, next to Ponte Vecchio. And the entrance is free
As announced, Art–Test will be there and will present the first evidence of the diagnostic campaign on the fourteenth-century “Painted Cross”, a work attributed to date to the Master of San Lucchese but whose authorship is yet to be confirmed or rediscovered.
In collaboration with the Ghelli Museum of San Casciano, thanks to the director Nicoletta Matteuzzi, supported by a project funded by Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze Foundation, and together with the restorers of L ‘Atelier, Angela Matteuzzi and Lucia Cioppi, we will illustrate you to the first stages of study of this artifact which was not produced in the current form and size, but was intially probably a rectangular table. The reason for the downsizing is still not clear: practice or necessity?
A work of great historical and artistic importance, probably painted by a follower of Giotto between 1340 and 1370, and with a long history of conservation that shows many interventions stratified over centuries. The painting presents a peculiar executive technique and a compositional system that makes use of incisions but which also shows other signs of peculiarity.
The synergy between the various professionals, the continuous comparison with the scientific bibliography, the historical-artistic bibliography and archival documents are the basis of this study.
A diagnostic campaign that is useful for both conservative and attributive purposes is not only complex, but as long as the entire restoration. In fact, it provides for data acquisitions to be carried out throughout the intervention, to program it but also to check and confirm, and possibly redefine.
It is customary to write about diagnostics (and restoration) only at the end of a restoration, as the final act of a journey, almost as if this was the goal.
In this case the work is still in progress. Research still ongoing.
Where will this research lead us? We obviously tried to define everything in the design phase, when we wondered about questions that need to be answered. The first phase was in fact that of observing the work “de visu“, simultaneously with the restorers, in order to understand what to investigate in depth, both because it is difficult to interpret and because it represents the entire surface.
After all, when the art historian, the restorer and the diagnostician confront each other and use the same dictionary, dialogue will be the first tool and document for studying the work.
In this case, the restoration was supported by a complete diagnostic campaign which thus becomes a chapter of a fascinating story, which is tinged with the bright colors of curiosity and wonder.
At the Salone we will present the dialogue, the observations that have arisen, the doubts that we hope to be able to dissolve with the in-depth analysis, the results already obtained.
We look forward to meeting you there!
The results of scientific investigations on 3 important Picasso paintings are on display in Washington: a real wealth of information that confirms how analyzes can change the course of art history
Until 12 June 2022, the Phillips Collection in Washington DC hosts the exhibition Picasso: Painting the Blue Period, which brings together over ninety works including paintings, drawings, sculptures and interventions on paper, created by Picasso at the beginning of his career, in his Blue Period.
The American exhibition offers the public interesting points of view on Picasso’s creative process, revealing some details “hidden” under the surface. The exhibition in fact brings to light studies and investigations begun in 2014 and then continued to date on three different works by the Spanish painter dated between 1901 and 1903, all three made by Picasso on recycled canvases, an operation that the artist performs many times.
These are the “Blue Room” painted in 1901, of “The crouching mendicant” dated 1902 and “The soup“, 1903.
The research was conducted by the Sherman Fairchild Conservation Studio, which is part of the Phillips Collection itself, and which used sophisticated techniques, such as infrared imaging and X-fluorescence mapping, allowing details hidden under the paint layer to be visualized, and revealing the tumultuous and rapid creative process adopted by the Spanish painter.
“The Blue Room” has been scanned four times (the last in 2019) with increasingly refined and sensitive tools, to be able to “browse” the history of the work. And so what was suspected more than 60 years ago has emerged with great clarity. In fact, already with the naked eye you can see that part of the paint reflects the brushstrokes in different directions with respect to the visible composition, hence the suspicion that there was something underneath.
Combining diagnostic data, scientists highlighted what actually was there: the portrait of an unknown man, with a red flower on his shirt, perhaps useful to identify him.
This is the first of three large Blue Period canvases that visitors to the exhibition encounter. The work was entitled “La toilette” when Duncan Phillips bought it in 1927 as his first acquisition of the Spanish painter. On the left is a naked woman washing herself on a large basin in a small room with some simple furniture, an unmade bed in the background, a colored carpet and finally a table with flowers.
The pose of the woman cannot fail to evoke the figures of Degas. But on the back wall of the small room Picasso also inserted two paintings, namely a seascape and the poster “May Milton” by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec from 1895. So Degas and Lautrec, his idols.
The room pictured was the one-room apartment that Pablo lived in at 130, Boulevard de Clichy, on the top floor. This painting therefore gives us a precise idea of the interior, showing us that the study was also used as a living room, bedroom and bathroom.
Thanks therefore to the new analyzes carried on the work, and on the painting below, scholars now think that the portrait of the man below was executed in mid-summer 1901, while the final version, “The blue room“, dates back to mid-November 1901 (also because between the two different layers of paint there are no deposits of dust, so they were done not too far in time). Until now, however, the final work was dated to the summer of 1901. It might seem like a small change (summer vs November, a few months after all) were it not that that year, 1901, was crucial in Picasso’s production, and even a few months of difference can make us better understand the evolution of his art. In fact, the Spanish painter had declared to his biographer Pierre Daix that his Blue Period had begun following the terrible suicide of his friend Carlos Casagemas. At this point it is necessary to retrace the stages of this story to better understand the artistic one.
They had met with Carlos at nineteen in Barcelona but the city, however lively, was not enough for the dreams of the two boys. Thus, in September 1900, the two arrived in Paris and opened their studios in an apartment in Montmartre, beginning to frequent and enjoy the Parisian nightlife, thanks to the money generously made available by Carlos, poet, painter, and son of diplomatic.
Two meet Louise Lenoir (called Odette) and the beautiful Laure Gargallo (called Germaine). Picasso starts dating Odette, while Carlos, was very much in love with Germaine. He wants to get serious, maybe even get married, but for the girl the story is just an adventure, and she, not reciprocating the young man, has other lovers. The story ends, and Carlos falls into the most fearful depression. Just to change the air, Pablo offers his friend a vacation in his hometown, Malaga, where the two arrive on December 30, 1900.
But while Picasso stays in Spain, also going to Madrid, Carlos returns to Paris almost immediately, consumed by jealousy, and there the drama takes place.
On February 17, 1901, Casagemas invited some friends, including Germaine, to the Hyppodrome restaurant on boulevard de Clichy. During dinner, the Catalan gets up and, after a raving speech, takes out a gun and points it at Germaine, who protects herself behind a guest. He shoots, he doesn’t hit her. Then Carlos points the gun at his temple and kills himself instantly. It is only on his return to France that Picasso learns the terrible news. And he is extremely struck by it, most likely also due to a strong sense of guilt towards his friend, having also frequented Germaine.
Since Picasso had stated that that tragedy had made him “start painting in blue“, he had always dated the beginning of the Blue Period to the summer of 1901, and the Blue Room was believed to be one of the earliest works. After the analyzes, however, it is evident that Picasso, having returned to Paris, continued to paint with his previous style, with many colors also bright (as revealed in the portrait of a man below), and it was only at the end of the year that the anguish for the death of his friend took over, so much so that he also changed the palette as well as the subjects, turning everything to the cold tones of blue.
Another small consequence of this different dating is the different understanding of Picasso’s homage to Toulous Lautrec. In fact, the French painter died on 9 September 1901 at the age of 36 and therefore, the insertion of the poster May Milton on the wall is obviously a post-mortem homage that Picasso wanted to pay him.
Returning to the exhibition, in addition to the Blue Room, there are also two other works from the Blue Period from the Art Gallery of Ontario, the “Crouching Beggar” dated 1902 and “The soup”, 1903. In-depth investigations and studies have also been carried out on these, thus providing more new information on Picasso’s creative process.
From the technical analyzes it emerged that, in the first version the beggar was holding something in her hand, perhaps some bread (or a bowl), but evidently then Picasso changed his mind and wrapped both hands in the woman’s cloak, giving a much more sense of solitude. But the surprises aren’t over: scans of the work showed an underlying landscape that was recognized by Josep Laplana, director of the Montserrat Museum, as a view of a park that was private at the time and now belongs to the city of Barcelona.
This creates a problem, as there is no trace that Picasso visited the park, which appears closed at the beginning of the 20th century. It is therefore thought that the landscape is by an unknown artist and that Picasso cleverly incorporated it into the figure of the crouching woman.
Finally, in “The Soup” (1903) the analyzes showed that Picasso had initially depicted a male figure giving bread to a boy (or a girl), but who then transformed the scene into a woman giving a bowl of soup to a girl.
So the results of these investigations turn out to be a real wealth of information that confirms how in-depth scientific analyzes on works of art can continuously and unexpectedly provide clues and data that are also capable of changing the course of art history.
Scientific analyzes reveal how David composed the famous painting "The Death of Marat" and how he hid it during his exile in Brussels
In these times of war, the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels dedicates an exhibition to David‘s canvas which stages the murder of Jean Paul Marat in 1793, painted just a few months after the crime. It is a political work, commissioned by the revolutionary command, as a tribute to the martyrs of the French Revolution.
With this image David intended to contribute to the sanctification of an activist who is represented here as if he were a Christ – inspired by the compositions of Michelangelo, Raphael, Caravaggio -, who, to keep faith with his ideals, chooses to sacrifice his own life. In reality it did not happen quite like that.
Marat was murdered by a young woman, Charlotte Corday, at his home while he was immersed in a bathtub.
Jean Paul Marat, son of a former Sardinian friar by the surname Mara, then Frenchized in Marat, was in fact suffering from a dermatological disease that forced him, in an attempt to alleviate the symptoms, to stay immersed in almond milk for most of his days. After a rather unsuccessful career as a doctor and scientist, he became very popular as a politician and journalist. From the columns of “The friend of the people” he urged his contemporaries with extremely violent tones, not to stop after the first phase of the revolution, but to continue to get rid, with bloody methods, not only of the exponents of the monarchy, but also of more moderate revolutionaries.
Exasperated by the ensuing massacres, Charlotte believed she could put an end to this by taking Marat’s life. She paid for this by being guillotined, and she didn’t even succeed in the intent: the phase of Terror, with mass purges and tens of thousands of deaths, actually intensified, until Robespierre’s dismissal.
The “Death of Marat” is the only painting linked to David’s revolutionary propaganda that remains. His counterpart, the “Death of Lepeletier“, was destroyed, it is believed, during the coup of 1794 and the “Death of Bara” was never completed.
The “Death of Marat” came to us only because David managed to hide it. But how? To understand how this happened, diagnostic tests were used.
Although there are libraries full of books that analyze this painting from a stylistic and political point of view, it was rightly, and finally, considered appropriate to study the work also with an in-depth diagnostic campaign, through the FACE TO FACE project, which included physico-chemical analyzes and digital imaging.
In this way it was possible to understand what the author thought, how he adapted and arranged the elements of the composition;one can follow his thoughts while he drew and painted and even after, while he wanted to hide the painting during his exile in Brussels. Here, in fact, he had found asylum and for this reason he bequeathed to this city what is undoubtedly one of his most famous artworks.
The diagnostic study was then also repeated on a series of versions and replicas both by the atelier and by other copyists, starting with the Louvre replica, to understand if there had been preparatory paintings and in general what were the relationships between the various artworks.
Infrared reflectography was undoubtedly among the most revealing investigations. Here we see how Marat’s face is a combination of David’s drawing of his friend on his deathbed (now at the Louvre) and his death mask. The face with respect to the drawing has been rotated 100 degrees, and this has led to changes in the shadows. The volume of the turban has also been increased to make it plausible that the head was resting on something, and the facial dysmorphism from which Marat suffered, was removed, while this it is evident in the preparatory drawing visible in IR.
Another interesting detail that emerges from the reflectography and the X-ray is that Marat probably initially held a crumpled piece of paper in his right hand and not a pen, which was instead provided in his left hand (although we do not know that he was left-handed). These changes are explained with the intention of giving more strength to the political message.
In the following years, however, the political scenario changes and David had to quickly retire into exile.
Some authors had argued that, in an attempt to protect his works from destruction, David hid the painting by painting it white. However, upon analyzing the surface under the microscope, it was seen that this was not the case, in fact there are no residues of white paint anywhere, while it was discovered the presence of fibers on the entire surface of the painting, from which another hypothesis arises: that David, to hide it, fixed the canvas on the inner edges of the frame (as confirmed by the presence of many holes on the four sides of the canvas), then cut the excess of the canvas that reached the back and then mounted a new canvas on the frame. In this way the painting remained for a long time hidden behind a white canvas, which appeared ready to be used, in Antonie Gros’ studio.
The truth about the hiding of the canvas has therefore emerged. The judgment on Marat and on the revolutions will always be questionable.
The exhibition is open from 28 April – 7 August 2022.
The 8th Edition 2022 of the Florence Art and Restoration Fair (on site and online) and the 3rd Edition of the International Conference Florence Heri-Tech (on site) will be held simultaneously from 16 to 18 May 2022: a national and international event, dedicated to the whole world of conservation and cultural heritage.
During the three days of the Florence Art and Restoration Exhibition, visitors will have free access, upon registration, and attend the rich calendar of events (on site and online).
Within the events at the Salone there will also be a conference in which the first reflections on the ongoing restoration and the first investigations of the painted Cross by the Master of San Lucchese will be presented.
The winners of the Friends of Florence Prize will also be revealed, for a restoration project of a Florentine work.
And certainly much more!
We will be there and we are waiting for you. In the next newsletter we will tell you more!
the British Museum refuses to allow scans of the Parthenon marbles. Resulting replicas could be offered to them if they consented the marbles to be returned to Greece
Let’s imagine you want to study a work of art currently in the collection of a state or municipal museum.
Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAM) have been opened over the centuries to allow for the sharing of public cultural heritage and play a vital role in the communities they serve. They provide resources and services for entertainment, education, research and knowledge advancement and stimulate creativity and innovation in the service of global (sustainable) development.
By making their collections usable, offering their scientific, historical and socio-cultural resources, both locally and online, they enable citizens, generation after generation, to build a conscious, informed, better future for themselves and their communities.
However, it proves often difficult to go one step further; and making collections truly openly accessible, shareable and reusable by the public.
Have you tried to ask for a totally non-invasive analysis for study and dissemination purposes?
The works of art then seem to become no longer public but the property of a director who vetoes 99 times out of 100. Why? Certainly not for problems related to the safety of operations, when these are in fact totally non-invasive. It seems more like the desire to maintain a certain monopoly.
The Institute of Digital Archeology (IDA), for example, has regularly submitted, for years now, the request to the British Museum in London, to perform a 3-D scan of the Parthenon sculptures preserved in them, but with no success.
The request, which the British Museum would neither confirm nor deny receiving, is based on the UK’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), passed in 2000, which provides for public access to information held by public authorities.
But the museum seems to shilly-shally. The IDA lawyer then took a legal step in an attempt to force the museum to allow the scan to be performed.
IDA is a firm supporter of the return of the Parthenon sculptures to Athens, as requested by Greece for years.
The ultimate goal of the scans is in fact to create “replicas” that could replace the sculptures inside the British Museum, leaving the originals to be sent back to Athens.
The Parthenon sculptures, also called the Elgin Marbles, were in fact removed from the Acropolis in the early 19th century by Thomas Bruce, Earl of Elgin, when he served as Britain’s ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, which then occupied the Greece.
Many other museums are taking steps in this direction, returning the works to the communities of origin. The world is waiting for the British Museum to respond.
On March 26, after a careful restoration, the Annunciation by Giovanni Balducci returned to its place in the Church of Santo Jacopo and Filippo in Scarperia.
It is back to shine and enchant again, thanks to an accurate restoration that made use of the analyses byArt-Test, this large painting on wood of the late sixteenth century, which had become almost illegible with the passage of time.
It is an Annunciation, attributed by the scholar Bruno Santi to a pupil of Naldini: Giovanni Balducci known as Cosci, an author perhaps little known today, but certainly appreciated at his time. He was indeed entrusted with some of the frescoes in the large cloister of Santa Maria Novella in Florence and some artworks in Rome in San Giovanni in Laterano and San Giovanni dei Fiorentini. After that he moved to Naples called by Cardinal Alfonso Gesualdo, where he ended his career and his life.
The Annunciation is set in the bedroom of the Virgin, where a monumental four-poster bed acts as background, with an unusual deep green curtain, and majestic architectural elements, which recall a Florentine stately home, with decorations in pietra serena, and a marble floor, painted by rigorously applying the rules of geometric perspective.
Also noteworthy are the Mannerist iridescences of the garments, which also re-emerged thanks to the restoration, and the detail of the basket with the sumptuous embroidery works.
During the restorations, last July, Art-Test to analyze this painting brought its instruments in that wonderful corner of Tuscany that is Mugello. The restoration site was set up by the restorer Stefano Garosi at the Compagnia di San Piero a Sieve, where several works had to be investigated. Between them, there was this large table, placed upside down, of which one could only partially sense the beauty.
Garosi showed us the conservation history of the work, the restorations of the past, the damage of a careless cleaning that had irreparably damaged the pictorial film and all the restoration phases already carried out to secure the work, remove the old repainting and consolidate the color.
Everyone should have the opportunity to discuss the characteristics of a painting by taking advantage of the great experience of those involved in its restoration. Each work reveals a very interesting story.
The reflectographic diagnostic campaign entrusted to Art–Test was intended to investigate whether there was an underlying compositional system, if there were pentimenti, and ultimately, the genesis of the work.
Detail of the Infra-Red reflectography performed on the work
At the inauguration, in front of a large audience, we explained that reflectography is a bit like the time machine, which takes us back in time and allows us to see what only the artist, and those living at his time could see.
We told how in this painting it was clear that the painter had a great mastery of drawing, which was done with a brush and using carbonaceous material. Some “pentimenti” are visible, related to the organization of spaces. In fact, the figure of the Virgin appears to be shifted slightly to the right today compared to the first thought, and her right shoulder, for the viewer, has been resized in the execution phase. Likewise also the left shoulder of the Angel Gabriel. In the foreground on the right, while the basket was perhaps painted in a last moment when the finished base can be glimpsed underneath. Perhaps it was added for a wish of the client.
Detail of the basket in InfraRed reflectography
To illustrate the artistic language was prof. Marco Pinelli who, in a few minutes, gave a clear and comprehensive picture of the stylistic references of the work, Tuscan Mannerism and the work of Andrea del Sarto.
The restorer Stefano Garosi illustrated the phases of the restoration and explained how images provided by Art-Test were useful to him, as details were visible that were not accessible to the naked eye.
The Mugello area is rich in art and is not new to restorations which include diagnostic investigations, there is a great attention to the area also due to the officers of the superintendency, in this case Dr. Jennifer Celani, and an always generous support by the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Firenze.
It is a synergistic work that gives excellent results. At a time when we repeat like a mantra that “beauty will save the world” we should ask ourselves if the world will be able to save beauty.
We are confident of this, as long as there are those who will care and will protect art from the natural corruption of time and often from human neglect.
On April 9th, with the delays due to the pandemic, a historic year for this small island was inaugurated!
Here comes the hope that thanks to culture, which will never isolate anyone, there will be a new Renaissance.
Minister Franceschini in his greeting speech underlined the role of culture as a “field of dialogue”.
Art is a message, art is an expression of the beauty of man.
There are many initiatives this year, here is the link to the official website with the program.
One more reason to visit Procida, where “culture does not isolate”.
Lucia discovered restoration as a child, and was one of the first students of the courses held by the Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence.
Lucia Dori is one of the best known restorers in Florence. Her workshop, which she shares with her brother Andrea, deals with the conservation and restoration of paintings on canvas and wood, wooden sculptures, monumental frames and globes.
In recent years, Lucia has also embarked on a career as a teacher at the Brera Academy in Milan, where she is responsible for the course of “Restoration of artefacts painted on textile support 1“.
Lucia, how did you become a restorer? What was your training path?
My father, a great lover of art, took me to the “Firenze Restaura” exhibition in 1972.
In the spring of 1977, during a visit to my grandparents in Reggello, I told my cousin about my passion for restoration, which I knew very little about. He told me that he had a restorer friend: Gastone Tognaccini.
Gastone explained many things to me about the world of restoration and told me that exactly that year for the first time the Opificio della Pietre Dure would be launching a competition to enter their Higher Education School. He offered to help me prepare for that, then I attended his workshop and that of the restorers Paola Bracco, Sergio Taiti, Ottavio Ciappi. As for my training on drawings, I was followed by Leonardo Passeri, I was his first ever student.
in November 1977 I passed the competition and immediately afterwards I started the Opificio restoration school, and I graduated after specialisation in 1981.
Now let’s talk about your work, with Art-Test there have been many opportunities for collaboration, which one do you want to remember?
Among the works in which I made use of Art–Test services, I like to remember the Annunciation by Alesso Baldovinetti, because it is a painting that really touched my heart. The investigations were very important because they revealed Baldovinetti’s very particular drawing methods who used direct engraving for everything, even for the most descriptive details such as the feathers of the angel’s wings or the particular red finish of the angel’s robe that overturns the succession of layers with the cinnabar put on top of the red lacquer.
Precisely at that juncture, the synergy that must always exist between the restorer, the diagnostician and the art historian was fully manifested. When these professionals interact harmoniously with each other, collaborate, the result I must say is always excellent.
In general, what are the most common problems encountered during a restoration in which diagnostics are most useful? And what are the advantages for a restorer to combine a targeted diagnostic campaign with a restoration project?
During a restoration we can encounter multiple problems and diagnostics is very important when there are repaintings, extensive retouching, large gaps, plastering and when you are not sure to find original color under the visible pictorial layers. Diagnostics is very important for the knowledge of the work, the materials, the painter, his modus operandi.
For me, every painting under restoration should have the possibility of having a diagnostic campaign that investigates it, but unfortunately it is not always possible because often the funds for the restoration are not sufficient for the investigations.
You have been working in this field for many years, what changes have you noticed, for example in terms of customers, prices and clients?
Several changes have taken place and are still ongoing. Especially since the Public Procurement Code came into force. Before, there was a relationship of trust with the client and the art historian was not obliged to ask for more cost estimates for a restoration project. With the new regulations this is no longer possible and certainly leads to a correct circularity of the work, or rather to assign the restorations to a greater number of operators. This circularity, however, unfortunately has led, in my opinion, also to restorations not being carried out “in a professional manner”. The mechanism of selection is no longer based on the quality of planning and intervention, but on purely economic terms where the lowest offer is preferred. In fact, since the restorer’s work is not standardized, i.e. not identical regardless of who carries it out, imposing this type of practice does not often correspond to the choice of the best restorer and the best restoration project, in terms of quality.
In recent years, the volume of work from private clients has decreased. Our work, however, is almost always based on public clients, so, as already explained, the distinction nowadays depends on the methods of choice indicated by the new regulations.
A drawing at auction in Paris in May 2022
Great news are shaking the world of art collecting: next May, in Paris, Christie’s will put on sale, during the auction “Maîtres anciens et du XIXe siècle”, a rare early drawing by Michelangelo, which could reach the incredible figure of 30 million euros. Previously, the drawing was attributed to an artist close to Buonarroti, but it is now considered one of the few original drawings still left in private hands, in total less than 10!
This unique and beautiful drawing depicts a naked man standing between two figures, and is supposedly one of the very first nudes, still existing, of the Florentine master. It is evidently taken from the scene of the “Baptism of the neophytes” frescoed by Masaccio on the walls of the Brancacci Chapel in Florence. Like all of Michelangelo’s very few drawings, copying masterpieces of the past, it dates back to the beginning of his career.
The matter of Michelangelo’s drawings in general, but of his early ones in particular, is an ancient and long-debated one.
Vasari already tells that the artist himself, before dying in Rome in 1564, had burned “a large number of drawings, sketches and cartoons made by his own hand, so that no one would see the hard work he had endured and the ways of trying his ingenuity, in order not to appear if not perfect “.
It is therefore also for this artist’s desire for perfection that his graphic work was immediately rare and sought after, so much so that Leonardo Buonarroti, his nephew and heir, was only able to buy a group of drawings on the Roman market after his uncle’s death at a high price.
It is known that Michelangelo always refused to raise pupils. He only resorted to help when he could not do without it, as in the New Sacristy, in Florence, but he always relegated these aids to mere executors.
His refusal to accept a dimension of discipleship lies in his absolute reluctance to acknowledge that he himself had masters other than some great artists of the fourteenth and fifteenth century tradition, such as Giotto, Ghiberti, Donatello, Masaccio, Jacopo della Quercia, on whose works he had hard practiced and that he had no difficulty in admitting how much they had counted for his training.
In fact, his few early drawings that he himself saved from destruction are precisely taken from the works of those masters, such as this drawing presented now by Christie’s.
The copies of Michelangelo’s ancient masters are very personal: look in particular at the chiaroscuro, obtained by means of a dense grid hatching, which follows the trend of the protrusions and recesses and which vitalizes the surfaces, exactly as he does on his marbles with a chisel and the gradine, where he leaves the marks of the instruments visible.
For Michelangelo it was only with the study of nature that beauty could be achieved, and the artist had to imitate nature; by choosing the best details, the artist is able to create a beauty superior to that created by nature itself, and that is why the artist in his mind conceives an ideal of beauty.
This ideal, however, is not human creation, but, according to the Neoplatonic thought, developed at the court of Lorenzo the Magnificent that the young Michelangelo knew and made his own, it is a reflection of the same divine idea of Beauty. And for Michelangelo the most beautiful thing in creation is the human body, precisely because it is a direct mirror of divine beauty.
The Christie’s work, coming from a French collection, is actually offered for sale for the second time, as the first was blocked by the French government, which had classified the design as a national treasure of France, thus blocking its export for about thirty months. “The French government has recently removed this designation – says Christie’s – by granting the expatriation license and allowing the design to be offered without any restrictions to collectors from all over the world”.
The drawing was sold in 1907 to the Hôtel Drouot auction house in Paris as a work of Michelangelo’s school. The first attribution to Michelangelo himself is very recent, and dates back to 2019, when Christie’s Old Masters specialist Furio Rinaldi, now curator of the Achenbach Foundation for graphic arts at the Fine Arts Museums in San Francisco, analised the drawing and considered it to be from Buonarroti, an attribution later also supported by the art historian Paul Joannides, author of the complete catalog of drawings by Michelangelo and his school at the Ashmolean Museum and the Louvre.
In the auction catalog, no mention is made of a campaign of accurate scientific analysis and studies that provide interesting and compelling elements to corroborate this attribution. We are sure, however, that the current owner and the auction house have ascertained the authenticity of the design: who would spend 30 million without having done the necessary checks? Well, actually .. but that’s another story.
There are many works of art that portray battles, deaths, shootings, drawn swords … War in short. Instead, there are far fewer who choose Peace as a subject, perhaps because war has always been much more frequented by men than Peace. One of these was painted by Peter Paul Rubens, and its titale is Minerva protects Peace from Mars (Peace and War).
Of large dimensions, 208×298 cm, it was painted by the painter not in his home in Antwerp but in London, exactly between 1629 and 1630 and is in fact preserved in the National Gallery. And what was Rubens doing in London? Well, perhaps this is a slightly less known aspect of the great Flamish painter, very famous in his time and also in ours.
In fact, his undisputed ability, combined with tireless work (it is said that he worked every day from four in the morning until five in the afternoon!), Had made him an extraordinarily successful painter.
But what is less known is another characteristic of him, quite unique in the panorama of art of all times, and that is the combination of art and politics that Pieter Paul Rubens mastered in his life. He was in fact a very influential figure for his time thanks to the many diplomatic roles he assumed.
His passion for diplomacy dates back to his childhood, when at the age of 13 he entered the service of a countess of Antwerp as a page, a prestigious role for a boy of the time, which he soon abandoned to devote himself to his greatest passion, painting.
Although, during his youthful service with the Duke of Mantua, he had already completed diplomatic missions in Spain, Venice, Rome and Genoa for his lord. Later, however, he distanced himself from political life, dealing only with his art, at least until that traumatic event which was the death of his beloved wife Isabella Brandt, married in 1609, during a plague epidemic in 1625.
It was evidently a traumatic event for him, to the point that he decided to accept new diplomatic missions, most likely to distract himself from his deep mourning. He turned out to be a very skilled negotiator: a fascinating man, of who contemporaries (and even self-portraits) remember his lively and penetrating gaze, he managed without difficulty, thanks to the courteous education and prestige he enjoyed, to complete delicate negotiations.
It was therefore no coincidence that Philip IV of Spain had chosen him to negotiate peace with Charles I of England in 1629 on his behalf. The war between the two countries had been going on for 5 years now and both kings wanted to reach a deal. On the other hand, Charles I was a great connoisseur of art and a passionate collector, and as such he could not fail to know and appreciate the great Rubens. So the one of Philip IV was a very clever move.
The painter then painted a new artwork for the English sovereign, very relevant to his mission, since he chose as the subject the personification of Peace, depicted naked in the center of her while she is feeding Pluto, god of wealth, with her milk. Its prosperous and opulent forms best express the Flemish painter’s ideal of feminine beauty, but in this case also the unattainable pleasantness of peace.
And here comes the discovery made thanks to the radiographs made by the National Gallery in London, since the painting is kept in its rooms. Thanks to these analyzes, it was discovered that in fact the painting was initially quite smaller than today, and was limited to the central group with Peace with the attributes also of Ceres goddess of the Earth, the little Pluto she nursed, the group of children on the right with Hymen, god of marriage, and behind him an army Minerva who rejects Mars god of War accompanied by one of the Erinyes. This part of the painting actually has a much more refined and detailed ductus, while the other parts around it are faster and more summary.
It can be hypothesized that the English king had well understood the meaning of this painting, and therefore accepted the role of mediator of the painter and declared himself available to sign the peace with Spain (which actually happened eight months later), but probably Charles requested a more grandiose and impressive work than what Rubens had perhaps initially conceived. This would explain the enlargement of the size of the painting and the evident haste with which the external parts of the composition were completed, with the addition on the left of two women of difficult interpretation (perhaps two maenads or Prosperity and the Arts), the body of the satyr, of the whole lower band of the painting and also, in the upper right corner, of a harpy.
Rubens returned to Antwerp in March 1630, after being knighted by Charles, and in November a peace treaty was signed between England and Spain.
But there is another curiosity in this painting, and it concerns the group of children in the center on the right. In addition to being part of the allegory, these children have been identified, thanks to the preparatory drawings found in various museums in Europe, as the sons and daughters of Sir Balthasar Gerbier, an art dealer in the service of Charles I with whom Rubens was a guest on this diplomatic mission to London. George is the model of Hymen, the boy with the torch, while the girl he is crowning with a flower crown is his sister Elizabeth. The other girl who stares directly at us with large, hopeful, slightly anxious eyes is another sister, Susan.
So already 4 centuries ago it was more than clear to everyone that refusing war and embracing peace brings prosperity and abundance. And it is truly heartbreaking to see how even today there are some who prefer to ignore a simple truth like this.
A painting in the hell of the war unleashed by Russia, an artwork which could be by Caravaggio, and of which there are no more news
In Odessa, in the “Museum of Western and Eastern Art,” was, and we hope still is, one of the numerous versions of “The Taking of Christ”, the representation of the New Testament scene of betrayal and consequent arrest of Jesus.
The scene takes place in the darkest hour, in a literal and metaphorical sense. Christ is “patient and humble”, while events precipitate after Judas has betrayed him with a kiss. The soldiers capture Jesus, while John flees with his arms raised.
Behind, to illuminate the scene, a lantern rises, supported by a young man in which we recognizes the self-portrait of Caravaggio. It was thanks to a commission of the Roman noble Ciriaco Mattei in 1602 that Michelangiolo Merisi invented this extraordinary composition, which became very popular, and was reproduced and rethought by many artists in the following years. So much so that the original version was somehow lost.
The original composition by Caravaggio was in fact described in detail as early as the seventeenth century, but for a long time the painting had disappeared, it was thought it had been lost and only copies remained.
The situation changed in 1993, when the painting now in Ireland, in Dublin, was proposed as the original, its attribution changed from by Gerrit van Honthorst to by Caravaggio after the analysis carried out by a scholar restorer.
Today, more than 12 copies of this painting are known and Dublin’s primacy is much questioned. It is kept low for reasons of diplomacy, but almost everyone is inclined to go back to attributing the Irish “Taking” to the Dutch painter, who faithfully copied the Master.
Which could the original then be? One of the most interesting versions was in the Odessa Museum. And we hope it will always be there and will remain there, even if the terrifying images that reach us from Ukraine, and the continuous bombing of cultural institutions, make us fear the worst.
The painting did not have an easy life either in the past: as soon as it arrived from France from Odessa, thanks to a gift made to the Tsar and his subsequent donation to the Museum, the 1917 Revolution and the subsequent civil war broke out. Odessa was conquered and lost to the Red Army several times. During the Second World War, the city was heavily bombed and then occupied in 1941 by Romanian and Nazi troops.
The painting, probably because it was then considered a copy, was not on the list of works of art that the museum had decided to save. Nothing was known about the painting until it was unexpectedly returned by the Roman Catholic Church to the Soviet authorities in June 1945, a full fourteen months after the liberation of the city.
After a first restoration in 1951 there was a second one in 2008, the year in which the painting was the subject of a commissioned theft, perhaps because it was understood, during the restoration, that the work could be much more than a copy. The canvas was cut from the frame and removed rolled up, as is easy to guess from the marks left on the artwork. Its rescue dates back to 2010 which was followed by a long restoration operation to rejoin the canvas with what was left on the frame.
The analyses made on these occasions have made it possible to advanced some more concrete hypotheses of autography or at least of a execution very close to that of the original.
But it is not the only copy on which hypotheses of this type are made.
Also in Florence there is a version, on which Art-Test made the scientific investigations, currently preserved in the Palatine Gallery, and which presents some very interesting “pentimenti” in Xray-image compared to the visible composition, which would deserve more in-depth studies, free from partisan interests, and brave.
In the meantime, we hope that Caravaggio’s will remain the only “Taking of Odessa”.
We have repeated so many times that it is important to digitise our cultural heritage in order to study and to preserve it. Once digitised, you may think, it is saved forever. It has become as an immaterial asset, living its own immortal life “in the clouds”.
However, also digital models, digital reconstructions, digital data are in the end also physical, just a different physical. They are stored on tangible supports in physical locations.
And now with the Russia invading Ukraine, and bombarding civilians and cultural institutions, all the Ukraine digitised records are at serious risk.
“People forget that the internet is made up of physical things. There are physical servers that are located in the real world that need power, cooling, and maintenance” declared Quinn Dombrowski, now at Stanford University.
When she realised it, she decided to launch SUCHO i.e. Saving Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Online, together with Anna Kijas, head of the Lilly Music Library at Boston’s Tufts University, and Sebastian Majstorovic, an IT consultant for digital humanities at the Austrian Center for Digital Humanities and Cultural Heritage.
They started calling for cultural heritage professionals from all over the world – librarians, archivists, researchers, programmers, to search and re-archive Ukrainian digital content.
They are using a combination of technologies to crawl and archive sites and content, and they also offer space to all Ukrainian scholars who need storage for their research material. And there are also trying to save pictures of all Ukraine monuments in the hope to be able to reconstruct their 3D model later, if necessary.
Their work, mostly remote, as local scholars are obviously facing other and bigger challanges, is made even more difficult by the fact that not all records are available, URL are not always updated, and there are security measures taken by cultural institutions during peace times. Not to mentioned that it is often hampered also by internet outages and electricity loss.
It is not an easy endeavour but the response from the cultural heritage scholarly community was immediate and enthusiastic.
Read Chiranthi: “I am a person who works closely with Cultural Heritage metadata domains. I am familiar with metadata standards, digital cultural heritage archives, LOD and controlled vocabularies, and so on.
As a Sri Lankan who has lived through an ongoing civil war, I have seen firsthand how badly conflict affects cultural heritage”.
And so him, like thousands more, have rolled up their sleeves and went for it. There is no good news during war, but the resilience of the cultural professionals gets close to it.
To get involved with SUCHO or learn more about the initiatives’s work, visit sucho.org.
an unknown man, upside down
The principle that Art–Test uses in proposing a diagnostic campaign on a work for which there is no historical-artistic reference other than family memories or vague information, it is to begin to investigate with a minimum set of analyses that establish a possible post quem term and therefore indicate the period starting from which the artwork was produced.
With this principle we approached the study of “Portrait of a young man“.
After careful observation to draw up a condition report, we were able to establish how the painting had already undergone restoration over the years, including an evident relining. However, the pictorial surface was clouded by a now oxidized paint which made it difficult to read the image. In addition, the presence of cracks on the entire surface and small detachments of the color in limited areas, as well as some areas where retouching was perceptible, declared that the restoration was certainly a thing of the distant past.
For here we proceeded with an inspection with special UV lamps and then with the acquisition of a UV photographic image, a reflectography at 1100nm and finally we subjected the painting to the study of some pictorial materials thanks to an XRF analysis. The first investigations gave us encouraging results, the painting is not a modern fake, and above all they gave us a glimpse of something under the visible surface!
We have thus proposed an in-depth diagnostic campaign. Immediately after the authorization of a “Gold” diagnostic campaign, we began with further investigations in order to better visualize the underlying layers. And here the Scanner infrared reflectography confirmed what we had already glimpsed, but in a less explicit way, with the reflectography performed with a CCD scientific camera using a 1100 nm filter.
Immediately after, we explored this aspect even more with an X-ray investigation.
And so we discovered that the “Portrait of a young man” is actually only “half” of this work. Below we have another portrait, a man, no longer very young, wearing a monocle. To be able to see it well you have to rotate the painting by 180°. The clothes of the two portraits take us to the 19th century. The UV RGB fluorescence showed us not only an inhomogeneity of the paint layer but also some superficial retouching on the face.
Who are those portraited and who is the painter?
Much remains to be discovered about this artwork and our research continues. In addition, the diagnostic campaign carried out so far will be used as a support for the restoration …. follow us in our lab, there could be other surprises!
In the second post-war period, Nicolas Stael, born Russian in 1914 in St. Petersburg, the son of a tsarist general, was forced into exile by the Bolshevik Revolution. He will live first in Belgium and then in France, where he will be naturalized, thus becoming French.
He was the most promising artist of the second post-war period, seen as the European Pollock, his abstractionism was highly appreciated in the years preceding the Second World War
His training had taken place during trips to Europe and North Africa but his style changed for the emotions of one evening.
On March 26, 1952, in Paris, during nightime , a rare event for those times, a match of the soccer world cup was held: France-Sweden.
Sweden was represented by amateurs and France by its national champions. The amateurs won and Stael transformed the French defeat into inspiration for a series of paintings that wanted to express the dynamism of the sporting contest by translating it into a new style.
The Footballeurs are small paintings that saw his return to the figure at a time when critics pointed to him as Pollock’s antagonist for his abstraction.
The technique used is a spatula and the figures emerge from the overlapping of layers. If you look at the Footballeurs work published here, it can be seen that the overlapping application of the backgrounds was fast, with the underlying application still not very dry and it is for this reason that a specific type of craquelure can be seen in the dark areas.
A purely visual inspection of the work could, in broad terms, make us understand the succession of the various layers but a reflectography and an X-ray could reveal his modus operandi. Did he draw the composition before painting it? Did he change his mind during construction? What materials did he use? Unfortunately, there are no known scientific publications on this author that report diagnostic analyses used for the study of his works.
We look forward, as it was for Pollock, to a study of his works through radiography, reflectography but also analysis of the pigments used. We would like the “European Pollock” to be better known and valued.
Meanwhile, the French Minister of Culture, Roselune Bachelot, said that France will offer again political asylum to Russian artists who request it because they are against the current government regime.
In such a difficult moment, in which memory goes back to tragic images that are so close to what we have unfortunately already seen, we believe it is important to give voice to the professionals within our world who make a very important and positive contribution.
A romantic as well as erroneous view of the archaeologist sees him as a treasures hunter, travelling distant places. Surely this part of their work is the most fascinating and gives us unexpected finds, but today the archaeologists play also a social role, they are the guarantors of the memory of a community, their activity is also in support to the safeguarding of historical places. Part of their mission is also to train citizens, wherever they are, to ensure that they take care and protect their cultural heritage.
Giancarlo Garna is an archaeologist. Trained at the University of Padua, as a freelancer he has participated in multiple excavation campaigns in Italy and abroad. He is actively involved in relations between Archeology and Politics, in the fight against the looting and illegal trafficking of Cultural Heritage, especially in the Middle East. From 2014 to 2016 he collaborated with the Italian Cooperation in Iraq as part of the training of local experts and workers in the archaeological field.
Awarded the title of “Person of the year 2017” by the Archeomafie International Observatory, in 2018 he was awarded the “Prix Asolapo Italia 2018-2019 for peace”, including history, culture and peace.
Giancarlo Garna and Art-Test participate in the Biennial School of Higher Education in Judicial Archeology and Crimes against Cultural Heritage, organized by the Criminological Studies Center of Viterbo.
Why did you choose to be an archaeologist?
Since I was a child I have always had a passion for the study of history. Also at the age of ten I read a book on the discovery of the ancient Syrian site of Mari and I wondered if I would ever have the opportunity to see places like that. Over time I have become more and more interested in aspects of daily life and beliefs of the Ancients, especially of the people, often forgotten by the historical narrative itself; and thus the transition to archeology has become practically natural. And in 1999 I went to Mari, as an Archaeologist, a child’s dream come true, it doesn’t happen often.
What does it mean to be an archaeologist today?
Archeology has changed a lot, it is a discipline that has opened up to all other related sciences, from geology to archeometry, up to various types of analytical tests in the laboratory.
Being an archaeologist today means wanting to achieve ever more precise and comprehensive historical reconstructions, but with a multidisciplinary approach and with the aim of making them accessible to the public. And in doing this, a new social and active role must be assumed, becoming an engine of research on the territory. One must have the function of conservator and disseminator of memory, be able to increase awareness of one’s territory and its history, also forming a generation of people who work in this sense. Therefore, to work with an eye to the past, an eye to the present and a broad and articulated vision for the future.
During your career you have repeatedly participated in missions in areas where war has not only affected the human fabric but has also torn the heritage. How are archaeological missions important for the reconstruction of a territory and its culture?
Archaeological missions play a fundamental role, not only in the documentation and conservation of the remains, but also for the communities that inhabit that territory. The involvement of local communities and the training of their archaeologists become fundamental tools for the defense, protection and enhancement of the territory and its history. Especially in those areas and territories targeted by poverty, wars and the perverse mechanisms connected to it such as the destruction of monuments and sites and the illegal trade in antiquities and cultural heritage.
The Archaeological Missions contribute to creating awareness of the value, not only historical but of a wide range, of the culture of a territory. They also develop an attitude to defend it, they are able to make it clear that it is an added value, also as an engine of job and economic opportunities.
Our time, after two long years in which everything has been reprogrammed, now sees a war conflict that risks erasing or certainly compromising the culture of an entire nation. In an emergency, how can archaeological action missions help limit collateral damage? What can international communities and individuals do in situations?
During an ongoing conflict it becomes particularly difficult to operate directly in the field, but it is possible to try, within the limits of safety conditions, to continue to document and catalog the cultural heritage as much as possible, reporting and collaborating in the safety of the cultural heritage itself.
The international community must continue to stigmatize indiscriminate bombings, reporting them and trying to impose areas of respect not to be attacked and accused of crimes, not only of war, but against humanity, those who do not respect this prohibition.
How can new technologies, large-scale diagnostics and point-in-time areas be useful, both in the short and long term?
The new technologies are useful across the spectrum, as they open up new perspectives for research and interpretation of both current and past findings. They allow a deeper look at new and old discoveries, which leads to reviewing past beliefs and formulating increasingly precise hypotheses in the historical reconstruction phase. They are also extremely useful in the fight against the illegal trafficking of Cultural Assets and their falsification, determining not only the authenticity of the objects, but also discovering the false provenance certifications of stolen or plundered objects placed on the market.
At the State Gallery in Stuttgart, investigations ended in surprising results
Several Rubens’ originals have been recently identified and revealed to the public in «Becoming Famous», the exhibition (just ended) that gathered more than 90 known and unknown artworks, related to the Master early career, up until 1620.
As a matter of fact, in the last 2 years, the forced closure due to the COVID 19 pandemic outbreak, provided to the State Gallery the opportunity for an in-depth study of the collection, including the artworks in the deposits. And they provided startling results. They are all related to Rubens first years, when he desperately wanted to “become famous, hence the headline of the exhibition.
As we know, he succeeded: his works are hanging in all the great museums and are widely exhibited. His style is highly recognizable. Even during his lifetime people were queuing to pay the highest prices for his works. But how did he finally succeed in becoming such a celebrated painter?
He appears to have once said to a colleague:
“I am hardest working when you see me doing nothing”
Rubens was never just a painter. In addition to coming from a respected Antwerp family, benefitting from a humanistic education, he strived early on to build up a network with the intellectual and economic greats of his time.
Although incredibly gifted as a painter, he clearly knew that to succeed he had to master everything related to art production: from imagery to material, from technology to … marketing. This is so apparent e.g. in the the painting “The Gallery of Cornelius van Geest”, by W. Vand Haecht II, where Rubens is portrayed next to Albert VII and his wife, Isabella Clara Eugenia, sovereign of the Habsburg Netherlands, while he is trying to gain their attention. Can you spot him?
A detail of “The Gallery of Cornelius van Geest”, by W. Vand Haecht II
For his imagery and artistic references however, Rubens clearly laid the foundations for his success during his staying in Italy between 1600 and 1608, where he studied the local art. Many of his paintings of this period, and of later years, make direct reference to what he saw and copied there.
During his life, he and his workshop are said to have produced thousands of paintings, so no surprises that there are still discoveries to be made. In Stuttgart, the first findings concerned the identification of the sitters of the double portrait in the museum collection “Geronima Spinola and her granddaughter Maria Giovanna Serra”, from 1605.
Possibly more remarkably, eleven portraits of Roman emperors were identified as works by Rubens and his workshop, with the diagnostic investigations helping in distinguishing the hand of the master and those of the pupils.
The most striking finding has been, however, the “female head” once considered a copy and now attributed fully to the master himself. Thanks to diagnostic imaging and material analyses, it was clear how it was probably produced during the first years of the seventeen century and how originally it was painted in oil on paper, then stretched onto canvas and finally fixed on a wooden board. This extraordinary care to preserve it, points at a valued artwork by itself, however, clearly this is not enough for an attribution.
However, the technical findings found a clear matching with the results of the stylistic analyses carried out by Nico Van Hout, now Head of Collection Research – Curator Seventeenth Century Paintings, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten (KMSKA) in Antwerpen, Belgium.
We can only dream of the many more discoveries that are waiting to happen in many more collections. And without the need of a new pandemic!
Stefano Garosi, one of the best known Florentine restorers tell us about his long experience in the field
Stefano, how did you become a restorer? What was your training path?
It was a tortuous journey, a bit like being on a roller coaster. I come from a dynasty of decorators and gilders: my great-grandfather was trained in the Grand Ducal workshops around the Pitti Palace. I was initiated to restoration at the age of 12, after having met Ennio Regola. I was fascinated by this activity that I encoutered in his studio. A spontaneous choice for me, I had a workshop training, also because restoration schools did not exist at the time. While working in the workshop I also attended the art institute, but my training as a restorer was a real old-fashioned apprenticeship.
Let’s talk now about your work. With Art-Test there have been many opportunities for collaboration, do you want to remember some of them?
We have been working together for a long time, many many years. For me it has always been pleasant the way in which we have been able to establish a real dialogue between diagnostics and restoration.
We have worked on many works by private owners, including a painting attributable to Andrea Del Sarto, perhaps one of the first done together, together with the one by Marco Pino, and many others. One of the most important pieces, publicly owned, was Vasari‘s “La Pazienza” or the Frans Floris, “Adam and Eve”, both from the Palatine Gallery. In the reflectography of this last work we discovered that the painter initially planned to include a cat, an idea which the artist later abandoned.
This last example perfectly explains the relationship that must exist between the diagnostician and the restorer: certain things the restorer alone can only guess, but he cannot see them. How would it be possible to see that there was a cat drawing underneath?
You can understand if there are repentances, you can distinguish the repaintings, but it is precisely in such cases that you need tools that a restorer does not have. This is where another professional figure comes into play: the diagnostician, and it is fundamental for a restorer to have this contribution.
In general, what are the most common problems encountered during a restoration in which diagnostics are most useful?
As in the case we were talking about before. Or as in the case of the painting that we are going to study together in the coming days, which is totally repainted. It is a Madonna attributed to Lorenzo di Credi. Observing carefully the painting, even with the microscope, what I see is that there is little, very little left of the original painting. It is probably an artwork that underwent an unfortunate cleaning and was completely repainted. It is a beautiful repainting, whoever did it was a good painter.
However, now you cannot venture into removing what we have now with the risk of finding nothing. There is a need for a thorough and precise investigation to understand what condition the underlying painting is in, and how much is left of it. If you can understand from the investigation that it is worthwhile to remove what you see now, it is good. But if the investigations confirm my doubts, it is better to leave everything as it is. The analyses can be considered as a preventive restoration, a way to avoid making mistakes, avoiding excesses.
You have been working in this field for many years, what changes have you noticed, for example in terms of customers, prices and clients?
In recent years, everything has changed. In over half a century, everything changes, in any sector, but above all in this.
The training of restorers has totally changed. In the workshop there was training right on the job, although very often the average restorer had a low field specific education, not to mention education in general. Then there were those exceptions, recognized as masters, who, in addition to having an excellent operational capacity, possessed a great specific and general culture: characters such as Leonetto Tintori, Alfio Del Serra, Paolo Gori, who worked in Florence in the period before the war or immediately after.
Then the market changed. The antiques market, here in Florence, is in agony; for economic and bureaucratic reasons, and also because there is little desire on the part of the operators, and the best operators go to work abroad. Most of my customers come from abroad.
The taste has also changed. There are no young collectors of ancient art, they prefer to collect the contemporary. I believe that it is easier for a young person to understand the contemporary than the ancient, obviously he is closer to the time in which he lives, he understands it better, it is natural to him and this is then reflected in the choice of works of art to buy.
The analyses reveal that they are three different versions but probably born at the same time
Echoes of the exhibition at Villa Farnesina closed in January 2020 are still stirring debate today.
The exhibition focused on the years Leonardo spent in Rome, between 1513 and 1517, before moving to France, where he died a few months later. In those Roman years, the great Florentine genius was a guest of the Pope’s brother, Giuliano dei Medici. And it is known that on that occasion he brought with him some of his masterpieces, including the Mona Lisa.
Here the story becomes particularly interesting, because at the exhibition at Villa Farnesina a third version of the Mona Lisa was presented, an artwork that was most likely painted while Leonardo was still alive, This Mona Lisa is so called Torlonia, because until 1925, it belonged to this noble Roman family.
According to the most recent studies conducted by Maria Forcellino, the painting, before ending up among the assets of this collection, would have already belonged to the collection of Cassiano Dal Pozzo. The painting and its importance would have been lost during the passage from Dal Pozzo’s heir to the Torlonia collection, possibly because it was catalogued as “a Nun by Leonardo“.
When it was decided to restore the painting -that was originally on wood and then transferred on canvas- the analyses led to some surprises. In the infrared reflectography it was clearly seen that in Monnalisa’s left hand there was a finger superimposed on the other, a “pentimento”, an afterthought. Exactly the same rethinking to be found in the Mona Lisa in the Louvre.
This implies that whoever made this painting was in Leonardo’s workshop while he was painting the Mona Lisa of the Louvre. Otherwise why would he have made her fingers in a way and then changed them exactly as Leonardo did in the Parisian Mona Lisa?
Similar observations had already emerged when El Prado decided to have his copy of the Mona Lisa restored. From the study of the Xrays and IR images, it was clear that what was thought to be a copy, in reality could only have been made during the making of the Louvre Mona Lisa, because it presented a series of otherwise inexplicable “pentimenti”.
Comparison between the reflectography of the Prado painting (left) and that of the Louvre (right)
So the romantic myth of the brilliant artist who paints for himself and by himself, and does not replicate any creations, seems increasingly distant from reality.
We have to get used to thinking in different terms. After all, once a master like Leonardo has a “workshop”, it is actually objectively difficult to imagine that he produces paintings entirely by himself, from the ground to the final layers.
Working together in a workshop means more likely that it is always, or almost always, the master who has the idea and produces the original sketch, but also that it is the pupils who prepare the support, transfer the original drawing onto the support and begin with the preparation of the painting, while the master follows the work of his disciples. and intervenes in correcting or intensifying the artworks.
A vision that, paradoxically, seems to find art historians less convinced, despite all evidence, especially in the case of the “big names”.
If for the Prado version, no one dared to denied the scientific evidence during the workshop in London in 2010. For the Torlonia version many scholars continue to say that it is a seventeenth-century copy (Marani), or not much more than a nice piece of furniture (Sgarbi).
Without, however, giving an adequate explanation of the scientific evidence that points otherwise.
A captivating and surprising story, as intriguing as a noir novel by Michel Bussi. The story of a rejected Van Gogh, then fortunately recognized thanks to the precious work of the experts
The story of this work begins in 1908, when an industrialist, the Norwegian Christian Nicolai Mustad, heir to a well-known dynasty that in 1832 created the largest fishing industry in the world, bought a painting as an original by Vincent van Gogh .
The purchase was recommended to him by the art historian Jens Thiis, who that year was elected director of the National Museum of Oslo, therefore with the support of an authoritative voice. The success of the unfortunate Dutch painter in those years was now spreading, and Christian Mustad was very satisfied with his purchase, so much so that he placed it in the place of honor of his home.
But the dream was shattered when the collector was told that the painting was not a Van Gogh original but someone else’s work. It is not known who was the bearer of this unfortunate truth: whether, as the family recounts, the French ambassador to Sweden visiting the Mustad home or rather, according to scholars, the Norwegian consul in Paris, Auguste Pellerin, one of the greatest collectors of Impressionists of the time, especially Monet and Cezanne.
Christian Nicolai Mustad did not take this revelation well, indeed, his disappointment was such that, having removed the painting from its place of honor, he confined it to his attic, where it remained until his death in 1970.
With the execution of the inheritance, the painting finally reappeared and was sold by the heirs to a private collector. Not convinced of the downgrade to anonymous, but rather certain of the original authorship, the new owner took it to the Van Gogh Museum in 1991 to have the painting authenticated, but the museum replied, with an official reason, that the painting was not an original Van Gogh mainly because it was not signed.
The sentence seemed without appeal. In retrospect, we can hypothesize that perhaps there were more elements that led to that verdict, among which there could have been the “transitional” character of the work within Van Gogh’s production, with a technique different from the other works painted immediately after.
It was a terrible response from the museum but luckily the owner did not get rid of the painting, or, worse still, did not destroy it, as some authentication committees require today following an opinion of falsehood.
Fortunately, as other authentication committees do, it did not happen that the Amsterdam museum indelibly marked the painting as a forgery.
So the owner took back the work and waited, persisting in his research, until 2011, when he recklessly brought the painting back to the Van Gogh Museum. And this time the museum, with great wisdom, decided to reconsider its opinion and agreed to examine the work again.
Not all archives and foundations have the humility and the courage to review their positions, but in this case the Dutch museum decided to conduct a thorough investigation to re-examine the authenticity of the painting, especially since, compared to 1991, it could now count on new and different technical analyses.
The investigation lasted two years, and the story that emerged was completely different. It was decided to use synergies and simultaneously explore the three pertinent research areas, namely scientific analysis of materials, archival research on provenance, and attributive sensitivity.
New analytical metodhs and technologies were instrumental along with the discovery of new letters from Vincent to his brother. And the results were arrived.
The first scientific analysis concerned paint materials, and showed that the artwork had been produced with the same pigments that the painter used at that time. One of these colors, cobalt blue, is decisive in the case of Van Gogh, since he began to use it only in the summer of 1887, thus delimiting a probable period of time of realization, which coincided with Van Gogh’s frequentation of Arles and the its surroundings. This first discovery was really promising, but not enough to prove the authenticity of the painting, since there are fakes that use the same pigments, which is still commercially available.
Then the research deepened, and a second examination was conducted on the weft of the canvas, compared with an existing database of the wefts and warps of the known canvases used by the artist. The result was that the texture of the analyzed canvas was found to be compatible with one used at least for another Van Gogh painting of the same period. And not only the canvas, but also the preparation applied to the canvas itself turned out to be of the same type in both paintings. Another compatibility result, but not a true guarantee of authenticity.
At the same time, a more historical-artistic way, examining the mysterious number 180 scribbled on the back of the canvas, which incredibly no one had ever considered before. This number actually corresponds to a number in the famous inventory list that Theo van Gogh had compiled of his brother’s works after his death, also noting the title after the number. The painting no. 180 of the list in fact up to that moment had not found a correspondence with a work, so much so that scholars thought it was missing. Here is finally an important clue! The number at that point also allowed scholars to reconstruct the entire chain of provenance of the painting, until then fragmentary but a crucial element in an attribution: the painting had therefore been in the collection of his brother Theo who, however, died in 1901, six months just after Vincent’s death. It was his widow who sold it to the Parisian art dealer Maurice Fabre, from whom the Norwegian industrialist Christian Nicolai Mustad probably bought it in 1908, from whom the whole story began.
Finally, the historical-artistic research has also closed the circle thanks to the very important discovery of a new group of letters from Vincent to his brother, and among these a dated 4th July 1888, in which the artist describes the exact scene of the painting in question: “Yesterday, at sunset, I was on a stony moor, where very small and twisted oaks grow, in the background a ruin on the hill, and cornfields in the valley. It was romantic, it couldn’t be more, à la Monticelli, the sun poured its very yellow rays on the bushes and on the ground, absolutely a shower of gold. And all the lines were beautiful; the whole scene had a fascinating nobility ”.
This beautiful letter allowed scholars to finally confirm the subject, date and place of the painting: “Sunset in Montmajour“, painted on July 3, 1888, the day before the letter. The scene depicted was the moment of twilight in the cornfield landscape of Montamajour in Provence, with the homonymous Benedictine abbey in the distance. It seems that Van Gogh was particularly fascinated by the landscape of Montmajour, with its contrasts between the plateau below and the rocky outcrop, so much so that there are numerous paintings of him with the ruins of the monastery, the olive groves, the rocks that emerge from the hill. This was an ambitious work as evidenced by the large measures (93.3 x 73.3 cm), one of the first painted after his move to Arles, in which he placed great expectations. In fact, with this work he wanted to present himself as a poet among landscape painters and was deeply disappointed to find that, as he himself recognized, he had not been able to overcome certain “obstacles” in a convincing way. So soon the painter put it aside, coming to consider it “a failure”. It is certainly an experimental work by the artist, where he can be seen fighting with haste, which however represents a key work in his path, which just after this began to grow. In fact, it was during his stay in Arles, where he moved on February 20, 1888, that Van Gogh abandoned the impressionist techniques used in Paris to experiment with a free use of color as he himself wrote in April of the same year to his painter friend Bernard :
“I don’t follow any brushing system: I hit the canvas with irregular strokes that I leave as they are. Mixes, pieces of canvas left here and there, totally unfinished corners, second thoughts, brutality: in short, the result is, I am led to believe, rather disturbing and irritating, so as not to make people happy with preconceived ideas in terms of technique [… ] everything that will be ground will participate in a single purplish tone, the whole sky will have a blue hue, the greens will be either blue-green or yellow-green, purposely exaggerating, in this case, the yellow or blue qualities ”.
With all the new evidence gathered, in 2013 the Van Gogh Museum decided to publicly overturn its 1991 attribution, thus undoubtedly attributing the canvas to the great Dutch artist. It was Van Gogh’s first work discovered “from scratch” since 1928 and the museum director, Axel Rüger, described it as “a once in a lifetime experience. The painting had never before been seen in public, nor retouched by professionals. The final paint was missing and it hadn’t even been framed. It’s just a pure thing. It is already a rarity the very fact of being able to add a new piece to the artist’s work but what makes the discovery even more exceptional is that we are faced with a transitional work, a large painting, of the period in which the artist was at the peak of his career. An event of this magnitude had never occurred in the history of the Van Gogh Museum “.
Therefore, on the basis of the fascinating story of this opera, we can definitely say that in life it is sometimes worth a second look!
50 years of the Italian Restoration Charter 1972-2022
[…] any intervention on the works referred to in art. 1 must be illustrated and justified by a technical report which will show, in addition to the conservation vicissitudes of the work, the current state of the same, the nature of the interventions deemed necessary and the expense required to cope with them.
Fifty years after the Restoration Charter, there are passages in its drafting that still lead to reflections. For example on the need for documentation and record keeping. Is it really being conducted? Who should take care of it?
Traditionally, all archival documents, exhibition catalogs, changes of ownership, mentions in contemporary or in any close writings are referred to as documentary sources for an artwork.
But, as stated in the text of the Charter, it is essential that the archives also include the “passage in time” of the artefact. To this end, it is necessary to analyze the conservative interventions of which written records remain, whether they are monitoring observations, complete restoration reports, or the scientific analyzes carried out.
Restoration, as well as many professions, has evolved thanks to the professionalism of those who have practiced it and who have made it one of the excellences in our country. The practice of restoration is based on the study of artistic techniques and also on the solution of conservation problems, also achieved through experimentation. How to keep memory of it?
The history of restoration in Italy was written by the restorers who have dealt with our artistic heritage, leaving traces of it in testimonies, photographs, in their minutes, and above all on the works themselves. The minutes of past restorations are a huge source of knowledge and sharing these should be a duty. This would also go towards greater awareness of the impact of conservative action and the need for it to be sustainable too.
In Italy, to date, several publications have been written, but we have only one association which has as its purpose the conservation of the archives of the restorers. Professionals who have distinguished themselves for their skill and for their problem solving practices with which they have faced even extremely difficult restorations.
The Secco Suardo association performs, among others, this function, which in our opinion is very important because we believe that the restorers’ archives as well as the restoration reports should be shared, albeit with controlled access to avoid unnecessary speculation. The study of a work starts from its history, the more you can learn about it, the better the intervention will be.
The association invites all restorers to donate their archives to be shared. Are we ready to open our archives?
Surely all public bodies should do it, which are paid by all citizens. However, apart from a few virtuous exceptions, almost everything in Italy remains closed in drawers. Who knows what Brandi would think of it.
An X-ray brings out a figure from "chaos"
Jackson Pollock is widely known as one of the greatest exponents of “action painting”. Indeed, after a brief initial period in which he made art on traditional canvases, on easel, he soon arrived to dripping, i.e. to this way of expression that involves painting with “action”, where the color is literally poured with more or less violence on canvas lying on the floor. According to him, painting had to require the movement of the whole body, an involvement, therefore, not only mental but also physical.
As was the custom of other artists, especially for abstract works, Pollock left many of his paintings “Untitled”. Where Untitled was followed by a letter and the year of execution. Sometimes it was friends, art critics, gallery owners, who gave the title to his works. This is also the case with the 1947 painting “Full Fathom Five“. To give the title of the painting was the neighbor, Ralph Manheim.
However, it seems that Pollock hated that his work was thought to be the result of chaos. Contrary to what appears at first sight and to what his contemporary art critics like e.g. Bruno Alfieri wrote in “A Little Discourse on Jackson Pollok’s Paintings” (in “Modern Art, Venice, 8 June 1950):
“Chaos / absolute lack of armony / complete lack of structural organization / total absence of tecniquem, however rudimentary / once again, chaos”.
Forty years later the diagnostic tests confirmed that his action was not at all dictated by chaos.
In fact, when, in 1999, a symposium entitled Jackson Pollock New Approaches (available online) was organized, the opportunity was taken to reassess his works also through the study of his particular technique, through radiographic investigations.
The “Full Fathom Five” painting, technically, is not only paint on canvas but includes nails, matches, coins, buttons, cigarettes, tube caps of paint among the various layers. The visual aspect is given by the overlapping of paint but, to the touch, the texture returns surfaces that are different from just paint. The overall image, created by the cobweb of colors, has a vaguely anthropomorphic shape. But the most curious thing is that the X-ray study reveals how all “chaos” is nothing more than the “hiding place” of a standing figure with his arm raised!
Perhaps someone had already glimpsed it. We have already written how the title of this painting was not indicated by Pollock but by a friend of his, specifically a translator, who probably refers to Shakespeare’s “The Tempest“, and in particular to the song that Ariel sings to Ferdinand describing the father, whom the young man believes drowned
“Full fathom five thy father lies / Of his bones are coral made / Those are pearls that were his eyes di lui”
“No Chaos, Damn It”, concludes James Coddington in one of the chapters of the publication of the conference proceedings. As described by the scientists of the aforementioned symposium, an anthropomorphic structure is visible in the X-ray image because the materials used by Pollock are particularly radiopaque or in any case the thicknesses are greater in certain areas.
The “Full Fathom Five” study is certainly not isolated. In recent years Pollock has been the subject of many diagnostic analyses, especially with non-invasive punctual investigations.
After all, the contemporary art sector passes more and more often under the magnifying glass of the scientist. Although sometimes the interpretations of the results are not entirely convincing. For example, for Pollock, when 24 alleged unpublished works by the artist were found in 2006, these were analysed and declared attributable to Pollock even though some of the materials present were not yet patented upon Pollock’s death. This opinion was justified with the artist’s experimental nature and therefore with the possibility that he had “tested” them before they were released on the market.
The issue of the authentication of works of art, whether ancient or contemporary, continues to be controversial. To get to the truth, whenever possible, it is necessary to rely on who like Art–Test, with its technology and methodology of scientific analysis, offers an approach followed internationally and designed step by step, sustainable for any type of collector. Sometimes we will only arrive at a small truth, but better a small truth than a big lie, said Leonardo.
GianLorenzo Bernini, di padre sestese e madre napoletana, nato il 7 dicembre 1598 fu un artista straordinario, un genio del barocco. Fu un talento precoce, probabilmente anche grazie alla frequentazione della bottega del padre, che era un colto scultore di una certa fama, sua ad esempio la fontana della Barcaccia a Roma.
Gian Lorenzo riesce però ad arrivare a risultati mai raggiunti prima. Si serve di una serie di strumenti e di una procedura che non ammette errori e realizza sculture raffinatissime.
Ma non solo, è anche urbanista, architetto, pittore, scenografo e commediografo. Ebbe un enorme successo in vita e dominò la scena europea per più di un secolo anche dopo la morte.
Fin qui l’artista. L’uomo si è dimostrato molto meno virtuoso. Gian Lorenzo bastonò il fratello con un’asse di ferro, sino a rompergli due costole (ma pare che l’avrebbe ucciso se non fosse stato per l’intervento di alcuni passanti) per vendicarsi di una sua supposta relazione con Costanza Bonarelli, di cui era l’amante. Non solo, Bernini ordinò a un servo di sfregiare Costanza con un rasoio.
Costanza era sposata e fu condannata per adulterio e costretta ad entrare in convento. Bernini fu solo condannato ad una multa, 3000 scudi, che fu presto condonata.
Di questa orribile vicenda rimane lo straordinario busto realizzato da Bernini, che raffigura Costanza in tutta la sua bellezza. L’unica scultura che sappiamo Gian Lorenzo non produsse per vendere o perché fosse esposta in pubblico, ma per piacere personale.
Chissà se Bernini si pentì della violenza contro una donna coraggiosa e resiliente che seppe comunque riscattarsi e, scontata la pena in convento, diventare una mercante di sculture di un certo successo, assicurando a sé e alla figlia una vita dignitosa in una residenza prestigiosa e piena di arte.
Nell’immagine: Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Costanza Bonarelli Piccolomini, Museo del Bargello, Firenze
Organized over a period of twelve days with lectures both in the morning and in the afternoon, the international conference “1951-2021. The Caravaggio enigma. Comparing new studies “is online since a few days.
This conference is meant to be a moment for sharing, comparison and dissemination of the latest studies, in an educational key.
A truly rich program for the topics covered which, though not entirely new, are nevertheless discussed under a new guise. They concern the artist’s life, his private life, his artistic preparation and the legacy left in art outside of Italy.
The platform used is Zoom, it is possible to register for free for each study day but also to review past appointments.
We look forward to a second edition of this conference that will also give the floor to diagnosticians, to those who have studied Caravaggio’s artistic technique, that is as fascinating as his life.
What is doing in Ethiopia a wooden triptych apparently from the Sienese school?
“The image of Our Lord Jesus Christ”, considered being the oldest African icon and exhibited to believers only once a year, was first described by Diana Spencer, an English art historian, in 1970, when she reached the Gutij village and the Monastery where it is kept, after an adventurous journey to say the least.
However, it was worth it. The work was truly unique, but showed ambigous characteristics, which made it difficult to establish its origin and dating.
Today Jacques Mercier, who wrote a book about it, reinterprets it by hypothesizing a non-Byzantine origin, idea that could pave the way for new studies on the spread of Italian stylistic features outside areas already known to us.
In fact, the work has iconographic features close to both the African and Byzantine, and Sienese fields. The rendering of the faces obtained from countless very fine and crossed brushstrokes, the use of punches in the halo of Christ, suggest a proximity to what was the established procedure in Siena in the fourteenth century. At the same time, the decoration of Christ’s robe is close to the motifs found on Ethiopian processional crosses.
Mercier puts forward the hypothesis that a Sienese master reached Ethiopia and produced the icon there.
Who he could possibly be, how he came to Africa and why, remains to be discovered; quite extraordinary, considering that the artist would have made a journey of thousands of kilometers to one of the most inaccessible areas of the continent.
A further hypothesis is proposed by Verena Krebs, who recalls an Ethiopian diplomatic mission in Venice in 1402, at which time the icon may have been commissioned.
Surely it is a fascinating work from many points of view. A lot more could be discovered if we knew the materials with which it was made.
Scientific analyses would make a difference. Imagine a radiographic and reflectographic diagnostic campaign (copy or single work?) With the addition of a study on the essence of the wood (European or African?), on the pictorial palette (where did the colors come from?), concluding with macro-photographs of the punches and of the characteristics of the brushstroke.
A detailed comparison could then be made with the techniques of the Sienese masters and with their works in our Under the Gold database. A comparative study of the diagnostic results could help to understand it better and perhaps write a new chapter in the history and history of art.
Valorising works of art in their context to help reading the different historical-artistic stratifications
The restoration of the splendid painted Cross kept in the Ghelli Museum of San Casciano Val di Pesa and attributed to the so-called “Master of San Lucchese” has recently begun.
The artist takes its name from the place where most of his paintings were found, namely the Convent of San Lucchese in Poggibonsi. His works are now distributed all over the world, only a few remain in Italian museums or churches.
The painter is considered a follower of Giotto, active between 1330 and 1380 around, and is still largely to be studied, despite being recognized as having a high artistic value.
The artwork brought to the Florentine laboratories of Atelier, that, thanks to the restorer Angela Matteuzzi also followed its journey from the Museum to Florence, will be subject to a restoration accompanied by scientific investigations, all non-invasive.
This project, possible thanks to the funds made available by the “Firenze Restaura” tender of the CR Firenze Foundation, aims to be the beginning of a course of study on the artist and the diagnostic campaign that will initially support the restoration, is also designed to be useful for the historical-artistic study.
The diagnostic study will include multispectral investigations in UV Fluorescence, Scanner Reflectography, Radiography and analysis of the painting palette by XRF. These investigations will allow a more correct evaluation of the cleaning phases, of the genesis of the work and of the artist’s painting technique. The intervention will be followed by Dr. Anna Floridia, territorial official of the Superintendency.
The Councilor for Culture of the Municipality of San Casciano, Dr. Maura Masini, highlighted how this intervention is part of a broader program of conservation and enhancement of the heritage preserved at the Ghelli Museum, likewise Dr. Matteuzzi, director of the Museum, emphasizes how the link between the territory and the community is to be strengthened by preserving and enhancing its heritage.
In our opinion, the enhancement of such museums of the “Territory” is the ideal way to educate visitors to appreciate works that would be otherwise lost in larger collections. The rhythms of the smaller museums allow visitors to enjoy a more intimate and sincere dialogue with the works on display.
Local museums can be great disseminators by organising exhibitions of high scientific value that deal with the artistic expression of the area.
With this Restoration & Diagnostics project we wish you all a year of “cure” and “discoveries”
The analyses on the Man of Sorrows inflame the debate on attribution
One of the last paintings by the Florentine painter still in private hands will be sold at the “Master Paintings and Sculpture” auction, Sotheby’s New York, on January 27, 2022.
A few weeks before the sale, perhaps to invalidate the rumors of “low quality”, “incompatible with the hand of the master”, the scientific studies carried out on the work were made public. And they revealed a surprising underdrawing: several “pentimenti” and a discovery: a Madonna and Child, which emerged under the various layers of paint, thanks to reflectography.
In the description of the Sotheby’s lot, the work is dated to around 1500, when Botticelli was around 55 years old. Therefore, it should not even be an immature and youthful work, as others had claimed.
Jesus is made with delicate brushstrokes of pink and brown on creamy tones. There is an incision marking the three-dimensional cross above the head of Christ. A practice commonly used by Botticelli, and by many other Renaissance artists: the borders of the pictorial part were marked to obtain guidelines in the creation of some geometric elements of the composition.
Through the reflectography, various changes made to the artist himself during the execution of the work are evident, such as in the arrangement of the thorns of the crown, the change in position of the eyebrows, the displacement of the oval of the face, and the wound on the side that has been moved down.
There are relevant changes also in the hands of Christ: the middle finger of the left hand was initially visible, outside the open wound and there is also a rethinking of the thumb.
But the surprises don’t stop there. In fact, you can see another underdrawing, only partially drafted and not connected to Christ image above: the panel was obviously conceived for a completely different subject.
By overturning the infrared image, the composition becomes more readable, the outlines of the figures of the Madonna and Child appear evident in a tender attitude, their cheeks touch, an idea deriving from the Virgin Eleousa (of “tenderness”), originating in the Greek tradition and that many Renaissance painters have reused.
The head of the Child turned upwards, supported by the hand of the Madonna, can be distinguished, the folds of the mantle are evident and are clear and dense. That is a compositional pose typical of Botticelli and his workshop – as reported by Sotheby – a cornerstone of Botticellian production, which was abandoned in favor of the one currently visible, for reasons that are still obscure.
In the lower part of the drawing, we can distinguish some lines that are thicker than others, probably made with liquid pigment.
Apostle, senior vice president and director of Sotheby’s Old Masters in New York, who had the opportunity to perform in-depth studies, suggests that it may be a unique piece, in fact there are no sources that certify the existence of replicas of this subject by Botticelli.
Apostle continues by explaining that the panel was a precious asset in the Renaissance and if by chance there was an aborted painting lying around, in this case a composition of the Madonna and Child, then you didn’t want to throw it away. Botticelli, therefore, reused the table by turning it, and using it for another composition.
The table is made of poplar wood, a typical support in Renaissance Florence. Sotheby’s analyses also reveal a crack in the center of the table and a knot in the wood. It is also noted that the painting was “reworked at some point in the 20th century“, as confirmed by Apostle, who goes on to say that “it is sandwiched on a modern board, with the original back and front on both sides”.
It is likely that Botticelli initially abandoned the table precisely because of the central node of the support, which was unsuitable for that type of composition.
Looking at the painting, one immediately notices that Christ’s face is off-center, shifted to the left (of the observer) perhaps precisely to avoid the imperfection of the support.
Apostle, speaking of his pictorial technique, then affirms that in this painting Botticelli “changed it“, by fusing tempera and oil. In addition, Sotheby’s specifies that XRF tests was carried out, and retouched areas appeared evident. The mappings indicate some elements used by Botticelli to create the work: lead white, copper green and/or blue, mercury red (vermilion) and iron brown (umber and other earth pigments).
Calcium appears everywhere, probably as chalk and bone black. It is not excluded that there are also other pigments, but it is likely that they have not been detected due to their atomic weight or because they are only in trace amounts.
The painting will start from an auction base of 40 million dollars, we are sure that surprises will not end there!
Technical analyses have once again played a fundamental role in the correct attribution.
A painting for 50 years believed to be a copy, it is thought to be a Van Dyck original
Christopher Wright, a scholar known for having discovered numerous incorrectly attributed masterpieces, bought in 1976 a copy from Van Dyck of the “Portrait of Isabella Clara Eugenia, as a Clarissa”, for about $ 90.
The portrait hung on the walls of Wright’s house for years, and he was convinced it was not authentic, at least until his friend Colin Harrison senior curator of European art at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford was literally captivated by the quality of the painting. After observing it carefully, he noticed some characteristic features that would lead back to the Flemish artist, in particular the accuracy in the making of the hands.
The portrayed lady is not just any nun. Isabella, daughter of King Philip II of Spain, was prepared for her leadership from an early age. And therefore – on condition that she married her cousin Albert VII, Archduke of Austria – her father ceded the Spanish Netherlands to her. The marriage took place in 1599 and the two began their dominion.
There are more than 20 known versions of this portrait, whose half-length prototype is actually by Rubens.
Van Dyck’s atelier, like all other contemporaries, probably envisaged the replication in many copies of a “successful” painting; copies that had to be as similar as possible to the original. This is why in workshop paintings it is often difficult to distinguish the various hands, since very similar techniques and the same materials were used.
After his friend’s intuition, Wright decided to investigate the matter by having the painting examined and restored at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London.
In the concluding report, we read that the analyzes lead to provisionally propose that the painting can be attributed to Van Dyck’s studio and that it was “completed during his life and under his supervision”. You can read all the details in the report: “Painting Pairs: Art History and Technical Study 2018 – 2019 ”, which was commendably made public.
The experts, after the in-depth research carried out, which, as in all serious protocols, included radiography, reflectography, UV fluorescence and chemical analysis of materials, found compatibility with the hypothesis that the portrait may have been made between 1628 and 1632.
Until 1632, when he moved to London, in fact, van Dyck worked as a portrait painter for the Spanish aristocracy.
Furthermore, the sovereign dressed as a Poor Clare and the dark background, poor in details, is related to the mourning after the death of her husband Alberto, which occurred in 1621. Isabella led the country alone until 1633, the year of her death, in the period that is considered the golden age of the Spanish Netherlands.
The portrait influenced the world of portraitists in a viral way, so much so that even non-workshop copies emerged.
Wright is now convinced that the painting that he has had in front of him for over 50 years is an authentic van Dyck and could be worth up to £ 40,000.
The scholar, of course, is delighted with the result, so much so that he intends to exhibit the portrait in a public institution. The painting will be loaned to form part of the permanent collection at the Cannon Hall Museum in Cawthorne. It will thus enrich this already renowned collection of Dutch and Flemish paintings of the seventeenth century.
Curiously, even in 2019 an alleged copy of the Walker Art Gallery portrait was elevated from copy to original.
It would be interesting to have the technical details of that painting too, of which the attribution changed following a visual analysis by the scholar S.J. Barnes, author of the catalog raisonné.
(Chiara Martine Menchetti)
Alessandra, how did you become a restorer?
At the end of my high school studies, I accidentally attended a series of conferences on restoration at the University of Lecce and I was fascinated by the presentation of the book on the restoration of the Sistine Chapel by prof. Alessandro Conti. The passion for his work that prof. Conti was trasmitting prompted me to enroll in a restoration course in the Lecce branch of a private Florentine school. As soon as possible I then moved to Florence to follow the three-year course run by prof. Conti, professor and exceptional person who has profoundly influenced my education and my working future.
Considering that the goal of his courses was to train for the maintenance of works of art so as to never have to actually perform the restauration of an artwork, we can understand what utopian vision of the world of restoration he had.
During periods of school break, I went to work in one of my teachers’ restoration sites of frescoes. So I abandoned the easel paintings sector to devote myself to architectural restauration. At the end of the course I deepened my training “on site” with a long period of free apprenticeship. I got my first paid job in large company in Milan working on stone artefacts.
Now let’s talk about one of your works. There have been several opportunities for collaboration with Art-Test , which one do you want to remember? For us it has always been extremely pleasant the way in which we have been able to establish with you a real dialogue between diagnostics and restoration.
With Art-Test I participated in a project for the restoration of the fifteenth-century Palazzo Madama in Piacenza, where we wanted to give space to diagnostic investigations useful for the definition and restoration project of wall paintings, ancient plasters and stone artefacts. I avail myself of the scientific advice of Art-Test in many of my sites. I shall mention the precious help of Art-Test in the restoration of a Greek statue kept in the archaeological museum of Palazzo Farnese in Piacenza. The statue by Kleomenes is affected by biological patinas that we are trying to remove with an innovative scientific approach thanks to the advice of Art-Test.
Having the opportunity to work together with different professionals, with whom there is a relationship of mutual trust, is essential in order to be able to deal with the thousand problems / unforeseen events with which we often have to deal. Over the years Art-Test has provided me with the technical assistance necessary to tackle the work with a scientific method.
In general, what are the most common problems encountered during a restoration in which diagnostics are most useful? And what are the advantages for a restorer to combine a targeted diagnostic campaign with a restoration project?
It would be good and desirable to always be able to carry out preliminary diagnostic investigations useful for defining restoration projects. Unfortunately, the economic space for diagnostics is always very limited and scientific laboratory advice is normally required only when faced with unexpected problems.
I find the laboratory investigation that characterizes the materials used in previous restorations very useful. Until a few years ago the technical documentation of the restorations was absent, very often untrue or lacking in information. In the 70s and 90s, new advanced materials were used in the restoration in an experimental way, which proved not always suitable for a conservative restoration and at times were the cause of deterioration.
I think there have been changes and not for the good. I have been working for thirty years in the field of monumental restorations in a provincial reality in the rich Emilia and in recent years I have noticed that private clients are less willing to invest in restorations. Although there is increasing information on the professional figure of the restorer, especially private clients find it difficult to accept fair costs. It follows that, unfortunately, there are colleagues on the market who tend to lower costs by adapting to the customers’ claims for discounts, devaluing the value of the profession, a situation that has serious repercussions above all on the remuneration of collaborators. Ironically, the current prices are the same or lower than those we applied at the beginning of the 2000s. The problem cannot be easily solved because among fellow restorers there is a competition that should not exist and it is not possible to communicate and create a united front.
On Christmas Eve, on 24 December 1734, a terrible fire broke out and destroyed the Alcazar, the royal fortress seat of the Spanish monarchy. Under the rubble magnificent works disappeared forever: over 500 paintings by artists such as Leonardo, Holbein, Raphael, Ribera, El Greco, of which often only the description remains.
Built in the ninth century as a watchtower, the Alcazar had been constantly expanded and modernized until that unfortunate winter night.
It seems that the fire started from the room of the court painter Jan Ranc, where the fireplace had remained lit, while celebrations were elsewhere. The flames soon devoured everything: beds, wardrobes, chests, and all their contents, and soon cornices and ceilings as well. The building began to collapse.
In the palace were kept more than 2000 paintings collected with tenacity since the time of Isabella I of Castile and increased over the centuries by the Spanish dynasty. Philip II and his son had added Titian, Tintoretto, Ribera, Dürer, Leonardo, Brueghel. While thanks to the refined taste of Felipe IV, numerous works by Velázquez and Rubens and their contemporaries had been added.
No one was able to quell the fury of the fire. The chronicles narrate that five chariots with seven horses and mules each loaded with gold, silver, jewels and coins. For fear of the raids, the people of Madrid were not allowed to intervene to extinguish it.
Many of the paintings that are now the highlights of the Prado were saved, such as las Meninas by Velasquez, which seems to have been thrown out of a window, or Adam and Eve by Durer, and also the Mona Lisa by the workshop of Leonardo da Vinci which recently made headlines because its preparatory drawing is very similar to that of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre.
Fundamental pieces to understand the history of art, which that fire nevertheless changed forever.
Shortly before Christmas, on the evening of 23 December 1888, in Arles, Vincent Van Gogh cut his ear with a razor, wrapped it in a sheet of newspaper and had it delivered to a brothel.
It was one of the most serious episodes of the recurring crises that afflicted the painter, culminating in suicide a year and a half later.
What had pushed him?
Was it a gesture of anger, of desperation for the announcement of his brother’s imminent marriage and therefore of the possible lack of financial support? Or the outcome of a quarrel with his painter and friend Paul Gauguin who had just left Arles? Over the years, the most disparate theories have been proposed.
Vincent ended up in the Arles hospital, where he was treated by Doctor Félix Rey, of whom Van Gogh also painted a portrait. Rey believed that Van Gogh suffered from a form of epilepsy caused in part by too much coffee, alcohol and too little food. Other doctors of the time had diagnosed the painter with epilepsy and a “moody” attitude. The most recent hypothesis is that Vincent suffered from Ménière’s syndrome.
This disease, discovered by the doctor Prosper Ménière in 1861, is a pathology of the inner ear associated with states of vertigo, fluctuating sensorineural hearing loss, tinnitus and loss of balance. Patient seizures can last from 20 minutes to more than 24 hours, becoming more and more acute and frequent over time.
In the specific case of Vincent Van Gogh, the worsening of symptoms could justify the numerous physical imbalances, as well as the very strong hallucinations. Cutting your ear may have been the crazy remedy designed to put an end to his torments.
In fact, it had always been thought that the mutilation had been, after all, small, and that it had involved only a small piece of the left lobe. On the other hand, in a recently rediscovered drawing made by Rey, it is clearly seen that the cut concerns a large part of the pavilion.
The incident had a profound echo in the town of Arles, an article was published in the local news, and two months after he had cut off his ear, Van Gogh’s neighbours in Arles launched a petition to have the artist evicted from the iconic Yellow house he rented. They did not succeed, but the torments were by no means over.
Other crises and suicide attempts followed, until the last one, which was successful when he was just 37 years old. The myth of his genius cultivated with constancy above all by his sister-in-law first and then by the Dutch collectors, grew dramatically after his death. And while he had hardly sold any painting in his life, his artworks are currently among the most expensive ones in the world.
Winter here is associated with cold weather and sometimes snow. But there have been much colder winters than others.
Several centuries of relatively low temperatures begun around the 15th century. Average temperatures dropped of about 0.6 °C between 1450 and 1850 in comparison with the following 1850–1950 period. It is known as the Little Ice Age.
It brought colder winters to Europe and North America. For example farms and villages in the Swiss Alps were destroyed by encroaching glaciers, canals and rivers in Great Britain and the Netherlands were frequently frozen.
This was particularly evident during the “Grindelwald Fluctuation” (1560–1630) when the colder temperatures were also associated with more erratic weather, increased storminess, unseasonal snowstorms, and droughts.
Agriculture practices throughout Europe struggled to adapt to the shortened and less reliable growing season, and there were many years of deaths caused by famine, hypothermia, bread riots, but also witch-hunting, as Europeans sought explanations for what they were experiencing, and they blamed marginalized groups and individuals, including poor old women, many of them widows. The peaks of witchcraft persecutions overlap with the hunger crises that occurred in 1570 and 1580. Jewish populations were also blamed for climatic deterioration during the Little Ice Age.
There are effects also in art. For example the depiction of winter in paintings occurred almost entirely from 1565 to 1665. Scholars claim that there had been almost no depictions of winter as a stand alone subject in art prior to this period, and hypothesize that the unusually harsh winter of 1565 inspired great artists to depict highly original images. Snowy winter landscapes, particularly stormy seascapes, became artistic genres in the Dutch Republic. All of the famous winter landscape paintings by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, for example, such as The Hunters in the Snow, are thought to have been painted in 1565.
Paintings and contemporary records in Scotland demonstrate also that curling and ice skating were popular outdoor winter sports also there in this same period, with curling dating back to the 16th century and becoming widely popular in the mid-19th century.
And all of this for just a drop of 0.6°C
Between walls built from large blocks of stone, in what could be a castle, two young lovers kiss passionately. A very romantic scene that has become a pop icon.
But that actually hides a precise political message of nationalist love and hatred of foreigner oppressors. Francesco Hayez painted the first version of “Il Bacio” in 1859.
We are in the middle of the “Risorgimento” period. After the riots of ’48, the first War of Independence failed but it is still being fought, often in secret. Mindful of the defeat of the Carbonari movement, repressed in blood, Hayez, in order to escape censorship interventions, masks the ideals of conspiracy and struggle against oppression under the representation of past events.
Looking closer, the young man who kisses the girl carries a dagger and is about to climb the first step of the stairs. This physical instability expresses a certain nervousness, as if the kiss was moved not by a simple sentimental longing, but by an imminent departure, and this romantic gesture was actually a heart-breaking farewell. A young patriot who greets his beloved girl before going to fight? In the shadow that can be glimpsed on the left, a hidden, disturbing presence, perhaps an Austrian spy who watches over the two lovers.
The work met with great success, so much so that Hayez reproduced it in two more versions, with minor changes between one and the other. However, these changes were also in a patriotic key. In the first version, the light blue of the woman’s dress and the bright red of the young man’s tights allude not too subtly to the French flag: Hayez, in fact, intended to pay homage to the Plombières agreements between Napoleon III and Cavour. In the copy of 1861, the year of the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy, the girl’s dress takes on a neutral white tone, as a sign of homage to the so eagerly awaited Italian unification. In the third version, Italy manifests itself instead in the guise of the man, who here – in addition to the already present red tights – also wears a green coat. There is an additional white cloth on the stairs, which therefore with green and red symbolizes the Italian national flag.
Fantasies of art historians? Not at all. Francesco Hayez, who died on 21 December 1882 at the age of 91, had been very active and politically aligned, he was a friend of the cultural elite, like Mazzini and Manzoni. Even if he had to undergo, during his long life, checks and interventions of censorship prepared by the Bourbons, the Habsburgs and the Papal State, there are many of his works that contain an encrypted patriotic message of the “Risorgimento”.
Not exactly a “sweet” subject even if the popular Baci chocolate producer were inspired by Hayez for their logo.
Five days before Christmas, not everyone is busy preparing for the festivities.
There were some preparing a grand style robbery, “it seemed to be in a movie”, at the Sao Paulo Museum of Art in Brazil.
On December 20, 2007, 3 minutes were enough to jack open the security gate, smash down two glass doors, and run to the top floor of the museum to grab two paintings from different rooms while the guards were changing shift.
They could take works like Renoir‘s “Bather with a Griffin”, Van Gogh‘s “L’Arlesienne” or Matisse‘s “Plaster Torso and Bouquet of Flowers” and instead they concentrated on only two paintings: Picasso‘s “Portrait of Suzanne Bloch”, painted during his Blue Period (and a little sad) and Portinari‘s “O Lavrador de Cafe”. Portinari’s work, which depicts a coffee collector, was painted in 1939 and is one of the most famous works by one of the most important painters in Brazil, and was valued at around 6 million euros.
Thefts of artworks occur continuously in all parts of the world, and are a loss to the society at large. On May 6, INTERPOL launched an “app” to involve individual citizens in helping to identify stolen cultural assets, reduce illicit trafficking and increase the chances of recovering stolen objects. It is called ID-Art and can be downloaded by everyone for free.
The “app” allows not only to obtain mobile access to the INTERPOL database of stolen works of art, but also to create an inventory of private art collections and report cultural sites potentially at risk. Really useful and simple to use, we invite everyone to download and use it.
The stolen goods from the coup at the San Paolo Museum were recovered as early as January 6. The police suspected that it was a commissioned theft for an art loving criminal, fixed with the two artworks. Let’s hope it wasn’t just an addition to his Christmas decorations
The “Black Square” by Kazmir Malevich was shown for the first time at the “Last Futurist Exhibition of Paintings O,10”, which opened on 19 December 1915, in the city thatt used to be St. Petersburg but was just remained Petrograd, to become Leningrad just a few years later.
When “Black Square” was first exhibited, the world was in chaos. It was the middle of the First World War and there was continuing unrest following the 1905 Russian revolution that in 1917 would explode into the October Revolution.
The idea of a just a Black Square was the result of Malevich’s journey to find the “zero” point in painting, as he described it.
At the exhibition, the “Black Square” was placed high up on the wall across the corner of the room. Though this position might look strange but basically means nothing to a non-Russian viewer today, it was a clear signal in Russia at the time, since this was the spot for the sacred icon in a traditional Russian home.
Malevich meant to bring about a revolution in art, alongside the social revolution that was happening. Malevich wanted “Black Square” to be of a special or spiritual significance. He did not intend for it to be a representation of a real thing, but a symbol of a dawning new age.
“Up until now there were no attempts at painting as such, without any attribute of real life… Painting was the aesthetic side of a thing, but never was original and an end in itself”
It was a big success. He produced various versions of Black Square and sometimes used a black square to sign his paintings. Which however, does not make it easier for scholars now to recognise fakes.
In fact Malevich has made it to the top ten list of most faked artists of all times. Probably, there are many saying “even my 4 years old could have done that”.
How untrue! We have analysed several wannabe and no, there is no comparison with the original ones. Do not try this at home: materials and aging will tell the thruth!
Paul Klee, born 18 December, son of a singer (his mother) and a pianist (his father), was supposed to become a musician, and indeed proved to be a gifted violinist when he was only 7 years of age. However, he was convinced that music was no exciting enough because of the “decline in the history of musical achievement” (!).
He decided to become a painter instead. It was indeed a very exciting period to be an artist, with many movements and new concepts, and Klee explored them all. From Der Blaue Reiter to the Bauhaus, he was influenced by Expressionism, Cubism, Constructivism, Primitivism and Surrealism, he even tried Pointillism.
Klee began studying art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich. In the beginning he excelled at drawing, where he was a natural, but he seemed to lack any colour sense. He had to travel south, Italy, Tunisia Egypt, to really “see” colour. And it became his signature. He deeply explored colour theory and even wrote about it extensively.
He was very prolific. In his life Klee created an incredibly large number of graphics, drawings and paintings. In his catalogue of works, which he built himself from 1911 until his death in 1940, he listed several thousand works.
However, probably his musical sensibility remained is his most recognisable trait. His most praised paintings are those composed of coloured rectangles and a few circles. The coloured rectangle became his basic building block, what some scholars associate with a musical note, which Klee combined with other coloured blocks to create a harmony analogous to a musical composition. His selection of a particular colour palette was the musical key.
The period in which he lived was very exciting but doomed to finish in the tragedy of World War II.
Also his art was branded as degenerate art by the Nazis and he had to leave Germany and his job.
Not the first thing that comes to your mind when you look at his paintings.
Luckily many things have changed since then.
After the marriage by proxy celebrated in Florence in October, the royal wedding between the King of France Henry IV and Maria de ‘Medici was held on 17 December 1600 in the cathedral of Lyon. Maria wore a magnificent and elegant white velvet dress with a purple cloak.
Certainly, there was not the same pomp as shown in Florence, when there were celebrations for 10 days and banquets with 69 courses, sugar statues carved by the court sculptors and a scenography to leave you speechless.
After all, she was the rich one. Marrying her was the solution to the dynastic and financial worries of the newly divorced king of France. Maria de ‘Medici was the granddaughter of the Germanic Roman emperor Ferdinand I, allowing her to ensure a royal lineage in France. In addition, Maria brought a dowry of 600,000 golden scudi and the possibility of cancelling the debt contracted by France with the Medici bank.
The queen was soon pregnant and she gave birth to her first child on 27 September 1601, much to the delight of the king and the kingdom, that had been waiting for the birth of a boy for more than forty years. From the union, albeit stormy for the numerous infidelities of the king, 6 children were born. The first, Louis, became king of France, the second, Elizabeth, queen of Spain.
The French environment, however, was very hostile to the Florentine queen, and after fierce conflicts with Cardinal Richelieu, who had been her protégé, Maria definitively had to leave the French court.
She died in Cologne in 1642, perhaps in the home of her favourite painter, Rubens, who she had entrusted to produce a cycle of twenty-four very large canvases in two years. He managed to finish them in time for the marriage of her daughter Henrietta Maria to King Charles I of England.
Twenty-one paintings represent the Glories and struggles of Maria de ‘Medici, the remaining three are portraits of her and her parents. They are real masterpieces also thanks to the cultural and political sensibility of Rubens who, in deciding the subjects, had to be careful while glorifying Mary not to hurt the susceptibility of other French and European VIPs.
Twenty-four canvases that now enrich the Louvre.
Perhaps Maria would have deserved a better memory than the simple fountain named after her. A very little thing compared to the Luxembourg palace next door, which she built (now is the seat of the French Senate), and which she also adorned, as a good Medicis, with many others paintings that are now in major museums.
The Black Plague had a dreadful impact on Siena. The city had reached its golden age during the 14th century, when many of the beautiful buildings that survive to this day were erected (like the Duomo, the Palazzo Pubblico, the Torre del Mangia). This was also the period in which Sienese art flourished, and a new style was invented, abandoning the byzantine dictates to begin convey a physical as well as a spiritual reality, and producing masterpieces such as those now in the Pinacoteca.
The medieval age was a great time to be alive in Siena. At least until in the late 1340s, when a catastrophic wave of bubonic plague swept through Europe and, by May 1348, reached the city.
Before the plague, Siena was home to 50,000 people. After, the population dropped to about 14,000. A real and total devastation.
On 16 December 1406 Jacopo della Quercia, born in Siena, a prominent sculptor active in many cities and courts, was asked to build a new fountain in Piazza del Campo . It had to replace the old fountain with a statue of the goddess Venus. This pagan statue was blamed for the outbreak of the Plague. The statue was destroyed and buried outside the city walls to avert its “evil influence”.
Jacopo built a rectangular fountain in a slightly different site, however using the hydraulic construction that had led water for the first time to the piazza from 25 kilometers away. It had been a major event, also considering that Siena is built on top of a hill.
The new fountain was dedicated to the Virgin, adorned on the three sides by many statues and multiple spouts. Because Jacopo accepted also other commissions at the same time, progress was slow. The fountain was only finished in 1419.
In 1858 copies replaced the statues by Jacopo. These are now on display in the lower levels at Santa Maria della Scala, where they calmly wait to overcome this more recent COVID plague as well, since luckily nobody is blaming them this time.
There was a time when Riace, Italy, was famous all over the world for the discovery of two bronze statues, so beautiful that when the restoration was finished, on December 15, 1980, and were finally exhibited, there were endless lines of visitors queuing to see them.
Their “modern” history began 8 years earlier, when they were accidentally found 230 meters from the shore. Their anatomical perfection and extraordinary workmanship were immediately striking.
Were the “statue A” and the “statue B” or the old and the young (even if, frankly it takes some courage to call old that 2m tall boy, absolutely in shape) born together? Or are they the work of two different sculptors? Scholars are not yet in agreement on who they represent, on what was their function, as well as -of course- on who their author may be.
In the meantime, the Riace Bronzes have been restored several times. And each time the restorations and diagnostics have given extraordinary results, adding an extra piece of information.
For example, by analysing the clay remains inside from casting, they were able to understand that both originate from the same place: Argos, in the Peloponnese, Greece, and in the same period the 5th century BC. From the lead that was used for some soldering and that comes from the mines of Mount Luarion, closed in the middle of the 1st century AD, it turned out that they were restored first in Athens and then in Rome, where an arm was replaced, with techniques similar to those in use in the Augustan period.
The materials used to create the details of the statues were then identified. Silver was used for the teeth of statue A and the eyelashes of the two heads. Limestone makes up the sclerae of the eyeballs, there is even a pink stone in the hollow of the eye. The lips are made of copper like the areolas of the nipples.
Next year it will be 50 years since the discovery. Guys you age very well!
Giovanni Battista Cipriani was born in 1727 in Florence, Italy, trained to be a painter and had the best possible education. He first attended the Accademia delle Belle Arti in Florence, a highly renowned institution, and then he went to Rome to get in contact with the latest art trends. After 3 years, full of hopes, he came back to Florence, where unfortunately he discovered that the market did not present that many opportunities. He only got some relatively marginal assignments. So he decided, together with 3 friends and colleagues, to emigrate and go to London.
It was probably not the easiest decision at the time, but it proved to be the right move. Someone with his background was highly appreciated. English intellectuals and painters went all to Italy for the Grand Tour, to experience what was considered to be the centre of culture and culture production.
To have someone to move from Italy to England, bringing all this heritage with him was highly treasured.
He became the first exponent in England of Neoclassicism and played an important part in directing 18th-century English artistic taste. He started to work for eminent customers, like G. Walpole, together will architects like R. Adam. He worked in several occasions for King George III too.
He was very prolific and worked as painter, draughtsman, designer, illustrator and even restorer. He was also one of the 40 founders of the Royal Academy, the English version of the Accademia delle Belle arti where had studied. He was considered the best artist in town.
The 18th century style is not very fashionable at the moment, and together with much of the art produced in that period, also works by Cipriani are nowadays not so highly praised.
They are probably waiting to be rediscovered, like it is his self-portrait that he donated to the Galleria degli Uffizi, hoping to be allowed to symbolically return and to be granted a place in the artists’ pantheon, and which is accumulating dust in the deposit.
But Cipriani never knew. He died surrounded by friends the 14 December, 1785 in London, where he was still considered as one of the most esteemed artist who ever lived there, and got a funeral monument in the King’s Road Cemetery, Chelsea, by his friend, compatriot and collaborator F. Bartolozzi.
Branded as a “putrid and fetid member” by the Order of the Knights of Malta, Caravaggio escapes and arrives in Syracuse where he is commissioned to paint a canvas for the church of Santa Lucia al Sepolcro.
Santa Lucia is the patron saint of the city and she is also the patron saint of sight, and she is usually represented holding serene a saucer with two eyes.
In reality Lucia is a martyr saint of the third century AD, the time of the most ferocious Christian persecutions. Lucia refused to venerate the Roman gods and for this was tortured. Since the Roman prefect Pangasius was unable to achieve the effect he wanted, humiliated and angry, he decided to behead her. It was 13 December, 304 and Lucia was about 21 years old
Caravaggio does not paint the serene Saint with the saucer in her hand.
He doesn’t even represent the martyrdom but, he opts for the moment of her burial. After all, the church to which the painting was destined had risen precisely on the place considered to be her burial, outside the city center.
The scene takes place in a catacomb or in any case in a bare environment, where the floor is bare soil. In the foreground are the two gravediggers and in particular the back, and the lower back, of one of the two. Lucia is on the ground lifeless. But what dominates is emptiness. Is like the echo of the Syracuse caves is resounding.
We viewers are not invited to the burial. We see it from the opposite side of all those who are entitled to participate.
An absolute masterpiece of Caravaggio’s fundamentalist realism. The “pentimenti” revealed by the analyses are very few. The most relevant is the covering of the wound on the neck of the Saint, initially depicted beheaded. Perhaps it was considered a detail too grisly.
Although the painting subverted all known canons, it was immediately successful.
But it was a bit too empty up there, at least for some. And so a small modification was requested: ” Michelangelo da Caravaggi was requested to paint a group of angels in the wide field, which remains high up, in that famous painting, in which we mourn and admire the funeral of St. Lucia in Syracuse. But he did not want to paint them, saying: Having never seen them, I don’t know how to portray them “
True or not the anecdote, an answer worthy of him.
In the picture: Caravaggio, Seppellimento di Santa Lucia, 1608
Which is the most stolen painting worldwide? Arguably, Munch’s “The Scream”.
Edvard Munch, born on 12 December 1863, produced 4 versions of this now super famous subject: two paintings with tempera, and two drawings with pastel and crayon.
In 1994, the original 1983 painting was stolen from a museum in just one minute. Robbers smashed a window, jumped in and cut the painting from the wall using wire cutters. They then climbed out and sped off, leaving behind a “Thanks for the poor security!” note.
The painting was recovered in 1994. But again just a decade later, in 2004 two masked and armed men simply wandered up to the 1910 version at the Munch museum in Oslo and ripped it off the wall also using a wire cutter. Also this painting was luckily recovered in 2006.
Why this obsession? The opportunity, sure. The value also.
Edvard always wanted to become an artist. But his father did not agree, and directed him to studying engineering. It was not the same. So just after one year, Munch had the courage to move to Norwegian National Academy of Craft and Art Industry.
This is how he describes producing the subject: “one evening I was walking along a path, the city was on one side and the fjord below. I felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out over the fjord – the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood. The colour shrieked. This became The Scream”.
For Munch the obsession was to produce art
According to the anthropologist Desmond Morris: art, with science and religion, is one of our essential needs.
And humans are the only species on Earth capable of producing art.
His definition for art is “making the extraordinary out of the ordinary to entertain (or exercise) the brain”. Brain entertainment is a pleasure but it is also at the core of our evolutionary success.
Indeed, we have made art since a long time. On 11 December 2019 the discovery of the earliest known imaginary rock-art was announced.
Images of figures that do not exist in the natural world, part humans and part animals, or mixtures of different animals, It is the evidence for our ability to imagine the existence of supernatural beings, a cornerstone of religious experience.
Imaginary creatures occur in the folkore or narrative fiction of almost every modern society and they are perceived as gods, spirits or ancestral beings.
Caves in Sulawesi, Indonesia, are known to be rich with rock-art. The latest discovery there showed that what has been documented there is the oldest image of this kind and is about 44.000 years old.
This cave painting portrays a group of part-human, part-animal hunters facing large mammals with spears or ropes, casting new light on the origin of modern human cognition.
But the scientist in you is certainly asking: how did they date them? Indeed only specialists are familiar with this that is an indirect method. What is dated is actually the calcium formation which grew on top of the figures. The Uranium–Thorium dating is a radiometric technique established in the 1960s to determine the age of calcium carbonate materials such as speleothem or coral.
There is so much humans have done for the pure pleasure of entertaining the brain!
In the picture: a group of part-human, part-animal hunters facing large mammals, rock-art Sulawesi, Indonesia
On 10 December 1506, the rich Arte di Calimala commissioned Giovan Francesco Rustici to produce the bronze group of the Sermon of the Baptist, to renew the appearance of the Florence Baptistery and replace the marble group by Tino di Camaino on the north door.
Rustici was born in the same year as Michelangelo, and attended the famous Garden of San Marco under the protection of Lorenzo the Magnificent to whom he remained very attached. Friend of Leonardo, of whom he was a pupil, collaborator, and roommate, he probably developed the three statues together with him.
In fact, Leonardo’s poetics are recognizable, for example, in the Baptist’s gesture of the index finger raised to the sky.
However, despite the group having been installed and making a splendid show of themselves, Rustici was struggling to get paid. And, unfortunately, as a result of economic hardships and a gradual reduction in employment prospects following the expulsion of the Medici from Florence in 1527, around 1528 Giovanfrancesco moved to France, where the king commissioned him an equestrian statue from him.
The king paid regularly, but unfortunately, before passing away GiovanFrancesco only managed to make the horse, which was later destroyed.
The small number of the remaining works, and above all the lack of the equestrian statue, which should have been his masterpiece, partially justifies the lack of fame of this sculptor, to whom a first exhibition was dedicated only in 2010.
Art-Test participated with a complete diagnostic campaign on the terracotta rounds of Rustici remained at Villa Salviati in Florence.
In the picture: GiovanFrancesco Rustici, San Giovanni, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, Florence
There are pigments linked with the place of production, such as Sienna Earth, or to where they were used, such as the Pompeian Red, or the Delft Blue. But Van Dyck is the only painter who has a pigment all to himself: the VanDyke brown.
Yet his paintings are not particularly dark, especially when compared with those of Rembrandt or even Caravaggio, his contemporaries. However, it is no coincidence that precisely in this period in a series of new pigments emerges the range of browns from yellow to ochre to brown to black.
For Cennino Cennini and Alberti, chiaroscuro meant lightening or darkening the shades of pure and bright pigments by adding white or black. But in the following period and in particular in the seventeenth century there was a search for more dramatic contrasts, dark preparations and reddish shades.
VanDycke Brown, a brownish grey, is considered an Earth colour only because it is taken from the soil: but it is not a mineral, it is an organic material derived from peat or lignite. The transparency of the pigment in oil makes it excellent for veiling and this is the use that Van Dyck made of it, as his teacher Rubens used to do.
However, van Dyck had earned a special place in the London court. On 9 December 1641, when at only 42 years old, Antoon van Dyck died in his home in Blackfriars and was buried, with full honours and in the presence of the court, in Saint Paul Cathedral in London.
He left an indelible memory and a crowd of followers. Thus, what in Flanders was known in the nineteenth century as the brown Rubens became in England the Bruno Van Dyck. The spread of Anglo-Saxon terminology did the rest.
Anthony van Dyck, Portrait study of a Bearded Man, private collection
Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera remarried in a simple civil ceremony on 8 December 1940, after a first marriage in 1929, a divorce in 1939, and lots of troubles and troubled times meanwhile. The Mexican Revolution Civil War, and an infinite series of health issues for Frida marked their life and artistic production.
Both Mexicans and painters, both with a well recognizable style, both involved in the world of politics and members of the Mexican Communist Party, they met when Rivera was already a well known artist, and Frida had just started.
Diego Rivera’s impact on Mexican art is tremendous. Rivera remained a central force in the development of national art in Mexico throughout his life. Perhaps one of his greatest legacies, is his impact on America’s conception of public art.
But Frida felt not inferior: “of course he [Rivera] does well for a little boy, but it is I who am the big artist” – Frida Kahlo in interview with the Detroit News, 2 February 1933.
However, Kahlo’s reputation as an artist, drawing her main inspiration from Mexican folk culture, developed late in her life but it grew enormously posthumously.
One of Frida Kahlo’s final self-portraits, Diego y yo (1949), sold recently at auction for $31m ($34.9m with fees), setting a big new record price for Kahlo (her previous stood at $8m) and for any Latin American artist
Frida Kahlo died in 1954, and in the following year, Rivera married his third wife, Emma Hurtado.
Helena Fourment married Rubens, on 6 December 1630 in Saint James in Antwerp, when she was 16 years old. He was aged 53. His first wife, Isabella Brant, has died in 1626.
Rubens writes to a friend four years after his wedding to Helena: “I resolved to marry, as I did not consider myself suited to the abstinence of celibacy. I have therefore taken myself a young wife, born to an honest burgher family, even though many tried to persuade me to marry into the nobility, but I feared the vice of pride that often accompanies high birth, particularly in the case f the women. So I have preferred a person who would not blush at the sight of me taking my brushes in my hand, and, to tell you the truth, it seemed hard for me to trade the precious treasure of my freedom for the embraces of an old woman”.
Helena was said to be very attractive: many were praising her beauty “undoubtedly the most beautiful one may see here”, “Helen of Antwerp, who far surpasses Helen of Troy“.
Hard to believe with today’s standars, but we are not in the middle of a war and food scarcity does not affect this part of the world.
Helena is said to have posed as model for her husband, both clothed, and with her children, and naked for many compositions. Nude females were quite common in Rubens’ production and she is has been identified in many paintings. I bit of an uncomfortable feeling, if you think of it.
In one of the first paintings he made of her, she posed as the Medici’s Venus, the Venus pudica, which was long considered the most attractive “woman” ever. Rubens took inspiration also from Titian, from “Girl in a Fur wrap”, and called the portrait “Het Pelsken”, or “The little Fur”.
Did Helena like to be portrayed naked? Probably not. When Rubens died, just 10 years after their wedding, she destroyed many nudes, but she spared this one.
In the picture: P.P. Rubens, Helena Fouremnt as Venus, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
Probabilmente la prima risposta di molti. Eppure sicuramente conoscete almeno uno dei suoi dipinti. Perché fu molto prolifico e pure molto bravo. Lo ammirava Vasari (che lo menzionò ancora vivente) e in fondo lo stimava anche Tiziano che lo aveva soprannominato Santi di «Tiritititotò Matitatoio», con l’accento sulla Matita che Santi usava per disegnare e che Tiziano aveva rinnegato a vantaggio delle pennellate di colore. Santi di Tito era infatti un eccellente disegnatore, ritrattista, pittore ed architetto.
Nacque il 5 Dicembre 1536 e si trovò a dipingere in piena Controriforma. Nonostante fosse allievo di Bronzino, si pensa, deve rinnegare la sua “maniera” e realizzare composizioni secondo i nuovi dettami. Non era un ribelle, teneva famiglia e fece bene il suo mestiere, con una bottega grande e prolifica con aiutanti di vario livello. Diceva di sé che aveva un pennello per tutte le tasche.
E la sua tecnica pittorica varia di conseguenza, a seconda delle opere, da una superficie smaltata e raffinatissima a un ductus più veloce e quasi abbozzato, con l’utilizzo della preparazione bruna per i mezzi toni.
Era fiorentino, e lavorò per tutti i grandi committenti, pubblici e privati, nell’ambito del rinnovamento post tridentino, in città ma anche fuori, fino anche per il Papa in Vaticano
Avendo vissuto e lavorato moltissimo alla fine sembra quasi impossibile che il suo dipinto che tutti conosciamo sia il ritratto di Machiavelli.
Nell’immagine Ritratto postumo di Niccolò Machiavelli, 104 x 85 cm. Firenze, Museo di Palazzo Vecchio, Cancelleria Nuova (sala del Machiavelli)
There are specific days that have changed the course of history and art history. The end of the Council of Trent on 4 December, 1563 is one of them.
In fierce opposition to the Catholic tradition, and in the name of the fight against licentiousness and luxury, the Protestant reform decided to avoid all grand images of the life of Christ, Mary and the Saints from places of worship.
Even going so far as to push for the destruction of those already present.
The Council of Trent, one of the bulwarks of the Counter-Reformation wanted by the Catholic Church, met to assess and affirm the correct doctrine in all key sectors.
The question of religious art was one of them.
In explicit opposition to the Protestant reform, the council ruled that it was permissible to use images. But not only, it reiterated how artistic representation was the most effective means for religious education. But precisely for this reason the images had to be easy to understand and sober.
This had an immediate impact. For example, the theme of the crucifixion lost its narrative spirit, full of characters and actions, to reduce to just the cross and a little more. While there was a boom in tormented saints, first of all Saint Jerome and Mary Madgalene.
In fact, one of the very first effects was the censorship of nudity. Anticipated from the request to cover with breeches the naked figures in Michelangelo‘s Last Judgment, in a few years Christ is depicted with the tunic even when he is baptized in the waters of the Jordan.
Nudity is also covered for the Baby Jesus. If before his genitalia were clearly evident to testify to the double, human and divine, nature of Christ, when “handkerchiefs” appear to casually cover right there, it is likely that the work was produced after 1563.
Well, a diagnostic campaign will anyway give more precise results!
In the photo a detail of Michelangelo’s Last Judgment, where the “breeches” made by Daniele da Volterra to cover the pudenda are evident
Daniel Seghers, born on 3 December, 1590, a painter of flowers, has played a fundamental role in the history of art and diplomacy.
He lived for the most part of his life during the Eighty Years War for Dutch Independence, during which in Flanders the destinies of the North, bourgeois and Protestant, and the South, Catholic and Spanish, separated. With significant repercussions also in the artistic field.
In Holland sacred art lost its importance and painters gave shape to the values of a mercantile society. Genre painting, everyday life scenes and still life became almost the only subjects in demand.
Unlike what happened in the Southern Netherlands, more or less the present-day Belgium, where religious and aristocratic patronage continued under an Italian and classical influence.
Seghers straddles the two cultures. Born a Catholic, after the conversion of his father he moved to the Protestant territories of the north, to return to Antwerp after a few years with his mother, reconverted, Jesuit, and artist.
He began his apprenticeship as a painter in Antwerp with Jan Brueghel the Elder, followed by a 2-year stay in Rome after his ordination.
And his greatest contribution to the history of art is also between the two cultures. He is in fact the “inventor” of the flower garlands that frame a scene, often a religious one.
The wreaths, even if very accurate in detail, were certainly not painted live, the flowers represented do not bloom at the same time and the bouquets were not at all common – even the very wealthy displayed the flowers one by one in Delft ceramic tulip holders.
Seghers flowers, holding religious significance, often framed a painting produced by somebody else. He collaborated with many of his contemporaries, artists like Rubens, but also Poussin and Domenichino.
His paintings were not usually sold through art dealers, but were presented as gifts by the Jesuit order. They served as powerful tools for diplomacy. In 1631, for example, Seghers sent Maria de’ Medici a picture on the occasion of her visit to the Collegio di Sant’Ignazio.
The seventeenth century was a fantastic period, with artists exploring the most diverse genres, techniques and styles: Caravaggio, Rubens, Poussin, Domenichino, Seghers, Brueghel, even if often the materials and pigments used were the same.
In 1824 Mr Chevreul is entrusted with the task of relaunching the historic Gobelins factory, after customers complained that the colours were dull and unattractive. Chevreul begins to study and realizes that the colours used by the Gobelins are the same as all the others, and concludes that it all depends on how they are combined. He writes a book where he illustrates how the intensity of each colour depends on the adjacent colours. Georges Seurat, born on December 2, 1859, reads the book and is struck by enlightenment. The social significance of art interests him relatively little, as an academy student he does not stand out, but he is fascinated by the effects of composition and colour. He creates a new way of making art, pointillism, where the compositions are created from small dots of pure colour, which will blend in the viewer’s eye. According to Seurat, the advantage of pointillism would have consisted in producing much more intense and luminous images than the traditional drawing on the canvas of previously mixed colours.
His belief, entirely positivistic, is that we must combine the rigor of science with the free creativity of art: “science frees from all uncertainties, allows one to move freely in a very wide range, and therefore to believe that one necessarily excludes the other is a double insult to art and to science”. How can we disagree?
Past January 6 2022 was the 200th anniversary of the birth of Heinrich Schliemann, one of the most controversial but also the most fascinating characters in the history of modern archeology. Well, just in these days, it has been relaunched by an important Italian archaeologist, prof. Lorenzo Nigro of “La Sapienza” in Rome, a hypothesis that once again undermines his credibility: the famous gold mask of Agamemnon would be a sensational fake. For many years this hypothesis has been rebounding in academic circles, and it was especially the scholars William M. Calder III and David Traill who focused on the many elements that lead to doubt about this famous gold artifact.
But let’s go in order. Who was Schliemann? Heinrich Schliemann was born in Neubukow, on the Baltic Sea almost on the border with Denmark, in 1822. As he tells in his autobiography, at the age of seven thanks to a book received as a gift, he would have had the revelation: he would have been the one to find the remains of Troy, the city sung by Homer. But his youth was not easy, given the family’s few financial means. He left his studies early and began a whirlwind of occupations and adventures: at 18 he embarked as a ship’s boy for Venezuela which was wrecked on the coasts of the Netherlands. In Amsterdam, he was a sales representative and he started to learn languages, at first English, French, Italian and Russian, and then many others, up to twenty! He opened a bank in California trafficking with gold miners, but following unclear events, he returned to Europe, and in Russia he married the daughter of a wealthy lawyer. His fortune grew enormously thanks to the Crimean War as a contractor for the Tsarist army.
At 36 he was finally so rich that he could finally dedicate himself to his desire as a child.
After divorcing from his Russian wife, in 1969 he moved to Athens and remarried with the beautiful Greek Sophia, 30 years younger than him, and began his adventure as an assault archaeologist. He went to Turkey to dig on a hill near Hissarlik and in 1873 he managed to fulfill his dream of discovering Troy. Or rather, he had discovered nine of it, one on top of the other: at the bottom of the last layer (which he believed to be the Homeric layer, which instead was the second layer, which he savagely devastated to get to the bottom) he found thousands of objects of gold, more than 8,700 to be precise, which he called the Treasury of Priam, which he secretly took to Greece (later paying a fine-indemnity to Turkey of 50,000 francs) and then to Germany, where in 1945 it would be confiscated by the Soviets and never again returned. After this adventure, Schliemann was certainly the most famous archaeologist in Europe, but he was fiercely attacked by the university and official circles. Also for this reason, in addition to his thirst for adventures, he was always in search of new mysteries and new triumphs with which to silence the enemies. So then he decided to excavate Mycenae, the city of the Achaeans, and here too, in the well and dome tombs he identified, he discovered incredible finds: the skeletons of ancient kings and many jewels, weapons, tools, breastplates, and above all three precious gold funerary masks, including the one attributed by him to Agamemnon himself.
Exactly this mask, the most beautiful of the three, is the one that raised suspicions, first in William M. Calder III in the 1970s, and then in David Traill in 1999. The mask of Agamemnon shows the best workmanship among those found by Schliemann, it is rich in details that the others do not have, but above all it has a strange upturned mustache that is very reminiscent of what in fashion in the 19th century. There is evidence that Schliemann on other occasions had fakes made and had passed off as some finds objects that he had instead purchased and sometimes “hidden” in the places where they were found. The fact that Agamemnon’s mask was found only 3 days before the closure of the excavations in Mycenae, almost a “final bang“, and that a few days earlier Schliemann had disappeared, and that perhaps a relative of his Greek wife was a goldsmith, are all elements that lead to think it is very likely that it is a fake.
But there is an inconsistency: why depict the alleged Agamemnon with that absurdly “modern” oiled mustache? No Mycenaean work reports such a detail and, by definition, all fakes try to be credible. And here prof Nigro intervenes, with his explanation: “The Mask of Agamemnon could be nothing more than a” youthful portrait “of Schliemann himself, as you can compare in the photos. The mustache is there, the oval of the face too, as in the photo that the archaeologist could have entrusted to a goldsmith relative of his wife a few days before the “discovery“. “Almost as if it were an ideal pendant to the famous portrait of his wife adorned with” Elena’s jewels “, but above all, a ferocious joke to his “friends” archaeologists, a mockery such as ante-litteram Modigliani’s heads. Professor Nigro again writes: “Schliemann could have discredited his critics, if need be, by revealing the joke, but in 1890 he died at the age of 68, taking the secret to his grave“.
If one reads the notes on the mask written by Schliemann in “Mycenae: a narration of researches” (1880) in this light of doubt, then they can appear tendentious and almost ironic:
“The beard is also well represented, and in particular the mustache, the ends of which are pointed upward in a pointed, crescent-shaped, nothing new under the sun. There is no doubt that the ancient Mycenaeans used oil or some kind of pomade to style their hair. […] No one will doubt for a moment that they were intended to represent the portraits of the deceased […] The ancient Mycenaean goldsmiths could do as much as any modern goldsmith “.
Already Calder was wondering why to emphasize the mustache, with that unsolicited (and undocumented!) justification of oil to style the mustache, and above all that unnecessary allusion to modern goldsmiths?
In all this, the clear refusal of the Greek Archaeological Council to carry out any examination on the metal to establish its antiquity does not favor the resolution of the dilemma.
Still, the simplest and least damaging analysis is X-ray fluorescence (XRF), which could reveal the metal alloy, whether or not gold has been bonded with other metals. Minoan and Mycenaean gold generally consisted of 5 to 30% silver. “If the test reveals that the mask is made of pure gold, or copper alloy, it would be a cause for concern,” says Paul Craddock, head of the metals section at the British Museum’s Department of Scientific Research. The Museum should not fear these analyses, whatever the outcome, because if they confirmed the antiquity of the piece they would sweep away any doubt and controversy, and if they reveal the false instead, the Museum could bet on the genius of the joke. As David Trail wrote: “If the mask is genuine, Schliemann is the luckiest archaeologist (…) If he is a fake, he has been a genius who has deceived the world’s leading archaeologists and historians for more than a century. Since I am a huge admirer of Schliemann and have spent a lot of time studying his life, I hope it is a fake. It is much better to be a genius than just lucky“.
On 1 December 1328 Giotto arrived in Naples, at the court of the Sicilian king Robert of Anjou.
The artist receives at court an economic arrangement that is completely unusual in the rest of Italy and Europe: a salary, a house, a life pension, gifts, and finally the title of “family member” of the king, generally granted to bishops, bankers and great officials of the kingdom.
In fact, for the first time with Giotto, who was also of humble birth, the social role of the artist who is able to contribute decisively to the construction of the image and cultural policy of a sovereign is established, and for this capacity he is paid.
Giotto, already exalted by Dante and shortly thereafter by Petrarch and Boccaccio as a “prince” among the painters of his time, is an extraordinary artist, a revolutionary.
For Cennino Cennini: “He changed the art of Greek into Latin and translated it to the modern”, alluding to the overcoming of Byzantine schemes and the opening towards a representation that introduced the sense of space, volume and color, anticipating the values of the age of Humanism. For the first time in painting you can see the teeth, the tears, the emotions.
Giotto may have been the ugliest man in all of Florence, as Vasari writes, but we will never be grateful enough for the beauty he has given us.
New revelations on Jacques-Louis David's masterpiece portrait
A very recent discovery of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York concerns a 1788 oil on canvas by Jacques-Louis David, the Portrait of the Lavoisier spouses, definitely one of the most beautiful neoclassical portraits in the world. Antoine and Marie-Anne Lavoisier belonged to the Parisian aristocracy and became famous as pioneers of modern chemistry.
The painting was paid by Antoine Lavoisier the huge sum of 7,000 French lire (King Louis XVI had paid David himself for the work ‘The lictors bring the bodies of their children to Brutus’ “only” 6,000 lire). On the death of Marie Anne Lavoisier in 1836, the painting was inherited by her granddaughter, Countess of Chazelles, and her heirs a century later put it up for sale. The American magnate John Rockefeller bought it in 1925 and in 1977 it entered the Metropolitan Museum.
The couple is portrayed in their laboratory, he is sitting at his desk, she is standing, and in front of them there are some of the scientific instruments used for their important discoveries. Among the many of them, we can mention that Antoine in 1779 recognized the two parts of the air, baptizing them oxygen and nitrogen, and in 1783 he did the same with hydrogen.
On the armchair on the left you can see a folder of drawings: they are by Marie-Anne who was the illustrator of her husband’s books, whom she married at the age of 13 (he was 27!), Marie-Anne is said to have been a student of David himself.
In excellent conservation conditions, the work was only recently taken to the museum’s restoration laboratory to remove an annoying oxidized and yellowed paint that covered the surface. Careful scientific analyses before the restoration, made it possible to discover that under the visible pictorial layer there were other details that had never been detected
Scientific analyses thus allowed us to “see” that the work had originally been composed in a very different way: David had not represented the Lavoisiers as a couple of enlightened scientists, but as rich aristocrats of the Ancien Régime as they were.
The painting was made by David in 1788 to then be exhibited in the Salon of 1789, the year of the Revolution. The situation for the aristocrats became more and more dangerous, and so was it for Antoine, who in addition to being a scientist, had also been a tax collector, a very unloved role.
David therefore decided, almost certainly in agreement with the Lavoisier spouses, to modify their representation in the painting, changing the clothes and the environment around them.
Thanks to scientific analyses it was thus discovered that Marie-Anne was dressed in the fashion of the Ancien Régime, with a huge hat à la tartare with feathers and ribbons,
and the scientist himself was dressed much more elegantly, with gold buttons, seated at a gilded mahogany table, facing the folders of documents that identified him as a tax collector.
In the next version, the one we know, the Lavoisiers are dressed in a decidedly simpler way, more suited to their role as scientists that at that point they wanted to emphasize; this is also the reason for the introduction of scientific instruments and for eliminating the tax papers from the painting.
Unfortunately this change of representation was not enough to save the life of Antoine Lavoisier, who was guillotined, together with his father-in-law, on May 8, 1794. Marie-Anne, who had always visited him during his imprisonment and fought for his release, she saved herself and later rebuilt her life, marrying another scientist in 1804, the physicist Benjamin Thompson, Earl of Rumford, but she insisted throughout her life to keep the surname of her first husband, showing him eternal devotion. She died suddenly in her home in Paris on February 10, 1836 at the age of 78.
For the scientific testing, in the beginning, infrared reflectography was used which allows to see through the first pictorial layers and visualise what is underneath. After this first analysis, XRF mapping was used, which makes it possible to obtain very detailed maps of the chemical elements present on the painting without absolutely damaging it, maps not only of the surface elements but also of the underlying ones.
Once again the modern techniques of analysis have made it possible to obtain very important information, in this case not so much on the health of the painting or on its composition, but rather on the history of the portrayed characters. The scientific results have allowed us to glimpse into the last years of the French scientist’s life, who tried them all to save himself from the revolutionary fury, including modifying the beautiful portrait made by Jacques-Louis David; such information we would never have recovered without the laboratory research.
One last anecdote about Antoine Lavoisier. Scientist to the last, it seems that he had asked one of his servants to verify if the death on the guillotine was really as instantaneous as it was said. Thus Lavoisier, in agreement with the servant, endeavored to blink as long as he could, and the servant noted that the last blink of an eye had been 15 seconds after the beheading. It is an undocumented episode, so it may well be a legend, but what is true is that subsequent experimental tests have essentially confirmed that the brain and facial muscles remain active for several seconds after detachment from the body.
Is diagnostics interesting only for specialists? Not at all!
The secrets hidden in the diagnostic images are fascinating to everyone. In addition to the Modigliani exhibition, the small town of Lille offers an innovative exhibition on Goya hosted by the Museum of Fine Arts. Not the classic exhibition of paintings gathered in the rooms of a museum, but a different show , that makes use of many of the most modern exhibition techniques.
The first section is a huge white drum on which Goya’s artistic story unfolds, interspersed with the events that influenced his subjects and expression, but also about Goya’s influence on subsequent culture, up to Sergio Leone ‘s modern cinema. This large white drum contains the artworks and at the same time gives the opportunity to enjoy an immersive experience, with giant murals of paintings, engravings, and 4 of his animated self-portraits that wink at us.
On the next floor an ad hoc environment has been created, divided into rooms, where artworks and videos are simultaneously displayed on giant monitors. In the videos there are excerpts from a movie about Goya’s life. The first room displays his Capricci compared with the homage to them realised by Dali. A large monitor, almost a background, shows a reconstruction of Goya’s atelier and the painter in the act of creating the engraving and printing.
There is also a section where the conservation status of two works is shown with photos in diffused and grazing light. From here you enter the most interesting room -to us- (to tell the truth it is difficult to make a ranking). This time it is the diagnostic analyses that are on display. A video of almost 10 minutes by CRMF2 shows how the study of the painting “The Times” takes place through scientific investigations: UV Fluorescence, IR Reflectography and X-Radiography. The latter reveals that the canvas hides another painting.
We were curious about the reaction of the visitors: everyone stopped and looked carefully, observing everything.
In conclusion, an exhibition that we would like to see, as a format, also in many more occasions.
There is a lot of diagnostics that could be used to intrigue, enrich the cultural background of a visitor and to invite them to study.
In our laboratory, customers often ask for being present during acquisitions, especially when our IR Reflectography scanner is used. Their curiosity and wonder are a further reason of reflection for us.
Diagnostics can and must leave the laboratories to show its results that can become subject of relevant discussions.
In our opinion, all art catalogs should always contain a technical section. An additional chapter that would add value to the historical-artistic files.
The Italian artistic and cultural heritage is undoubtedly enormous. It seems, however, that not everyone wants to use and access it.
Engaging young visitors is far from simple, it is necessary to find a language suitable for their age group, it must be easy and captivating.
Many museums, not only Italian ones – the first to experiment in this sense was the Met in New York in 2013 – have tried to involve young visitors through influencer marketing strategies.
The increase in visits by young people has been indisputable, but the combination of influencers and museums has caused quite a stir in the world of culture, which has not at all liked the social stars in the role of cultural ambassadors.
The Uffizi Galleries, with the hope of relaunching the image of the museum in view of the post-pandemic reopening, in July 2020, hosted the influencer Chiara Ferragni, taking advantage of a photo shoot she was doing for Vogue magazine, organized in the halls of the museum.
On this occasion, Ferragni was able to enjoy the beauty of the rooms thanks to an exceptional guide: the director, Eike Schmidt in person.
It is evident that the Uffizi, as well as other museums in our country, have understood that they can arouse the interest of young people, otherwise hardly attracted to visiting a boring museum, through marketing operations, which exploit the image of contemporary social icons.
Chiara Ferragni has been defined “contemporary Venus” by the social media managers of the Uffizi. This, together with the publication of her photos in front of the artworks, have sparked controversy among the people of the web, but not only.
Influencers and museums
The moralists of the art world do not welcome the pairing of influencers and museums, simply for the fact that the former would not be able to understand its artistic and cultural value, and even less so to represent it and communicate it. The criticisms were leveled at the museums for their choices considered too commercial.
The “meddling” by influencers, on the other hand, had a great success. To speak are the numbers, which register increases in visitors. Apparently, not even this has served to appease the controversy of the “haters”, who consider all this an aggravating factor, as these would be unwitting visitors, attracted only by the influencer of the moment.
This one by Ferragni is just one example, probably the most sensational, but many other public figures have collaborated with cultural realities. Rapper Mahmood shot his single in the halls of the Gallerie dei Re at the Egyptian Museum in Turin, the singer Marco Mengoni at Palazzo Madama in Turin, the influencer Cristina Fogazzi was photographed inside the Sistine Chapel. Without forgetting the world of fashion which for some time has chosen museums as a location to give more prestige to the fashion shows.
Evolution or contamination?
Moralists are opposing to fatuous characters taking on the role of cultural messengers. This is not a completely wrong thought, considering that there are experts with much more suitable knowledge and skills. What is certain is that influencers have no intention of being considered art historians. They are just sharing their personal visit, they are expressing their personal opinion on the museum.
This simple narrative language that reaches everyone, is a stimulus to intrigue and encourage young people to visit.
Who benefits from all this? Does the notoriety of these web icons characters give luster to museums or does the timeless charm of our museum rooms increase the popularity of influencers?
But even more importantly: why bother? Why not concentrate on the possible outcome and welcome any idea that could help our immense and very often undervalued cultural heritage?
Not an anthology, not all possible Modiglianis, not a way to propose new Modiglianis, but an exhibition where he was more present than many other times. And a new concept from which, perhaps, we can finally find new ground for the attributions.
The Métropole Musée d’Art Moderne, d’Art Contemporain et d’Art Brut in Lille created what for us can be called an epochal exhibition on the Italian Amedeo and French Modi’. Announced for some time, but blocked due to COVID, we have been keeping an eye on its opening for about a year, crossing our fingers and hoping to be finally able to visit it, and … we did!
3 large rooms, 3 paintings, lots of photos and videos to scientifically document Modigliani.
An exhibition that has hit the mark in all its parts. Life-size reproductions of many paintings by Modigliani (including those on display), all photographed “front and back” welcome the visitors. It is a stunning wiew on it own, but it also allow to see and study both the front and back of the artworks, to see the strecher, the labels, everything that is not normally shown, as if it was not part of the painting.
There are only three autography artworks in total on exhibit, and only one not in the permanent museum collection, however, a series of other “expedients” enrich the experience and allow you to get to know the works and the painter in depth.
On a monitor the diagnostic techniques and the results obtained with UV fluorescence, IR reflectography and radiography are illustrated. In the central area, in what is normally a fineart transport crate, another monitor shows a video on the approach of a restorer to a work by Modigliani.
In the same room there is also a documentary in which it is shown, with diagnostic images how Modigliani reused the sane canvas almost 10 times.
Finally, a third room where the stretcher, which has a far from marginal role for the attribution of works to this artist, is the protagonist, together with the pigments and binders chosen by Modì, which are also exhibited.
On the walls, in addition to the artworks, a number of panels in which various themes are addressed, with a lot of extra information; for example, a map of the shops where Modì got supplies in Paris, but also a study on how an observer’s eye moves on a Modì painting and why.
We would liked to see such exhibitions more often. We give kudos to those who bet on showing what is not visible to the naked eye and dare to exhibit what is normally hidden.
But this exhibition is something more. It is the first step for a “free” study of Modigliani’s works, on the basis of certain and publicly-owned works, shared scientific investigations, analyses performed by a laboratory of excellence (CRMF2), and the decision to use the budget that is normally reserved for covering the loan and handling of the works, for something that will enrich the exhibition, provide the works with a diagnostic curriculum that will be useful for their conservation and, finally, help scholar to know more about how Modigliani painted.
What more could you want?
How to authenticate a work of art? How to reveal forgeries?
On 2 and 3 December 2021, as a result of an excellent initiative of the Italian Group of the International Institute for Conservation, the workshop “The scientist and the forgery – Scientific methodologies to identify fakes in art” was held in Lucca.
It is becoming increasingly clear that there is the need to tackle this issue in a structured way. During the conference, the many angles from which to address it were discussed: art market, authentication, attribution, dating, stylistic analyses.
At the center of the discussion is the false / falsified / misattributed / authentic object, studied by many, intersecting but not superimposable, professional disciplines that must be able to communicate in a constructive way, to the benefit of the whole community, not just the scientific one.
In fact a forgery, if not recognized as such, not only causes economic losses to those who are defrauded, but can also cause a broader, social damage: it modifies the course of things, the real history of art, providing a distorted version which impacts on all possible conclusions from it.
Art–Test presented the case study of a panel by Bruegel the Younger, wishing to contribute by bringing attention to what we now consider an urgency that can no longer be postponed. A shared protocol for a scientific study of artefacts, structured in a pyramidal manner that adds layers of in-depth analyses depending on previous results.
In addition, the minimum characteristics of the instrumentation to be used for the analises need to be defined, as well as which methodologies are useful and in which order they should be applied. This approach is essential to enable an accurate interpretation and a possible replicability of the measurements.
Furthermore, there is a lack of shared guidelines for the reports provided by the laboratories after carrying out the analyses. Often what is provided is only a generic description of the results, but the raw data obtained are not included, nor the description of the instrumentation and methodology used.
At the same time, we wanted to highlight that there are still too few public databases from which to draw scientific information.
By sharing data we should not be afraid of favoring counterfeiters, as although they may become increasingly aware of the techniques used by the great masters; it is equally true that science, as amply demonstrated, will always be one step ahead.
What we should be concerned of, once again, is the anti-scientific attitude that currently afflicts so many parts of our society, and the narrative that sees the self-declared connoisseurs capable of producing expertise only on the basis of their “eye”.
The workshop ended with the desire to create a technical workgroup to discuss, based on the different perspectives and experience, a base protocol to be applied for investigations and instruments.
The proceedings of the conference will soon be available.
"physics and chemistry are still fundamental in my work today""
Silvia, how did you become a restorer?
Since I was a child, I have always had the talent for drawing and painting. Despite this passion, partly inherited from my father who was a painter, my studies were initially focussing on scientific topics. I attended the scientific lyceum thanks to which I was able to acquire the bases of physics and chemistry which are still fundamental in my work, e.g. the cleaning phase of the restoration treatment is based a lot on the knowledge of the chemical nature of both the material that we want to remove or make thinner, and the substance that we are going to use. After high school, however, I decided to follow my passions and I enrolled in the faculty of art history. It was at the university that I got to know the profession of the restorer. I realized that restoration was a perfect for me: the perfect combination of my passion and my studies, the synthesis of two worlds that now belonged to me: art and the science of materials that constitutes it. While still at uni I decided therefore to try to enroll also at the three-year professional school set up by the Tuscany Region headed by the art and restoration scholar Alessandro Conti. Once I obtained my diploma as a restorer, I began my career in this fascinating world.
You collaborated with Art-Test on the restoration of the lunette of the Pietà by Lorenzo d’Alessandro da San Severino, painted on a panel in the Uffizi. What memories do you have of this job? Do you want to tell us some anecdotes?
I am happy to have been able to work with Art-Test, it was one of those cases in which a budget was also made available for diagnostics. In my opinion certain diagnostic analyses should be made compulsory for all paintings or at least for all those paintings located in the most important museums. This would bring numerous advantages allowing not only to be able to deepen the technique of execution but also to improve the state of conservation. In the case of the Pietà, Art-Test allowed me to observe a splendidly manufactured preparatory drawing thanks to the reflectography technique, and with the observation in UV fluorescence it was possible to clearly highlight those areas that had undergone repainting.
This was the first job with Art-Test, and I always remember it with pleasure, I found your approach fascinating and above all the more you proceeded with the investigations, the more I had the opportunity to know what I was going to restore. I was able to observe the stratigraphy of the work in such detail that it was like being present at the very creation of the painting.
The lunette had undergone an aggressive cleaning, especially on the lacquers, and there was no technical data sheet giving information on previous restorations, so again the diagnostics were further useful by providing me with this information as well.
Generally, what are the problems you most commonly encounter during a restoration in which diagnostics are more useful? And above all, have diagnostic investigations always provided useful information?
The cleaning phase is certainly an example. It is very unfortunate that a sufficient budget is not always made available to carry out at least those “basic investigations” providing information on the technique and pigments used, which are extremely useful and, in my opinion, necessary notions especially in the case of a cleaning, in order to choose the most suitable solvents. Although I have been working for 35 years now, from 1999 onwards I have always followed upskilling trainings held by Paolo Cremonesi, because I have always been interested in the scientific approach. I sincerely hope that the restoration practise may become more and more scientific. Over the years, with new diagnostic techniques we can understand what we are going to remove with cleaning, and how and at what speed. Working a lot on wooden sculptures, which often have numerous repaintings, diagnostics are indispensable for me. Diagnostic investigations have always provided me with answers. I have often offered the opportunity, working for important museums, to work with diagnosticians on my restoration projects. Although I know this is unfortunately not always possible.The fact is that approaching a restoration without the knowledge provided by these analyses, is quite risky. How can you go on without knowing the underlying layers? The only real problem diagnostics faces is in terms of funding, because very often, especially when dealing with minor works and smaller museums, scientific tests are not taken into consideration because of a too low budget.
You have been working in this field for many years, what changes have you noticed in terms of customers, prices, and clients?
I have worked with antique dealers, especially at the beginning, but mainly with public institutions. I have also restored privately owned works. In the past 30 years little has changed in terms of customers and clients, except for wooden sculptures that some decades ago were neither noteworthy nor studied while nowadays it is a field that sees great interest.
How many times have we talked about how diagnostics helps to understand the process of making a work of art? About how it is essential to discriminate an original work from a fake. About how it is necessary to understand the autography of an artefact through the layers not visible to our eye. How it is a fun time machine that takes us back to the very moment in which the artist created the artwork. Is like if we sat next to him and watched him. But what happens if we are the artist? Indeed, what happens if we could recreate a work by a given artist in the same way that he himself did it?
For example, we can reproduce a work by following step by step all what we know about Van Eyck and his art.
Do you want to try? You could try to search for Jan Bustin, or other artists that shared their experience.
Some things can only be understood by doing!
The emotion one feels when analysing a painting with infrared reflectography and discovering the preparatory drawing is terrific
Each time it is a unique experience, discovering a secret kept under the layers of painting, a moment that the artist never thought would be revealed.
This is not needed only when the painting … is not finished! Only in this case it is possible to see perfectly with the naked eye which tools were used, how the painting is built, if e.g. a means of carrying over from a composition previously made elsewhere was used or not.
This is the case of the painting here illustrated and of the painting on the cover, attributed to Garofalo.
The MET of New York a few years ago, proposed an entire exhibition on the unfinished artworks (UNFINISHED). Undoubtedly an interesting path that allows you to understand so much about the modus operandi of each artist.
But when the painting is completed we just have to rely on technology and infrared radiation.
Depending on the type of instrument and in particular the sensor used, there will be a different ability to penetrate inside the pictorial layers and to read any underlying preparatory drawing.
In the past, special cameras and films were used. Currently the best performing sensors are the InGaAs sensors, which are indeed generally mounted on the most advanced instruments. An intermediate way is represented by CCD or CMOS sensors, normally used by digital cameras, even scientific ones.
Infrared reflectography analysis also allows you to identify any underlying paint compositions, reuse of the support and retouching.
Depending on the budget and the result you are looking for, we will be able to suggest which technique is the most suitable for you!
Art–Test has the most varied and most advanced instrumentation. Our quadruple resolution InGaAs scanner achieves unprecedented results. To learn more, read here.
If there is something to discover under your painting, we will find it!
“My talent is such that no undertaking, however vast in size, (…) has ever surpassed my courage“. So wrote about himself Pieter Paul Rubens, also known as “Pietro Paolo” since he had lived in Italy for 8 years and in Italy developed his style and his “trademark”.
Well, yes, you can talk about Rubens using industry terms, as if he was managing a factory, given the incredible organization that he imprinted on his very crowded workshop. In fact, he relied on a atelier with dozens of students that the master guided and directed like an orchestra conductor.
Rubens was to fascinate the clients with his speeches, then probably made a drawing for them, then a monochrome sketch and then a colored one, all to get their approval. At that point, the sketches passed into the large workshop on the ground floor of his noble home in Antwerp, where the “students” brought back the inventions of the master on the chosen support, canvas or wood, enlarging them, with Rubens sometimes adding only the last retouching.
With this organization of the work, in fact, different types of artworks could be created, from the totally autograph paintings to replicas with a more or less extensive intervention by the master. You could have those painted by him only in some essential parts, and others in which he the simply revised the artwork. The workshop itself produced paintings of very different quality, also depending on who was assigned to the job, and the given subject: from those elaborated from the master’s design to the mere copy.
However, apparently, the famous painting Samson and Delilah that the National Gallery of London bought in 1980 for 2.5 million pounds does not fall into any of these categories, meaning that it is neither an original nor a copy, nor a workshop work. It would simply be a fake, perhaps even make in the 20th century. An Artificial Intelligence algorithm seems to have established it after a very long series of tests, coming to the conclusion that the probability that it is false is greater than 91%! Of course, now there is an open confrontation between scholars and this authentication method, which is based on algorithms specially trained to capture the details of the artists’ style and brushstroke, then evaluated by a sophisticated “convolutional neural network”.
Actually, this “Samson and Delilah” painting is not new to this type of controversy related to the attributions to the Flemish master. Quite the opposite. Since its appearance on the market in Paris in 1929 it has been linked to several names, and the definitive one, Rubens, was proposed by Ludwig Burchard, an expert on the Flemish master, in the 1950s. But when the scholar died in 1960, some unclear documents emerged, according to which Burchard authenticated several works for his own economic advantage.
However, there is a rather detailed report of the studies conducted between 1980 and 1983 by Joyce Plesters, published in the National Gallery Technical Bulletin, which report of an X-ray and numerous microsamples analyzed where no anachronism is found.
What is the credibility of the results obtained with artificial intelligence? Not much, apparently. The National Gallery doesn’t seem very worried by the outcomes of the algorithm, and continues to exhibit the painting as genuine.
Interview to the art conservation world
Restorers have a beautiful job. A bit like ours, difficult but beautiful.
They share with us the passion for materials that translate into art. And they know the matter, in ways that sometimes overlap, sometimes complement our own.
Their point of view adds always something new.
Together with Sandra Pucci, restorer, we worked on a picture that was considered “minor”, but which came with many surprises: the San Giovanni Battista of the church of Santo Stefano in Empoli. A seventeenth-century oil painting on canvas, a copy (or a version or a replica?) Of the painting preserved at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City and attributed, albeit with some reservations, to Caravaggio.
Sandra, how do you become a restorer?
It is a profession that attracted me from a young age, because I understood that, through it, it was possible to come into close contact with the author of the work and his language, reaching a real exclusive intimacy.
As regards my training, I attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence, the only possible access for me, in those years, to the subject of restoration. I decided to enrol because it was possible to attend the restoration course held by one of the most important restorers at the time, prof. Paolo Gori, and it was a good way to approach the world of restoration; in fact, learning the subject of restoration from a master restorer had, in those years, the same value of a specialized school as the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, which, moreover, in those years, presented considerable difficulties of access, due to internal problems in the organization. In addition to this, the Superintendency did not require a specific diploma, but rewarded a specific preparation, especially when achieved in a well-known workshop.
How did it go with San Giovanni di Empoli? The diagnostic campaign on painting was commissioned only after the restoration had already begun
Unfortunately, not working in big city often means dealing with very tight budgets. Diagnostic analyses are often discarded, or not even considered, due to their unavoidable costs.
Even the restoration project will have a much lower budget, it is a matter of finding a compromise between the needs of the artwork and the means of the client.
When I started working in my reference municipalities -Empoli, Valdelsa-, I found many ‘do-it-yourself’ restorations that in fact had worsened the artwork conditions. Restorations carried out without any permission from the body in charge of protection, that is the Superintendency. And it is a very serious issue, because there is so much of the Italian artistic heritage in smaller centres.
Unfortunately, the possibility of carrying out a diagnostic campaign on the San Giovanni came only at a later stage. It is certain that if it had been done before the restoration it would have had a bigger impact, but this is easily understood.
When I started, I found myself in front of a painting completely “peeled off” due to a previous restoration that severely removed, during the cleaning phase, the outer layer of the picture. As it often happens, to remedy the damage caused, a heavy pictorial retouching with tempera was carried out, that, altered over time, further compromised the legibility of the artwork.
The investigations conducted by Art-Test allowed to highlight the good execution technique, and to identify the pigments used, all compatible with a seventeenth-century execution. We also discovered some “pentimenti“, unusual in copies. Interesting clues. We realized that the painting has potential to be explored; diagnostics, in this case, could be the most important tool, since if we are now faced with a painting lacking in strength, this must not be misleading: the painting retains the original pictorial finishes only in a few parts, the rest is too impacted by its problematic conservation history.
Also in light of your experience with the San Giovanni, would you recommend performing diagnostic analyses?
Diagnostics is essential, it should always be the first approach. Unfortunately, the cost has an impact, especially in certain cases and in particular in more provincial realities.
Perhaps it should be a cost covered by the Superintendency itself, certainly when the budget is small, covering for such costs is difficult.
It is also discouraging to receive non conclusive answers, or answers which then turns out not to correspond to the reality of the facts. The professionality of those who carry out the analyses is essential. And it is fundamental the relationship between diagnosticians and restorers, which I believe must be based on mutual trust.
To learn more about the results on San Giovanni Battista, you can see the recording of the conference held in Empoli on 11 April 2016 (here our speech), moderated by Bruno Santi with reports by Mina Gregori, Nicole R. Myers, Maria Cristina Terzaghi, Angela Cerasuolo, Valfredo Siemoni, Cristina Gnoni Mavarelli, Sandra Pucci, Anna Pelagotti, Roberta Lapucci, Marco Masseti, Gianni Papi
On last October 25th, Pablo Picasso would have turned 140 years old, yet his art is still very current. He remains an extremely important artist for the history of art and the icon of genius.
He chose the Genoese surname, Picasso, of his mother, because it was rarer and more intriguing than Ruiz, the surname of his father, although he owed the start of his career as an artist to him, who was an art teacher.
From a very young age Pablo produced paintings of astonishing quality. He later said of himself: “At the age of four I painted like Raphael, it took me a lifetime to paint like a child”.
And probably because of his “painting as a child”, Picasso seems easy to fake.
However, this is not at all the case. No paint bruch can be changed without the painting suddenly no longer “work”.
But not everyone is able to appreciate the difference, and a large number of counterfeiters actually continue to try, probably also in consideration of the always very high prices of a Picasso. Just look at Sotheby’s recent results.
But maybe you do not know about Picasso the forger, as it was according to Arthur Koestler’s book “The Act of Creation”.
In the book we read that an art dealer, having bought a canvas signed “Picasso”, decided to go to Cannes to meet the master and find out if it was authentic. Picasso was working in his studio. He cast a single glance at the canvas and ruled: “It’s a fake.”
A few months later the merchant bought another canvas signed by Picasso. Again he went to Cannes and again Picasso, after a single glance, grunted: “It’s a fake.”
“Ma cher maitre”, exclaimed the merchant, “I saw you with my own eyes while you were working on this very painting several years ago.”
Picasso shrugged and replied: “I often paint fakes.”
A genius who tried to select the legacy with which he wanted to be remembered? Of course, these are not fakes that we can detect with our techniques.
On the other hand, we have encountered many false “real” ones, who arrived in the laboratory with the most incredible stories, and, unfortunately, at times, also causing very strong disappointments, and huge losses.
Especially when there are millions at stake, do the analysis BEFORE you buy!
new anti money laundering rules
In 2018, the 5th European anti-money laundering directive was introduced. The intent of European Union is always to combat money laundering in all areas, including the art market.
In the last year and a half it has been as if the world had been put on hold by the pandemic. But, despite this, the art market has not suffered any setback, on the contrary, it has recorded unexpectedly extraordinary sales.
The data show an important recovery for the art sector, which is returning to its most glorious days. A market that attracts not only art lovers, but also, unfortunately, the bad guys who exploit the flaws in the system.
The financing of terrorism and money laundering are still widespread phenomena today.
The value of the stolen art is estimated by Deloitte at between $ 4 and $ 6 billion annually.
Most of the countries of the European Union and the United Kingdom have integrated the Directive into national laws. There are important changes compared to the previous directives: it is envisaged that every art trade is subject to the directive in the event that the value of the operation, even if divided or composed of several related operations, is equal to or greater than 10,000 euros.
In October 2019, through Legislative Decree 125/2019, Italy accepted the European directive. The law is therefore applied to all “subjects who carry out trade activities in ancient things and works of art, or who act as intermediaries in the trade of the same works, even when this activity is carried out by galleries of art or auction houses or inside free ports “.
However, art dealers point out that the government is barely requiring market players to adhere to the new requirements: anti-money laundering risk self-assessment (anti-money laundering solutions) and due diligence checks.
Institutions are obliged to report dubious behaviour to the authorities. However, the communication regarding the behaviour to be followed did not take place adequately and the procedure to follow is still unclear. It is certainly not easy to move in these situations. Furthermore, who should be responsible for ensuring that the art market adheres to the new legislation, if an authority has not yet been designated to control the process?
The UK, for example, has implemented the 5th European Anti-Money Laundering Directive much more strictly than the rest of Europe.
The operators of the art market are ‘obligated subjects’ and must strictly comply with the regulations against money laundering.
every operator in the art market was obliged to register with the competent authority, the HMRC, by June 2020.
In order for registration to take place, all the clauses of the 5th Directive had to be met, including the execution of the various procedures and the appointment of an Anti-Money Laundering Officer (known as Money Laundering Reporting Officer).
All institutions participating in art fairs in the UK are required to respect and strictly follow local regulations.
Non-adherence to the Directive entails very heavy penalties: sentences of several years in prison, high fines and damage to reputation.
The changes made in the art world in the UK have been welcomed and implemented very quickly.
The process of change and adaptation is still ongoing, and certainly the British system is not perfect, but it shows how the introduction and practice of rules are the right solution for safeguarding the market.
These procedures ensure that art market participants can interact in a safe and protected environment, creating a mechanism based on transparency.
an idea to stop illicit artwork traffic
The artistic and cultural heritage cannot be valued per kilo as any other product. Different parameters necessarily come into play in estimating the value of a work of art. It is its existence, even more its possible absence, that increases its value. Its existence is a source, a document, a link with the past. It illustrates it, it passes it on. If the artefact no longer existed, if it had not been adequately protected, we would have an unbridgeable gap in what is the historical discourse, before economic damage. The question: “how much is a work of art worth?” it is difficult to answer.
However, as highlighted in the article by Giuseppe Miceli, an expert in anti-money laundering, entitled “A passport for cultural heritage”, which appeared a few weeks ago in the Journal of Cultural Heritage, the lack of shared rules for the evaluation of works, a the art market, totally unregulated, benefits, with its volatility, with random quotations and subsequent sales at amazing prices, the laundering of illicit proceeds, albeit with totally legal sales.
The analysis conducted by the FBI on the illicit trafficking of works of art estimates it to be between 9-12% of the entire turnover in the sector. Analysis also confirmed by national bodies such as the Italian Anti-Mafia Investigation Directorate or the Italian Parliamentary Anti-Mafia Commission.
To counter this phenomenon, of which Italy is one of the major victims, Giuseppe Miceli has decided to develop a project for the traceability of Cultural Heritage, or the creation of a Register of the Owners of works of art, like what happens for other product categories. In this way it would be possible to monitor every change of ownership of any artefact, as is done now for cars, for example. This register would be used as a deterrent to the use of sums of dubious origin because the purchase value would also be recorded.
The works would be provided with a mark “elaborated and applied by the State Polygraphic Institute”, the data entered on the mark would refer to a database in which all the information on the artefact will be present. Of course, the counterfeiting of this or the tampering would be the subject of criminal proceedings.
Artefacts that do not bear the mark would be deemed to be inauthentic.
But the question we ask ourselves is:
- How would authenticity be verified, and would this also include determining the certainty of the autograph when affixing the first stamp?
- How would this instrument take into account the variations in value due to new attributions, to scientific discoveries?
- Would diagnostic data be accessible, which certainly could be a support for the conservation of the work itself and also proof of authenticity?
We found the proposal really interesting but its feasibility requires resources and skills. An important investment.
In any case, regulation of a market where it is currently possible to exchange many millions without any rules is increasingly necessary.
“Commonly we mean by restoration any intervention aimed at putting a product of human activity back into efficiency“. So writes Cesare Brandi in his famous essay where he exposes what he considers the mission of the restorer and explains how everything must be done with the utmost respect for the work and time passed. The artwork history adds to its value.
An innovative vision, which has led him to a very critical approach towards cleaning. However, when one relies on diagnostics and proceeds with meticulously and carefully, the results obtained are such that Brandi himself would have clapped.
Nowadays there are numerous important cleaning interventions that have made it possible to restore a work to an appearance much closer to the original one: Vermeer‘s painting “Girl reading a letter in front of the window” (83×64,5 cm), about 1657 and now in the Gemäldegalerie in Dresda, belongs to one of these cases.
Diagnostics should always be part of first approach to the work of art. Its outcomes are extremely valuable for conservation, cleaning, and for artistic historical research if necessary.
In the case of Vermeer’s painting, diagnostics allowed not only to proceed with the removal of a historic repainting in total respect of the original work, but also to understand that the pictorial layer that covered “the picture within the picture” was not contemporary to the creation of the painting.
Brandi wrote “When you come to the practical intervention of restoration, you will also require a scientific knowledge of the matter in its physical constitution“. The diagnostician takes care of that: she informs the restorer and the art historian of the physicochemical characteristics of the work under analysis. This on the one hand allows the restorer to choose those substances and techniques that best match the artwork characteristics for cleaning or any other conservative intervention and on the other hand consents to the art historian or archaeologist to insert that artifact in a historical period. The presence of a painting on the wall depicting a cupid was known since the painting was x-rayed in 1979, but it was thought that the Dutch painter himself wanted to cover it. Further analyses were carried out in 2017 before a restoration aimed at removing the yellowing of the varnish. In addition to the analysis of ultraviolet fluorescence and infrared reflectography, it was decided to carry out a sampling and proceed with the stratigraphic study of the pictorial background covering the cupid. The presence of dust between the last layer of the cupid and the layer of the wall and the chemical composition of the pigment different from that found on the rest of the wall, allows dating this intervention a long time after the realization of the painting, to be exact around the XVIII century. It cannot therefore have been a Vermeer’s choice.
As to why it was decided to cover the cupid, there are numerous hypotheses but mainly either the composition had a too intimate aspect to be exhibited in a room intended to accommodate guests or it did not meet the taste of one of its owners. Nowadays, the painting has been restored to its original appearance after a long and careful cleaning and it is the centerpiece of the exhibition “Vermeer, The Girl Reading a Letter at the Open Window by Johannes Vermeer and 17th century Dutch genre painting” at Swinger palace in Dresden. Below are the links of the videos documenting the two restoration phases
Tomorrow is Caravaggio’s 450th birthday.
There will not be celebrations, except for something almost improvised. Nothing to do with what had been organized for the 400 years since his death.
In that occasion, Art-Test analysed several paintings of undisputed autography, including the Bacchus of the Uffizi, the 7 works of mercy of Naples, the Resurrection of Lazarus of Messina, and others that are still discussed, such as the Boy bitten by a green lizard from the Longhi collection.
The lack of official celebrations is probably due to the prolonged pandemic, which made it impossible to plan and above all to have a sufficient return on investment, given the fact that it was not possible to predict whether any exhibitions could remain open.
As such, we lost the opportunity of a debate on a painter who nevertheless continues to fascinate, with his art so “instagrammable”, and with the somewhat gloomy charm of his personal events.
And whose mother “continues to be pregnant”, paragraphing the fortunate title of an essay by T. Montanari.
In fact, there are several paintings that have been proposed as autographs in recent years.
On the last one, the Ecce Homo of Madrid, the scientific article by Cristina Terzaghi has just been published, in the proceedings of the conference held in Naples in 2020.
While the recent Caravaggio’s Cardsharps on Trial: Thwaytes v. Sotheby’s, written by one of the protagonists of the long trial on a copy of “the Bari”, that ended in 2015, describes in detail what happens when experts disagree on the autography of a painting. And on the role to be assigned to technical and historical analyses.
In the absence of a live confrontation, the battle is fought with publications. And as for how and who decides if it is a Caravaggio, while waiting for shared protocols to be agreed upon, it is not over yet.
The copying of sculpture that has a long history in Western art.
Most of the works of Greek sculptors are known only through Roman copies. However, we do not know if these were sold as Greek originals or not.
We know that Michelangelo tried to sell one of his sculptures by passing it off as antique after having buried it, to give it a certain patina. However, the buyer was not fooled by it (and wanted to know the author).
At the trial of scultptor Alceo Dossena (1878-1937) it was established that he did not produce fakes, but authentic masterpieces, in various styles, from Etruscan to Renaissance, patinating them with a procedure of which he never revealed the secrets.
Sculptures that were then resold by unscrupulous merchants, ending up in the most prestigious collections around the world.
On October 3, 2021, at the Mart in Rovereto, a truly intriguing exhibition will open, conceived by Vittorio Sgarbi and curated by Dario Del Bufalo and Marco Horak, entitled Forgery in Art. Alceo Dossena and Italian Renaissance sculpture.
It is not the first exhibition on fakes, we remember for example Falsi d’Autore. Icilio Federico Joni and the culture of the false between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries of 2004 in Santa Maria della Scala in Siena, which had the merit of shedding light on the figure of the forger, his clients and his methods.
While announcing this exhibition, Vittorio Sgarbi stated that he had identified other “authentic Dossena” artworks still exhibited as ancient art.
We are really curious to visit it and learn more!
It wasn’t that difficult to solve the quiz we proposed for last summer.
Many of you answered, but the fastest was Giorgio Foresti, together with Guerrino Lovato.
Art-Test will give them the opportunity to have a reflectography performed with our IntraVedo scanner with InGaAs sensor, still the best technology in this type of analysis.
For those who haven’t guessed yet, here are the paintings:
Lamentation by Antonio Allegri, il Correggio (1524)
Penitent Magdalen, El Greco, 1578
Magdalene in ecstasy, (from) Caravaggio, 1606
Martha and Magdalene, (from) Rubens (1620)
Crises as any difficult moments have always highlighted intelligences, whether they are individual or expressions of a community.
Several times in our “articles” you have been able to read a personal analysis of this private time, suspended, in some cases overloaded with communication to stay alive. There are those who have used this time to build, to create a network that would serve to promote beauty and culture present on the Italian territory.
This is what the Italics consortium has done.
In great crises, in difficult moments, the possible reactions are various. The best is to group together and face “The Enemy” together.
So in a situation completely unknown to everyone, 60 galleries treating ancient, modern and contemporary art have become a consortium and have begun to propose themselves with online events to the world of collectors and culture in general.
The artists represented by them, judging it was the right moment to look to the future together, have put together forces and ideas.
All this led to the birth of a collective and in person public event.
Fifty gallery owners have chosen to dedicate a Panorama of the art proposed by them in a place defined by Minister Franceschini as “the place of restart”. Procida, Italian Capital of Culture 2022. A small place but with a 360 ° panorama that shows beautiful horizons.
On these horizons a dialogue between works of art and territory, in a dialogue between art and people.
For this widespread exhibition their network also involved the Capodimonte Museum which granted for 4 days the work “Adoration of the shepherds” by Matthias Stomer (1600, Amersfoort, Netherlands – 1650, Sicily) kept in a deconsecrated chapel and which was exhibited in front of a work by Lucio Fontana from the La Fine di Dio series, in a dialogue between the ancient and the contemporary.
The exhibition was curated by Vincenzo De Bellis, who thus dedicated more time to Italy after the Florentine exhibition at Palazzo Strozzi.
Art-Test had the pleasure of being able to interview him in the “Tra l’Arte” series last July.
Day after day more and more borders are reopened allowing all of us to travel again.
Just like people, works of art have also suffered significant limitations due to cancellations of fairs and exhibitions or reduced activity of the offices in charge of documentation for imports or exports.
In recent years, the transport of works of art has won the right attention in the conservation and protection process. Now the topic is also the subject of conferences, where this particular form of logistics is treated with a scientific approach.
Synergy between transporters and insurance companies, transporters and restorers, transporters and collectors, transporters and gallery owners. Such has been the development in this field that it has been necessary to distinguish between the transport of artefacts of ancient and modern art from that of contemporary art which often, especially for installations, requires a different, new sensibility in the approach to “packaging”.
With the return “to normality” but with uneven limits in the freedom of movement for people and therefore for collections, merchants and restorers, artworks were those to travel the most.
The world of fineart logistics is sometimes criticized for offering services at rather expensive costs, in some cases the cost estimate does not correspond to the final balance. Perhaps it is also for this reason that many companies have begun to advertise service packages with clear and definitive costs.
But can diagnostics play a role in all this? Of course! Diagnostics can support all actors! The transporter, the owner of the artwork, the gallery owner, the insurance company. A super partes checking of the objects capable of producing a synthetic but effective transport document for assessing the state of conservation of the artwork in a very short time. This is especially necessary if the artwork has critical issues that require particular attention to transport. The travelling document differs from the condition report, which is a more detailed document, drawn up and checked at the beginning and at the end of the trip.
A mapping of what the eye cannot see is added to the transport document. For example, for a panel painting, the presence of micro or macro lessons inside the boards could be monitored with an X-ray that highlights their presence / absence. A scientific fluorescence image could detect a deterioration of paints or retouching during a long stay in an exhibition or could highligh the presence of new retouching performed as maintenance. Diagnostic support in the field of logistics is a huge support if disputes arise, wherever they come from.
Often, to authenticate a work of art, its “provenance” is used, or the succession of the various owners, to try and trace the purchase contracts till the first, with the author’s signature on it.
But “provenance” data are not at all easy to verify. On the contrary, it is a very treacherous terrain, because even these documents can be falsified. And it is often easier than falsifying an artwork.
The art market, especially the contemporary art market, seems to be studded with constantly increasing fakes. According to the Commander of the “Counterfeiting and Contemporary Art” section of the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, in 2018 almost 70% of the contemporary art market in Italy was made up of fakes. And often fake in these cases is also the documentation provided to establish the history and therefore the “provenance”.
Even just last month, sensational news appeared in the press of forgeries of letters, and even of photographs, to support the existence of a link between the seller and the author of the works, as in the case of the alleged works by Diego Giacometti sold by Sotheby’s or the fake Hambleton and Hendricks sold to more than 15 galleries in the United States.
It is essential to assess the veracity of the provenance also because the work may have been stolen or looted. Although in this case it is very often omissions: this information is not reported, as in the case of the Pissarro purchased by Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza. Only after a long and bitter lawsuit did it emerge that the painting was confiscated by Paul Cassirer (an important German gallery owner) during the Second World War.
It is true that it is generally impossible to establish the chain of ownership due to the lack of reliable documents or sources, especially for “minor” ancient works. An example is Cimabue‘s “Christ mocked”. The small painting, hung in the kitchen of an anonymous house in the French countryside, seems to have always belonged to the same family, but the news regarding its origins are only hazy and incomplete memories.
There are also many cases of false provenance for apparently more important works, but there is a really striking one that concerns the Getty Museum. The Museum, which in 1983 was about to purchase a Greek Kouros dated 530 BC, decided to convene a committee to establish the authenticity of the sculpture, with experts from all over the world, including Federico Zeri. He, however, immediately realized that something was wrong with that Kouros, and even claimed to have “tasted” it. In fact, the irreverent scholar argued that acids, solvents and dyes remain in the sculptures for decades and therefore by licking the marble it is possible to understand if substances have been used to give an “ancient patina”.
It was not the only contrary opinion, even the expert of Greek art Evelyin Harrison and Thomas Hoving argued that the sculpture was not authentic. Research was also carried out regarding the provenance. The sculpture was accompanied by a series of documents. They were there to show that the work was part of a collection in Geneva of Dr. Jean Lauffenberger, who claimed to have bought it from a Greek merchant in 1930, but without mentioning any excavations. Among the various documents there was also a letter that aroused many suspicions. It turned out that the postal code did not exist until 1972 and that a bank account, mentioned in the letter, regarding repairs to the statue, had not been opened until 1963. Quite naive forgers indeed.
In other cases, diagnostics came to the rescue, as in the case of the prolific German forger Wolfgang Beltracchi for example, identified that the ink with which a label was printed on the back, or sometimes the type of printing, were not compatible with the periodof supposed execution.
In short, the data that certify the origin are in any case physical documents, and should be treated as such. Before taking what they pass on for granted, it is prudent to ascertain their authenticity. If they are fake they can be exposed, and this is best done before facing a litigation in court.
Afghanistan: how the nation can defend itself from the iconoclastic fury of the Taliban, including a list of items NOT TO BUY
In Afghanistan, the arrival of the Taliban will bring an abrupt setback to a nation who had seemed to be able to strike a delicate balance.
In addition to the great changes that the numerous restrictions imposed by the new government will inevitably bring, a great threat looms over the numerous archaeological sites and art objects that make up the cultural heritage of a country rich in history. For example the “Bactrian Treasure” a collection of more than 20,000 artifacts, many made of gold, that were found in 2,000-year-old graves at a site called Tillya Tepe in 1978.
Despite 20 years have passed, no one can have forgotten the destruction of the two Buddhas of Bamiyan by the Taliban. There are still discrepancies on what was the motivation, but it is well established that there has been a real abomination against Afghan people and the world’s artistic heritage as well.In 2001 the great tragedy of the destruction of the two imposing statues, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and dated between the sixth and seventh centuries after Christ, shook all of Europe.
In 2001, thanks to photogrammetry, (an analysis allowing to obtain extremely accurate 3D measurements and reconstructions from photographs taken at different angles), with the help of images taken by tourists, downloaded from the web, it was possible to reconstruct the 3D model of the two statues, and to print some scale copies. Recently, holograms have been projected to recreate the impression that the huge Buddhas had to make on site.
But clearly no one will be able to go back in time.
In anticipation of an awakening of the iconoclastic fury, a project was set to protect the immense, and partly unknown, Afghan artistic heritage. Many art objects belonging to different museum collections have in fact been removed from their seats and hidden in unknown places but so far there is no news of any transfer abroad.
In fact, the AAMD (Association Art Museum Directors) has established several protocols for the protection of cultural heritage even providing, when necessary, that museums of other nations take custody of these objects until the crisis is over.
But already on the third day since they returned to power in Afghanistan, the Taliban blew up the statue of Abdul Azi Mazari, former leader of the Hazara, an Afghan Shiite minority, killed by the Taliban in 1995 and considered a hero of the resistance against the armed group.
ICOMM has published a list of objects at risk on its website.
It is very likely that in Afghanistan culture and heritage will be attacked and annihilated. Without its artistic memory a country will be left unable to renew itself. It will remain blocked; it will probably regress denying itself a motivated and, above all, free future.
Even when such an extreme situation may not arise, the diagnostician, the restorer, the archaeologist, and all other professional roles related to the world of cultural heritage play an important part, as they are the custodians of what has been. Their main task is to preserve, safeguard and disseminate with the aim of transmitting the cultural and artistic legacy of humanity to posterity especially when we could be facing the destruction of masterpieces and archeological sites.
With science and perseverance, we try to find a way not to deprive future generations of the beauty that our ancestors created and were able to admire. We can only condemn with dismay, those who with no scruples whatsoever, annihilate all traces of the past.
Following the collapse of a column, not even a main one, which took place on 2 September 1783, the Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo di Lorena had the church of San Pier Maggiore demolished. Although it was one of the oldest churches in Florence, documented since as early as 1067 aC.
The church was full of splendid artworks, by leading artists, including Botticelli and Perugino, and located in a good neighborhood, at least around the middle of the thirteenth century, when Florence was divided into “sestieri” (six parts) and that of San Pier Maggiore was inhabited by noble families. It is also mentioned by Dante in the Divine Comedy, as the place where his ancestor Cacciaguida lived.
The destructive enthusiasm of the Grand Duke was actually linked more than to the stability of the building, to the desire to reduce the political and economic power of the Church. The fact is that only the arches of the façade survived, two of which today are buffered, and various traces in the private houses that have taken their place.
But such minor traces have made it possible to “resurrect” it and make it visible and open to visitors, both where it once stood, and from a distance, thanks to an extraordinary research work as illustrated in this video, which you absolutely must see.
It all started thanks to the National Gallery in London, and a couple of paintings of their collection which were made for San Pier Maggiore, by Jacopo di Cione and Botticini.
Now a fantastic augmented reality application has been created that we would like to see applied in many other circumstances.
For example, the church of San Pier Scheraggio, also in Florence, which was demolished for the construction of the Uffizi. Inside the church there was a famous painting by Cimabue depicting the Madonna in the act of putting her son to sleep. It was called “Madonna della ninna nanna (lullaby)“, hence the name of today’s Via della Ninna.
Art–Test worked, together with a large partnership, on the “PRIMARTE” regional project on the case of the former Convent of the “Campora” in Florence.
Frescoes of the former complex of Santa Maria al Sepolcro – Le campora
The entire complex, whose construction dates back to the fifties of the fourteenth century, and which was of great importance at the time, came to depend in 1434 on the Badia Fiorentina, one of the religious and cultural hubs of the city, with a studium, a library and intellectuals who promoted important artistic commissions. The building no longer exists. Only a part of it remains, now integrated into a private house, with magnificent although almost unknown frescoes, which illustrate the stories of Saint Anthony the Abbot and his encounter with the hermit Paul, according to the biographies composed in the 4th century A.D by Athanasius and Jerome. These paintings, of great beauty and pictorial refinement, are exceptional for the completeness of the cycle and for the figurative particularities that appear there.
As part of the PRIMARTE project, an integrated platform was created, already in 2015, collecting and organising a huge amount of information. Just by clicking on the various parts of the reconstructed church and convent, all data become visible: historical and current, diagnostic results and restoration reports, 3D models and orthoplanes … in short, everything. Even if, unfortunately, they are not currently available to the public, in our opinion a real shame. We hope that next time we will be able to replicate the project in another site and give it the visibility it deserves!
The former head of the Rembrandt Research Project, Ernst de Wetering, died on 11th August 2021.
He has been a crucial figure in the authentication arena, and a very powerful connoisseur. As chairman of the RRP from 1990 till the cease of activities in 2011, he contributed to process many Rembrandt’s attributions.
And now many of those may be challenged again, we suspect.
For about 50 years, it was not without the positive consensus of the RRP that a Rembrandt was a Rembrandt, unless it was .personally de Wetering to support or dismiss it.
Let’s see why.
The turning point into attributing Seventeen –Century Dutch and Flemish paintings was the infamous “Van Meegeren Scandal”, in 1945 -when“Christ and His Disciples at Emmaus” widely celebrated as one of Veermeer’s best paintings turned out to be a forgery.
In the trial, scientific analyses proved to be essential in assessing authenticity, while before it, it had been fairly common for well-known experts to state their opinion simply referring to their intuition, or “feeling”, about a painting, will little further explanation.
This was clearly no longer possible, after all the embarrassment caused by having supported a blatant fake.
Therefore, when in the sixties it was decided to produce a new Catalogue Raisonne of Rembrandts works, it was set out to combine traditional connoisseurship with the newest scientific techniques and form a board of expert to assess every single piece.
Dendrochronology proved to be very useful in dating oak panels Rembrandts used for his early work, to detect copies and sometimes also to prove that what had been considered to be a late imitation was made on authentic seventeenth century wood.
X-rays proved to be valuable in reconstructing Rembrandt’s working process, in terms of how he laid out his composition and the order in which he executed the various parts of a painting. Other peculiarities were to be discovered with the other techniques used, like UV photography and IR reflectography, together with chemical analysis of the materials used.
However, it was clear that in spite of usefulness of the various techniques, there could still be uncertainty about authorship, especially when distinguishing the master from talented pupils, having access to the same studio materials and techniques.
In some other cases, the uncertainty also derived from technical analyses that were not complete or of poor quality.
Hence the connoisseurship arbitration.
However, when the RRP concluded its activities, even though approximately one-quarter of Rembrandt’s oeuvre has not yet been investigated, no scholar wanted to assume responsibilities from the RRP’s chair.
What will happen now? Who will decide if a painting is a Rembrandt?
The most recent case where an attribution was proposed without the official blessing of the RPP, is the Portrait of a Young Woman Allentown from the Art Museum in Pennsylvania. It was in the twenties classified by the RRP as a product of Rembrandt’s studio rather than the master himself. In 2020 the experts from the museum claimed a different truth.
Elaine Mehalakes, the Allentown museum’s vice president of curatorial affairs, dared to state that the RRP had no modern technical means. The only technical image on which it relied was an X-radiograph from the late 1920s that, moreover, was taken when the panel was attached to a wooden cradle.
No objections from the RRP, as it did no longer exist, and probably because the signature discovered on the painting was a clear indication of authenticity.
We hope that new attribution/de-attribution will find on the available documents the best ground for reliable data interpretation. But let’s be honest: the race is open.
A good news is that the extensive documentation collected during the RRP is now mostly freely available online via the Rembrand Database project website, supported by several Museum and Art Institutions around the world.
“The Rembrandt database contains an extensive amount of various types of research documents, which are collected from all over the world and made online accessible for further research. This online guide aims to help users of the Rembrandt Database to navigate the bulk of the raw data. It also aims to provide insight into the information and documentation accessible in the database and to show how these research results have formed our image of Rembrandt as an artist”.
Let’s make the best out of it!
when Renaissance started
Perhaps you have wondered what was the first Renaissance building in the world?
It is not a church, or a palace, but it is the “Spedale degli Innocenti” in Florence, designed by the genius Brunelleschi (his first public commission), and also the first orphanage in the world.
The work was financed by a secular institution, the Arte della Lana and built on privately owned land by Rinaldo degli Albizi.
Construction began on 19 August, in 1419, probably under a hot sun similar to that of today.
The external portico is made up of nine bays (the same number of steps) with ribbed vaults, i.e. domes with a square base. Both the loggia and the internal cloister are characterized by a precise geometry: the chord of the arch is equal to the height of the columns and the depth of the portico, while the overlying arch is exactly half of this measure (10 Florentine arms, approximately 5.84 meters).
The “innocent” children (a surname still very common in Florence) who for various reasons were abandoned by their mothers and fathers, were welcomed by the nuns who raised and trained them.
After dealing with abandoned children for centuries, today the Istituto degli Innocenti is a public service company (ASP) and is active on many fronts: it hosts a kindergarten, a Documentation Center, a UNESCO research center and also a Museum.
Over the centuries, in fact, the hospital has been enriched with numerous artworks, thanks to direct commissions, donations and acquisitions from other institutions, although, around the middle of the nineteenth century, part of the artworks were sold to provide for economic recovery.
In 2016 the last installation, to which Art–Test gave a small contribution with the diagnostic analyzes on a copy, probably the oldest, of the Madonna del Velo by Raphael, carried out on the occasion of the restoration.
The MUDI Museum is also open on Mondays, the closing day of almost all others museums.
Visit it and let yourself be involved by the stories of many children, their nurses and their families (when found), and by the beautiful works on display, by artists of the caliber of Botticelli and Domenico del Ghirlandaio, among others.
From 25 June 2021 in Moskow the exhibition "Siena at the dawn of the Renaissance. Painting from the collections of the National Picture Gallery of Siena, from the State Archives of Siena, from other museums in Tuscany and from the Pushkin Museum ", curated by Vittoria Markova and Elena Rossoni, and scheduled until October 3, 2021
The National Picture Gallery of Siena exceptionally transferred some of their masterpieces to Moscow, to allow the Muscovite public to travel through its Golden Age.
Some other important paintings from the National Museum of San Matteo in Pisa and the National Museum of Medieval and Modern Art in Arezzo were also added to these works, together with the painted “Biccherne”, from the State Archives of Siena,
The exhibition will present the Sienese medieval school, recounting its evolution from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century and its exceptional importance in the period immediately preceding the Renaissance.
For the Russian spectator are of particular interest the links with Byzantine painting school, from which Sienese painting originated but soon departed; while it was during this period that the flowering of icon painting in Russia took place, faithful to the Byzantine tradition.
The Pushkin State Fine Art Institute has very important works of Sienese painting of the XIV-XV century too, such as “Crucifixion” by Segni di Bonaventura, two parts of the Sansepolcro di Sassetta polyptych, as well as works by Andrea di Bartolo, Sano di Pietro, Matteo di Giovanni, Guidoccio Cozzarelli, Bernardino Fungai and other Sienese masters.
However, it is mainly to Duccio di Buoninsegna, a contemporary of Giotto and founder of the local artistic school, whose activities have been documented since 1278, that we owe the innovation of the artistic production in Siena. In his works there is still a close link with the art of Byzantium and at the same time there is a different tension, whose elegance will leave an indelible trace in Sienese art.
Sometimes this occurs in details that now seem almost irrelevant to us.
See for example the small panel of the Madonna of the Franciscans, a work probably destined to private devotion.
Note the design of the fabric of the tent supported by the angels.
It was thanks to paintings like this that the Byzantine and Islamic geometric designs were conveyed, showing fabrics initially traded with the south and with Venice, which soon reached all the western power centres.
The stars and crosses motif was depicted in the fabrics painted by many artists, including Giotto and, in fact, Duccio.
The exhibition is part of an extensive twinning program between museums in Russia and Italy, announced by the ministries of culture of both countries for 2021-2022.
If you want to deepen the knowledge of Sienese painting, Art–Test, in collaboration with the Pinacoteca di Siena, has created a database with over 100 paintings, where in addition to the descriptions for each work, there are diagnostic data, such as radiographs, reflectographs, colour analysis. .
All you need for a scientific comparison, an in-depth study and attributions with solid foundations!
Contact us to find out more at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Petrarch (Arezzo, 20 July 1304 – Arquà, 19 July 1374) was born into a Florentine family in exile (due to his father’s belonging to the white Guelphs).
He had an adventurous life and had no respite in his wanderings, even after his death.
His tomb was in fact desecrated in 1630, probably to resell some bones of this famous poet, that remain unfound.
Diagnostic analyses on what was left, surprisingly, revealed that the skull was not his own, but that of a woman who lived in 1200.
The skeleton, on the other hand, seems authentic: in addition to a compatible dating, it reports some fractures in the ribs, which corresponds to the reported news that he was kicked by a horse.
In the illustration, the miniature by Simone Martini, for the cover of the “Ambrosian Virgil”, by Petrarch, now preserved at the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana in Milan.
The work testifies to the friendship between the two artists and literates, who both attended the court of Pope Benedict XII in Avignon.
This illuminated page shows the Latin commentator Servius, pulling back a curtain to show the supreme poet lying down. He seems to draw inspiration by looking up at the sky, pen and book in hand.
The act of pulling the curtain aside is a clear metaphor for the commentator’s disclosure role.
A soldier, a shepherd and a farmer attend the scene, alluding to the epic, pastoral and bucolic themes sung in the poet’s work.
By Simone Martini Art–Test analysed the Polyptych of Santa Caterina. We will talk about it soon! Stay tuned!
We had promised to talk more about Yellow pigments, since PANTONE 13-0647 Illuminating, has been elected ‘Pantone Colour of the Year’ for this 2021.
The colour Yellow has accompanied mankind since the dawn of time with alternating fate.
In the beginning it was the Yellow Ochre, a stable and strong colour, among the first to be discovered and still used by artists around the globe.
Then Orpiment arrived. A bright yellow. So much appreciated that it was found in the tomb of Tutankamon.
Indeed, when we think of a “happy” colour we think of yellow. The sun, in children’s drawings, and not only, is yellow. Yellow is the colour of light. Of summer.
Orpiment was used to simulate gold in Pompeian paintings.
But in the Middle Ages this colour began to take on another meaning.
It was Gold that conveyed all positive values, while yellow was employed for robes of harlots or monks in the smell of witchcraft.
The Flemish used this colour for debtors and swindlers. But also Giotto used it for the garments of Judas.
Centuries had to pass for the yellow to be reconsidered, even if not completely rehabilitated. We have to wait for the Impressionists.
Gold slowly lost its strength because it was seen as “inelegant” and yellow slowly began its rise again.
Of course, not all negative meanings vanished, but new interpretations began to be added, including associating yellow with rebirth,
Bright yellow symbolises cheerfulness that shines with liveliness, a warm shade imbued with the power of sun
In the coming days we will present on our social channels many aspects of this colour, in relation to the diagnostics of artworks.
We will discuss the behaviour of the various pigments detected with different sensors and different light sources.
Another way of seeing what is invisible!
Mary Magdalene, protagonist, in spite of herself, in the very popular book the “Da Vinci Code”, (where it is fictionalized that she was the wife of Christ, and mother of his descendants), has always inspired artists with her “irregularity” as a saint sinner.
The best known “penitent Magdalene”, or “Magdalene in ecstasy”, is perhaps the one by Caravaggio. Because of the author’s fame, of course, but also because more versions of it have appeared, and critics are debating which one is the original.
These days, a version that emerged in the antiques market some time ago is exhibited in Possagno, after being at the MART in Trento. In 2014 the well known scholar Mina Gregori had authenticated another one, disavowing what for years had been considered the first version, the so-called Maddalena Klein, from the family of collectors who owned it. These two last versions have also been exhibited together to allow for comparisons.
The interest is also accentuated by the fact that the painting is perhaps the last created by the master. In fact, from his biographers we know that on his death during the return trip to Rome, he had with him a “half-length Magdalene”, perhaps still to be completed.
How do we find out which is the original? The question is complex, also because there are many other versions, some copies signed by Louis Finson, the painter who hosted Caravaggio in Naples, but others still to be studied.
Art–Test has investigated a very remarkable version, which has not yet been published.
We only know that the question of the autography of Caravaggio’s paintings and of possible copies or doubles is still open.
It is striking, however, that, when debating about authorship, no reference is made to diagnostic investigations and scientific data to at least narrow the number down.
Of course, the fact that there is an X-ray or a reflectography, rarely both, is not enough. The diagnostic companion should be complete and start from the basics.
For example: has the canvas been dated with C14?
Have the pigments been checked for any anachronisms?
As we have seen, opinions change and are subjective. The scientific data remain. There is still so much to discover. Let’s do it!
How not to fall in a trap
A recurring question we are asked is, of course, “How much do your tests cost?” Less often it is asked “what value do these tests have?”
We want to share with you a reflection that for some time we have been discussing during our days at work.
The answer is: “the value of a #diagnostic campaign lies in the ability to answer the questions posed”.
And therefore more than the “cost” of a single #investigation or a complete and complex diagnostic campaign, it is the “value” that should be inquired for.
For example, if the purpose of an analysis is the #authenticity of an #artwork (which is independent of the #attribution and/or wants to give certainty about consistency with a given historical period), this cannot be obtained using the cost of the survey as a choice factor.
The costs of the investigations are linked to a variety of parameters, including the time and equipment required.
We have experienced various types of customers, with some attempts to downgrading our work, and others for whom it seems that the cost measures the value, so they only trust those laboratories who perform diagnostic analyzes at exorbitant prices. But then get burned and come to us.
The survey type to choose is the one that is able to answer the Question you have.
Each artifact is a “unicum” and therefore even if the same question is asked for two or more artworks, it is not always answered by the same analyses.
Conversely, investigations and their correct interpretation can give answers to different questions.
Furthermore, the result of an analysis must always be contextualized.
The documents accompanying an object, whether they are administrative documents or scholar research, previous diagnostic campaigns, expertise, etc. must be objectively evaluated, bearing in mind that, like the #counterfeiting of works of art, the counterfeiting of accompanying documents is not rare either.
Furthermore, scientific data must be considered reliable only when they are documented throughout their acquisition process and interpreted without preconceptions.
The value of a diagnostic campaign is not in its cost, but in the scientific “sincerity” and in the fairness towards those who commission it.
And now ask how much does it costs, please, and compare our services with those of our competitors, and the value we offer.
We are ready to offer you personalized advice.
During the explosion in Beirut on 4 August 2020, which caused 207 deaths and approximately 7,000 injuries, and which irreparably destroyed part of the Lebanese capital, the losses to assets were also considerable. Making an inventory of them has also brought to light two paintings until recently without attribution.
The Lebanese art historian Gregory Buckhakjian is convinced that the artworks recovered were created by the hand of Artemisia Gentileschi. And Buckhakjian knows very well the history of the Sursock Palace collection, the building where the paintings were located – and which was heavily damaged during the attack -, as in 1993, he discussed his doctoral thesis at the Sorbonne University, precisely on this topic.
It is known that the works arrived in Lebanon in 1920, with the collecting nucleus of Alfred Sursock, husband of Maria Teresa Serra di Cassano, Neapolitan, daughter of Francesco Serra, seventh Duke of Cassano. The collection consisted of works by various Neapolitan artists of the seventeenth century, such as Luca Giordano and Andrea Vaccaro, but also Matthias Stomer. Artists already known and valued. There were also two paintings of unclear attribution. The hand of the painter was not among the best known.
The idea of them being by Artemisia came to the scholar right during his studies. At the time, he told Hyperallergic magazine, “it was still a student job. When I discussed my thesis, my teachers told me it was very convincing and that I should continue my research and publish it. But I didn’t, because at the time, after I returned to Beirut, I was completely shocked by what was happening in the city and I forgot about Artemisia [the Lebanese civil war had just ended, ed]. My priorities concerned the city, reconstruction, etc. ”.
His studies were shelved until last year, when the two paintings were found among the ruins of the palace. The works are: a Hercules and Onfale, dating back, according to Buckhakjian, to the early thirties of the seventeenth century, and a Penitent Magdalene from around 1640. Making a comparison with other paintings, attributed with certainty to the artist, the historian focused on some details that make Artemisia’s works recognizable, such as drapery, jewels and more, and found many similarities.
Ercole e Onfale by Artemisia Gentileschi, damaged by the explosion
The current attention for these works is also linked to the interest in the artist, linked to that for women painters which has finally seen a strong increase in recent years.
Although, to tell the truth, Artemisia’s name is perhaps mostly known for the gruesome story of her rape and the torture trial that ensued.
A series of events we would never want to hear about again.
The Penitent Magdalene was loaned to the exhibition The Ladies of Art in Milan (Palazzo Reale), the attribution was confirmed by Riccardo Lattuada (specialized in Artemisia Gentileschi). The scholar, Sheila Barker also confirmed the attribution, recognizing the details and traits that distinguish the artist’s hand.
To date, the two paintings are still unpublished: in all probability Buckhakjian will publish some studies on the subject soon.
As the two works will almost certainly undergo a restoration, given the damage suffered during the explosion (La Maddalena exhibited in Palazzo Reale still shows the signs), we hope that a diagnostic campaign will also be carried out, which would help knowledge of the technique of this extraordinary painter who, despite recent glories, is still largely unknown.
And a scientific attribution of these, as of all works, can no longer ignore a comparisons of this type as well.
In silence in front of Her
Our work is made up of many silences, those due to the concentration while we work and those due to the beauty of an artwork and the reflectographic image that we see while our scanner acquires the necessary data. This is the thought we dedicate to Bronzino’s portrait of an extraordinary woman: Laura Battiferri. She was an intellectual and literate woman, of whom we have already spoken here.
In this difficult year, the diagnostic, reflectographic and radiographic campaign on this painting represented a precious gift. The restoration and investigations were carried out in a special laboratory, Palazzo Vecchio.
This time, even the transport of our equipment alone was enchanting, because it allowed us to enjoy the journey between the rooms of Palazzo Vecchio in total solitude. In retracing the road that separated us from the painting we stopped many time to appreciate the details that often remain invisible, when we are distracted by the crowd.
At the end of the road there was her, standing still in time. A figure so authoritative that it seemed a pity to interrupt her thoughts even with the noise caused by the assembling our devices.
Laura has been “reflectographed” several times. Thanks to the several diaphragms at our disposal, we found the one which was right for her. It is always like this, the Art–Test Scanner adapts to the painting, follows the inclinations and allows for different transparencies of the pigments. A unique gift, which allows us to obtain the best results, where others fail and “see nothing”.
Two days in Palazzo Vecchio, in which these investigations were also the moment in which together with the restorers, Lucia and Andrea Dori from “l’Officina del Restauro” and Dr. Pini for the Municipality of Florence, we talked about her as a very precious object to take care of. And it must be said that it is thanks to Friends of Florence that much of our Florentine heritage actually finds a “cure”.
The only painting by the hand of Bronzino of a figure in a profile pose, reminiscent of numismatic works but also of cameos of the classical age, which inspired him, flies to the United States, to the MET. It will be one of the spearheads of the exhibition “The Medici. Portrait & Politics, 1512-1570 “.
We just wish a good trip to “Laura Battiferri”, certainly the longest in her life. Who knows what she will think.
She, who married in 1550 with Bartolomeo Ammannati, who frequented Michelangelo assiduously, and the other Florentine intellectuals, and was in correspondence with other poetesses, whose fame crosses borders and is known from Madrid to Prague, but who probably did not expect to become a New York star.
After having sadly but affectionately greeted Cintia, our Erasmus trainee from Tenerife, who with her Hispanic and sunny spirit made the days in the offices sparkling, we are ready to meet Vera, arriving from Moscow, and to welcome her.
Coming from an even different training curriculum, specializing in the history of art and restoration of canvases and tables, she has decided to deepen her diagnostic knowledge, an aspect that as a restorer you will have to often deal with.
Thanks to the collaboration that Art–Test has been undertaking for years with Palazzo Spinelli, the demand for internships in our laboratories from this Institute is always increasing. Regardless of the origin, however each trainee, although he or she may come from a different professional and geographical background, is offered to personally conduct the different analyzes foreseen by a diagnostic campaign -after a first but brief and concise theoretical approach.
It is certainly not immediate for an art historian and/or restorer to understand how to use diagnostics. For us artworks primarily have composite material side, and one must not be influenced by the apparent style and/or any attributions based solely on historical-artistic study.
As has already happened before, also in this case it will be a two-way exchange of notions that will be enriching for both parties over the next few months.
Let’s rock on!
782 archaeological finds, for an estimated value of 11 million euros, all stolen or coming from clandestine excavations, probably Italian, Apulian to be exact, illegally imported and currently in the possession of a collector, have recently been recovered in Belgium.
It was an international operation that involved all the relevant institutions. After an initial technical analysis, carried out onsite by an archaeologist expert, the transfer to Italy of the finds was requested and obtained so that they may be subjected to further in- depth scientific investigations.
It is now well established that the world of organized crime that mortifies our heritage is an increasingly painful scourge, and it is for this reason that specific training, which takes into account all aspects, is one of the weapons to be wielded to protect our history and our heritage.
With the aim of training experts dealing with these issues, the Biennial School of Higher Education in Judicial Archeology and Crimes against Cultural Heritage opened on Saturday 28 May 2021, activated by the Center for Criminological Studies (CSC), for the fourth year. consecutive, but for the first time as a two-year school.
Art-Test will be part of the teaching staff. We are entrusted with the theme of “authentication and dating in the field of cultural heritage”. We address this issue not only by illustrating with theory and examples the methodologies and technologies useful for this purpose, but also by giving a broader overview including also the possible obstacles to be taken into account, the time to obtain the results and the costs.
In this way, future experts, in drafting the requests for the investigation of the cases, will be aware not only of which diagnostic investigation to foreseee but also the economic commitment to be faced and the necessary time, which in the case of judicial proceedings are essential information.
The inauguration ceremony saw the faculty, the students and the member of the Italian Superintendeces present. They made themselves available to welcome the students also for training internships, as will Art-Test Firenze, which this time too will try to contribute to the training of new recruits.
Gender fluid ante litteram
A painting by the genius Leonardo da Vinci unexpectedly provides us with an interesting reflection on the notion of “gender identity“, never as much debated as in recent times. What distinguishes and separates being a woman from being a man? Where is the borderline?
We premise that the panel with the Head of Christ now in the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana in Milan is not unanimously accepted as by Leonardo’s hand, despite the undoubted quality of the painting, the presence of a textbook “sfumato” and the convincing comparison of scientific data (to which Art -Test contributed).
However, we are absolutely convinced of this attribution, enraptured by the power of this image and also a by what we are about to tell you.
We carried out the IR reflectography of this panel, to discover the preparatory drawing, and we realized with immense amazement that the preparatory drawing for this image of Christ, depicts a woman.
The face in reflectography has no beard; the hair is less thick, in line with what were the beauty canons of the time, even if in an official portrait a woman would probably have demanded her hair gathered. But Leonardo had already produced the Scapigliata.
The shoulders are small and round, like those considered desirable by the canons of beauty of the time.
But above all, the folds of her dress widen for the unmistakable presence of a female breast.
The multilayer images show how the artist had modified these characteristics with a few brush strokes to change the folds of the garment, and make them become vertical, to raise the shoulder line and to add beard and lengthen the hair.
A few touches, no changes to the very intense gaze, and a woman becomes a man. The symbols of the trinity are added and here is the head of a Christ. Who is born a woman, metaphorically.
A very strong message, a secret that had to remain so until the analyses literally brought it back to light.
Who if not Leonardo could dare so much?
PS. If you want to see more, reflectographic images have been published in Leonardo in France (SKIRA), and in “Leonardo Da Vinci and Gian Giacomo Caprotti Called Salai’ : The Enigma of a Painting”, by Maurizio Zecchini, ed. Marsilio
Leonardo Masotti, university professor, pioneer of electronics (or electrical engineering “of weak currents”, as it was still called when he graduated), has left us. He was a very important figure for the Florentine and Italian industry, a true innovator who was able to give impetus to many now well-established realities, in the world of industrial lasers as well as in the medical sector.
Perhaps not everyone knows that he was a great supporter of the application of technology to the study of art, too, to the point of accepting the position of President of the Regional Technological District for Cultural Heritage. It is thanks to his vision that, for example, we have many lasers for restoration.
But above all it was the professor who had remained a constant point of reference through the years.
His genuinely kind manners and curiosity for each new idea will remain to guide us in the future as well.
Susanna Bracci, principal scientist of the Institute for the Conservation and Valorization of Cultural Heritage of the Italian National Research Council was a pillar of our sector.
Her contribution to science for conservation has been important and continuous, her presence has been a point of reference for more than thirty years.
She was open minded and curious, always smiling and positive.
Despite the fact that she had been struggling for some time with a terrible disease, she seemed invincible.
But she left, leaving a professional and human void that will be impossible to fill. We will never forget you.
With Love Your friends
Vi state chiedendo quali analisi da richiedere? Ecco una guida
When you come across an artwork, perhaps in the attic or in grandparents’ cellar, you may wonder “Will it be original or is it a copy?” and above all, “Can it be worth anything?” and it is precisely to answer these questions that Art-Test decided to create the specific “Standard” test package.
It is especially recommended for artefacts for which previous scientific documentation is completely absent, and it gives concrete initial answers to the above questions and allows to reveal possible recent fakes.
In the specific case of a painting, for example, the package includes four different non-invasive diagnostic analyses:
- UltraViolet fluorescence (UV): allows you to highlight any retouching present on the painted surface, it is also excellent for detecting previous restorations or additions not belonging to the original painting.
- InfraRed reflectography (IR): allows you to observe, if present, the preparatory drawing, giving specific information about the technique of realization of the work.
- Digital microscope: allows you to observe the surface of the work at various magnifications, allowing you to highlight the painting technique, state of conservation and inspect the craquelure.
- XRF analysis: reveals the chemical nature of the pigments, allowing to differentiate the ancient pigments from the industrial ones.
These analyses can be performed both in the company’s laboratories and at the customer’s premises, as the instruments included in the standard are all portable, thus allowing the tests to be performed directly on site when required.
The package comprises a Scientific Report, a document in which all the information regarding the work is reported, including a detailed Condition Report drawn up according to the Object ID scheme, the description of purpose of the campaign diagnostics, the methods of analysis and the instrumentation used, the results and their critical reading.
This is just one of the five packages that the company offers, in fact, thanks to the vast experience gained over the years, Art-Test is able to advise and think in every situation which is the most appropriate package for you; we always treats each new work as unique and different from all the previous ones, which is why each new diagnostic campaign will be designed and will follow an ad hoc plan.
It should also be noted that all the investigation techniques available are applicable to any type of product, of any invoice, size, material, technique and execution period.
Are you curious to know what the other four packages consist of?
Then visit our website: Services – Art-Test • Art & Technology
Covid19 has accelerated digitalization, for which we believed we were not yet ready. Did we know how to treasure it? Or has the push towards the digital world marked the end of interest in physical works and therefore in exhibitions and museums?
Pandemic closures have devastated the income of museums everywhere. Some institutions may never recover. We need a quick turnaround.
This year marked also a surge in the digital activity: online exhibitions, digital tours, talks with curators and art experts, all what we are now used to.
Digitization has been essential to keep the exchange between institutions and communities alive. This opening up to technology, both on the part of institutions and users, has made it possible to explore another vision, breaking away from habits, entering a little known but intriguing dimension.
The pandemic has shown that an evolution of language and means, previously considered futuristic, is possible. It has been seen that new opportunities can be explored to create synergies between traditional art forms and new technologies.
The signs of recovery appear to be encouraging. There are many planned activities, exhibitions and events. Cultural institutions are betting on the desire to return to see art, artists and collections in person.
We will see if this is really the case. If the need to see a work of art in “flesh and blood” has returned. And if we managed to take advantage of digital channels to increase interest, to cultivate curiosity.
In many of the in-depth studies proposed online, reference was made to the results of the diagnostic investigations and to how much more knowledge of the works and artists they could bring. So why not make use of these insights also “on site”?
By now accustomed to learning more about each artwork, visitors may be disappointed by a tag with title and author alone. It is time for the studies made to be made available to everyone. We all can only benefit from it!
here are those who talk about doing something for young people and those who do it!
Forget about making photocopies!
Coming from two different path – restoration and diagnostics-, and two distant countries (Tenerife, through an Erasmus, and Sesto Fiorentino), we found at Art-Test an efficient but helpful tutor, who between a coffee and an anecdote about past works, she confronted us with the environment of diagnostics by presenting it to us in all its infinite facets.
Never working as an individual but always as a team, combining our knowledge and skills where one filled the gaps of the other, we were able to gain experience on multiple works, during months in which the company put its resources at our complete disposal, allowing us to learn and perform the different analyses, accompanying and supporting us, always ready to help us but at the same time also to be silent observers who from a distance made sure that we would fix any hitches independently.
Furthermore, it was possible to see and understand the internal management of the company and how professionalism and complete dedication are indispensable factors.
Undoubtedly an internship that allows you to improve your training and learn a new one and therefore useful both for those who have studied diagnostics and for those who meet it for the first time.
Art-Test offers you a review of recently publications such as books, TV series, interviews, etc.
‘This Is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist’. TV series.
Art thefts have their charm and are always particularly interesting because they shed light on the entire sector.
On March 18, 1990, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston was looted by a gang of thieves. In the series now on air, period footage is mostly used, with interviews to those who were then the Boston police and to FBI agents who dealt with it. In 1990 we did not have the scientific means we have today, but in particular in the United States it was not clear what the turnover was regarding illicit acts in the world of art, so much so that the FBI did not have a specially dedicated division. But the constant increase in the value of works of art had not escaped the “underworld”. And the 4 episodes of the series not only tell about the theft but place it within the world of organized crime, the world of drug dealing, assuming that perhaps some of the paintings, even if unsaleable on the legal market, could have been used as a “guarantee” for the trade in cocaine. Somehow, the criminal world was ahead of the legal one.
To date, no work has been recovered; there is still a prize of 10 million dollars for information leading to the recovery of the works.
A fate common to many works of art, not least the Nativity of Caravaggio, whose theft in 1969 convinced the Italian Carabinieri to equip themselves with a special unit, a pioneering activity, given that they were the first in the world and that remains still a point of reference today.
Stolen art is difficult to trace, since it is relatively easy to move and can remain hidden for decades before being resold. To counter this trade, databases of stolen artworks have been created, both public, such as that of the Carabinieri, and private ones where, however, each search is against payment.
Of course, as with all databases, their usefulness depends on the content, on the accuracy of the information in it. We recommend that you draw up a file as complete as possible for each work of art you own. This will make it easier to recover in the, hopefully unlikely, event of a theft. Art-Test is of course also at your disposal in this. A small investment you won’t regret!
Spunti diagnostici di riflessione sull'attribuzione
From how they all got on the bandwagon (“I discovered it!” “No, I discovered it first!“) there would seem to be no doubts that the painting at auction in Madrid is the real “Ecce Homo” made by Caravaggio as result of a competition between painters arranged by Monsignor Massimi, as documented in old biographies. About the painting that had been indicated so far as the Massimi’s painting, now in Genoa, many are quick to say that after all no one had ever believed in it, it is clearly not by “him”. Sic transeat gloria mundi.
As diagnosticians, it is of course super interesting for us to go and see why this attribution is so eagerly, and almost unanimously, supported. A fate that did not touch the many other “Caravaggio” that have been proclaimed (even by the same who are pronouncing now) and disowned over the years.
Much has been written about the difference between originals and copies by Caravaggio. As on the possibility that Caravaggio produced “doubles”.
And here we notice the first anomaly, perhaps only temporary. Of all the Caravaggio, or presumed such, that we have investigated, there were always copies. Generally very similar versions, on which to make comparisons on technique and materials used. Also of the “Ecce Homo” Genoese version. Actually we probably know only copies of some of Caravaggio’s inventions.
No other versions of this painting appear to have emerged. Although it is true that the canvas had been in Spain for almost four centuries, and it has the very same subject as a painting documented to have arrived in Madrid in 1659, it seems anomalous that no one has made copies. Among similar composition that come to mind, there is a painting in Malta, with a similar subject, by Mario Minniti.
There are several versions, one of which in Vienna, attributed to Minniti too, of another “Ecce Homo” with an analogous composition, considered by some to be Caravaggesque, but of which the three protagonists do not resemble those of the Madrid canvas.
We diagnosticians would have loved to have been able to make comparisons with a copy or a version.
But the most interesting contribution for us was the commentary by Rossella Vodret, who, together with others, edited two volumes full of observations on the Lombard painter’s technique for Silvana Editoriale.
We quote from an interview on the subject: “Then there are further observations relating to the executive technique, made visible thanks to an HD photo that was sent to me. I am referring to a series of specific executive features of Caravaggio, such as the full-bodied zig-zag white lead sketches that the artist uses mainly starting from 1605 and which are found in various works, such as the San Girolamo Borghese, the San Girolamo di Montserrat, the Flagellation of Capodimonte. They are very particular sketches through which the painter fixes the points in which to position the highlights on the dark preparation of the canvas. It is a feature that, up to now, I have not found in other painters. In the “Ecce Homo” there are zigzag sketches on the chest, shoulder and arm of Christ, all in full light. The incisions are also typical, although we now know that all the artists of the period made the incisions, but these are perfectly compatible with those found on Caravaggio’s autographed paintings “.
We would like to give some news: we have not found them on many Caravaggio that we have investigated, but the famous zigzags traces can also be found in the “San Giovannino” in Empoli, which we studied (unfortunately the allocated budget did not allow a complete diagnostic campaign). We talked about it in the essay we wrote on the occasion of the presentation of the restoration intervention, and in the video that you can see (in Italian) on our YouTube channel.
We look forward to learning more. Hoping that it doesn’t disappear into thin air.
Very precious majolica with relief decorations and a fascinating history
“Those who want to do great things must pay particular attention to details”, as the poet Paul Valéry writes, is what the Tuscan potters did by inventing “zaffera” majolica.
These are ceramics conceived and produced only in some specific areas of the Italian peninsula and in a very short period of time but with such an elegant and particular manufacture, that it determined immediate success. In a short time they replaced the previous majolica on the tables of the richest mansions of the fifteenth century.
Characterized by a two-tone decoration: the pearly white background based on stanniferous glaze and the deep blue decoration, pasty and with glassy reflections, in relief compared to the rest, they were immediately received positively by customers, probably thanks to the completely new decoration patterns, compared to the ornaments of the other majolicas on the market at the time. In fact, it can be said that, although today they are nowadays almost completely unknown and not very present on the market, they have high prices, as they have had historically an important impact, in fact, their presence is not rare, for example in paintings of the period: Beato Angelico who inserts them inside of his great works and undertakes to paint them with great care and attention in the convivial scenes as in “San Domenico and his companions“. But Angelico is not the only one: Bicci di Lorenzo also includes these particular majolica in his tables as in the case of the “Miracle of San Nicola“.
Beato Angelico “San Domenico and his companions” predella of “Coronation of the Virgin” 1430-1432
Bicci di Lorenzo “Miracle of San Nicola” 1433-1435
La Zaffera, which initially established itself in the Florentine and Sienese area, later extended to northern Lazio, Faenza and Umbria. Among all, the ones from Viterbo are the most prestigious ones.
Generally the images depicted are characterized by a complete two-dimensionality, where the shades are completely absent, and a main figure placed in the center, is surrounded by elegant decorations. Rarely the main subject is anthropomorphic, the most popular are dogs and birds, more rarely fish.
Instead, the variety of decorations of the frame is wider: plant and floral inserts, plant shoots, labellum, wolf teeth, droplets and oak leaves with acorns and berries.
In Tuscany, majolicas were mainly made with a completely decorated surface; in Faenza, instead, the decorations were confined within circles made of brown manganese or blue enamel; the Viterbo decoration is always characterized by patterns that develop over the entire surface but thinner and less dense.
Examples of Faenza majolica (a), Viterbo majolica (b) and Tuscan majolica (c)
The most requested objects, from what can be seen from the various finds, were mostly trunk-shaped cups and mugs with ovoid body and trilobate mouth; the production of plates and trays is less intense, this is probably due to the fact that the relief of the decorations is more appreciable if made on concave surfaces rather than on flat or convex surfaces.
The short production period is attributable to two factors: the high cost of cobalt blue necessary for production and the difficult construction technique that resulted in the production of numerous wastes characterized by little relief and poorly defined decorations.
The blue pigment was laid mixed with a particular loose clay called “barbottina” on the surface previously glazed and cooked, the majolica was then subjected to a second cooking phase in which the decoration would swell while maintaining the basic design.
This last complex phase of production had to be carried out in environments where temperatures of more than about 1000°C would not be reached in order to compensate for the melting and the consequent inevitable casting of cobalt oxide.
However, since they did not have such precise control of the internal temperatures of the furnaces, it often happened to obtain unsaleable products and soon the production costs exceeded the revenues.
This is probably the main reason why it was abandoned after only thirty years and was replaced by the Italian-Moorish majolica, always characterized by a white-blue bichromy but of more immediate and certainly less expensive realization.
Being so few objects available, today even what was then considered waste, has great value.
The characteristics mentioned above such as the cobalt blue decorations with a heightened relief on a white background, the short production time and the difficult execution technique, are safe elements on which to base a diagnostic investigation.
Although it is usual to think of diagnostics mostly linked to the study of paintings, it is certainly extendable to other numerous types of objects and also in the case of ceramics, it allows to distinguish originals from fakes and to date majolica using different techniques of a non-invasive, invasive, micro-destructive or elemental kind.
In the specific case of majolicas, ceramics, porcelains, there are mainly five techniques to which it is advisable to employ to obtain information about their manufacture, history and composition, as illustrated in the posts below: element analysis, microscope, thermoluminescence, XRF, UV fluorescence.
It is recent news the publication of a call promoted by the Province of Salerno, in which professional conservatories were invited to apply to lend their work for the restoration of the institution’s heritage, totally for free. In exchange for it , the call just mentioned some promotion.
It is upsetting, but it didn’t surprise us. In fact, what was written in a public call in Italy, a country where restoration should be a serious affair, is not far from what we have been seeing for years now.
The truth is that we are a country that restores its works almost exclusively thanks to philanthropists or associations, who engage in constant fundraising.
The perpetuation of our beauty is now entrusted to the availability of enthusiasts, often foreigners, who donate money, even considerable amounts (often to be able to deduct them from taxes) to fill needs that should instead find support from our Public Administration.
All this could be less bad if the lack of funds to allocate to this sector did not also have the consequence of degrading the professionalism of those who carry out the works, and minimizing the restorations budgets, where even diagnostics, therefore the deep knowledge of the work and its conservative problems, is made redundant or carried out with non-scientific methodologies and technologies, becoming therefore fundamentally useless.
The value of the restorer’s work cannot be relegated to a mention on the plaque that flanks the restored work.
You cannot repay the professionalism acquired in years of study and practice with a citation in the newspaper.
The expression ‘there is not enough money’ is not justified. The money must be found.
The restoration carried out with minimal budget will totally be to the detriment of the work and society as a whole, because, the most suitable care for its preservation for future generations will not be carried out.
A disaster that has been announced for far too long, which none of the public institutions really seem to want to tackle.
Perhaps it is time not to ask for unilateral sacrifices and really recognise the importance of this sector for the preservation of our heritage. Not just words (and citations).
Illegitimate son, even if recognized by his father. Multiform genius, father of the Florentine Renaissance.
No, we are not talking about Leonardo but about Leon Battista Alberti, born Battista, self-proclaimed Leon, less “pop” but just as fundamental as Da Vinci for the prodigious rebirth of the arts.
Fascinating character, less known and who fortunately has for now passed unscathed by imaginative interpretations.
From a noble and wealthy Florentine family, he was born far from Florence because the family was in exile – and suffered a lot from this condition. He studied and distinguished himself in numerous disciplines: architecture, literature, mathematics, linguistics, philosophy, optics, music and archeology; he was also a brilliant cryptographer.
Prototype of the modern intellectual artist (the others came from craftmanship), he starts from theoretical research.
His first studies were of a literary and legal nature. The artistic training took place from 1432 in Rome, which represented a fundamental step in outlining his relationship with classicism. As Brunelleschi, he fixed in the study of the proportions of Roman buildings the starting point of architectural design and attributed to the ancients the model to emulate for both structural and decorative aspects. From 1434 he was in Florence where he recognized the realisation of his own artistic principles in the art of Donatello, Masaccio and Brunelleschi. To Brunelleschi he dedicated the treatise De pictura, written both in Latin and in vernacular Italian.
His most significant production was in the field of architecture: in Rome, where with the patronage of the humanist pope Niccolò V, his university friend, he worked as an archaeologist, restorer of ancient monuments and urban planner and where he wrote the “De re aedificatoria” on the problems of the Renaissance city), in Rimini where he designed the Malatesta Temple and in Mantua where he oversaw the projects for the churches of San Sebastiano and Sant’Andrea.
In Florence, Alberti worked above all for the rich merchant Giovanni Rucellai, who was also a close friend of his. The Florentine works will be the only ones completed before his death: the Palazzo Rucellai in via della Vigna Nuova, the completion of the marvelous facade of the Church of Santa Maria Novella and the very elegant temple of the Holy Sepulcher in the Rucellai Chapel inspired by the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem and intended to house the remains of Giovanni Rucellai (located in the now deconsecrated church of San Pancrazio which is part of the Marino Marini Museum complex). The funeral monument was an immediate success, so much so that in 1471 Pope Paul II issued a bull in which five years of plenary indulgence were granted to the faithful who visited it on Good Friday and Holy Sunday.
He died in Rome on April 25, 1472, mourned and venerated. However, we do not even have a certain image of him, despite the fact that he was also a painter.
No Salvator Mundi dispute.
His ideas were the ones to triumph over time.
The images of the most beautiful works of art, the best “illustrators”, the most powerful ambassadors of the best part of Italy, cannot be used freely in our country (abroad, on the other hand, only rarely there are controls, above, for example a Dutch wallpaper).
The images of Italian public works, of our cultural heritage, kept in our museums, cannot be used to advertise services, products, to remind everyone who we are and where we come from.
Not in Italy.
Not without paying a heavy tax to the state. Even if it is uneconomic for the state, because it is proven that paying employees to manage this task also costs more than it brings.
Moreover, it implies renouncing to hire officers of cultural institutions, often graduated in art history, in tasks that are much more rewarding for them and beneficial for the state, such as research, dissemination, care of our heritage.
In many parts of the rest of the world, attitudes have changed. More and more institutions have opened access to their collections in “open access” mode, exploiting the contemporary passion for images and the ease with which they can circulate nowadays, to fulfill their institutional mission, which is to make art known, to make it alive, participatory, to offer everyone the possibility to enjoy it.
What is Italy waiting for, before embracing “open access” and adapting to the European regulation on copyright in the digital market?
Not too long ago, the so-called “primitives” were the highest aspiration. Billionaires did everything (even buying fakes) to have an artwork of the Italian Middle Ages, to feel and appear cultured and refined.
Then the decline.
But is it true that they have nothing more to say nowadays?
To try to subvert this perception, the Frick Collection took the opportunity of the temporary transfer of their headquarters to Madison Avenue, in New York, to redesign the setting and encourage visitors to see with new eyes. Not only the paintings, furniture, enamels, bronzes, porcelain and carpets that previously coexisted with each other in sumptuous environments, are now exhibited in a linear and almost Spartan place, but have also been reduced to little more half, and grouped for the first time by origin, type and chronology.
After all, there are many artworks, many images, that we have available online 24/7. What can museums add, what food for thought and interest can they offer, apart from being the physical container of a collection?
Frick Museum’s idea is the opposite to that of returning the works to the places for which they were created. Rather, they choose to isolate them to allow visitors to focus their attention on each one.
To illustrate this approach and its advantages, for example, the case of the panel depicting the Temptation of Christ on the mountain, from the Gospel of Matthew, by Duccio di Buoninsegna, has been perfectly described here.
If instead of moving on, overwhelmed by too many stimuli offered by overcrowded settings or by the thousands of images on Instagram, we are invited to stop and look, and a world of knowledge opens up, beyond the appreciation of the narrative pleasantness of the composition.
In fact, one can learn that the painting was part of the predella on the back of the Majesty of the Cathedral of Siena, dismembered and sold almost 5 centuries after its creation, in 1771. We can discover that it illustrated the always-current dialogue between good and evil, personified by Christ and a devil. Devil who has bat wings, because these, nocturnal animals, half mammals and half birds, represented the loss of clarity, which is an attribute of the good side.
Once a key is offered to the viewer, all the painter’s choices in rendering a subject so full of symbolism become clearer. Choices that reflect the novelty of Italian art, which frees itself from the Byzantine one, for example in the realism of the face of Christ and also in representing these turreted cities, in pastel tones, on steep mountains and almost devoid of vegetation.
To such clues, more layers are added, like those that are the result of having gone through so many centuries and so many fashions. The two angels on the right, for example, were painted later by another hand, profoundly changing the balance of the composition.
Now that you’ve seen it up close, aren’t you in love with it?
Duccio di Buoninsegna is one of the masters that Art-Test had the pleasure and honor to study and therefore who has become part of “Sotto l’oro”, a database that includes 100 paintings from the Pinacoteca of Siena. The first collection of diagnostic and scholar data on such artworks.
During this work, we also investigated the panel on the cover, by Sassetta, the displays other devils, so impressive that they have been disfigured by some faithful soul in the past, to try to annihilate their powers (if you look carefully you can decipher the inscription). And where gold leaves the background and the pretence of imitating the goldsmith to become a true pigment.
The struggle between good and evil is always fascinating. But Duccio’s tavoletta could also tell the story of the pandemic of the fourteenth century, of the plague that annihilated Siena, of the changing landscape, of art in Dante’s time, of collecting and art trafficking at the beginning of the twentieth century, of the change of taste, of the idea of protecting the Cultural Heritage, of a technique that has allowed the works to reach us almost intact.
Not bad for an old, out-of-date primitive.
The Polyptych of the Mystical Lamb by Van Eyck is again open to the public, with new lighting but above all with a new, very expensive, case, necessary for a better conservation of the artwork.
To tell the truth, they should worry about other aspects.
We are still convinced of what we wrote a little over a year ago in our newsletter
The astonishing silence of the Lamb not the Optical Revolution
It is an image that has gone viral, perhaps to promote an expensive exhibition, the umpteenth “made in Belgium” restoration of the Van Eyck brothers’ Mystical Lamb Polyptych (N.B.”The Ghent altar revealed” only closed in 2017).
The realistic eyes of the Lamb as we had known them, have been removed to reveal the first version of the painting, where the Lamb has a less ovine and more “human” appearance.
Let’s read what the restorer told the New York Times: “at some point in the 1500s another painter, or perhaps a group of painters, decided that it needed a reworking. They may have wanted to change the painting for theological reasons — this was, after all, the middle of the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Church was rewriting its doctrines at the Council of Trent — or because painting styles had changed“.
The whole painting was redone, she said, “not only the lamb but all the draperies, the top part of the landscape, the sky and the city view, and on the reverse of the wings, about 70 percent was overpainted.”
She added: “What is peculiar about this one is that it was extremely carefully done so that all the contours of the figures were respected and most of the colors were reproduced with very high-quality pigments. It was not a botched job.”
But luckily, restorers discovered that there was also a very thick layer of varnish between the original painting and the newer version, which made it relatively easy for them to remove that layer to get back to van Eyck’s work, Ms. Dubois said. The original head of the lamb, for example, was “in very good condition,” she said. “We only had to do a tiny restoration of tiny paint losses.”
Let’s read it again.
They removed a “repaint” not only historicized, but almost coeval, made with similar pigments and techniques.
Already since 1972 the Italian Restoration Charter (Art 6) absolutely forbids such practices, and for good reasons.
Especially since the first version of the lamb was clearly visible in reflectography and it could have been documented even better with our Multilayer Method, and maybe illustrated in a display panel.
So why this crazy and “criminal” decision?
We are left speechless. And it is a pity that the leaders of Italian restoration arena seem to be speechless too.
We would have preferred to discuss van Eyck’s true Optical Revolution, the one described by David Hockney and Charles Falco but also by Roberta Lapucci. The one that made it possible, through the use of mirrors and lenses, perhaps not to Hubert, but certainly to Jan, to obtain such a photographic rendering of faces and objects. And lambs.
The Florence Heritech international conference, characterized by the particular formula that sees a scientific conference taking place together with a restoration and conservation fair, has opened the Call for Papers, for the edition to be held in May 2022.
Here the deadlines:
July 16, 2021 | Deadline to submit abstract
September 30, 2021 | Abstract acceptance notification
December 17, 2021 | Deadline to submit draft paper
January 31, 2022 | Submission of final paper
These are the macro areas:
Materials Science, Diagnostics and Monitoring, Engineering, ICT and digital heritage, Environment and Cultural Heritage, Sustainable Architecture for Cultural Heritage.
Florence Heritech’s idea is to create a synergy between the artistic, artisan and entrepreneurial world, and the university and research world, offering an overview of current developments on a global level, promoting links between students and the conservation industry, and disseminating the most advanced scientific discoveries.
Here the link to the proceeding, published in a indexed Open Access journal (IOP), of past editions.
The city of Florence, chosen as the venue, will therefore once again be a place of meeting and discussion for experts, operators and enthusiasts from all over the world.
Art-Test will participate, as it has already done in past editions, presenting its works and new discoveries. Do not miss it!
Sometimes the demonstration of how useful, and surprising, the collaboration between art and science in the study of a painting can be, goes beyond common expectations.
A few years ago, in the “Olive trees” artwork that Van Gogh painted outdoors in 1889, a grasshopper was found trapped in oil layers. The insect was almost invisible to the naked eye given its very small size, and at first it was mistaken for a small leaf. Despite a consultation with a biologist, it was not possible to determine in which season the painting was made, however, it was possible to assert that the insect ended up on the canvas already dead, since no signs of movement were detected.
A new study on the same work has also revealed the presence of particles of dry leaves and numerous information on the technique used by the painter. The XRF and FTIR techniques have in fact shed light on how Van Gogh proceeded layer by layers and on how he preferred the combination of complementary colours, aware of the harmony they would have created as a whole.
A curious aspect of studying the works carried out outdoors is the possibility of discovering information on the nature of the subject of the painting, beyond what the painting itself represents and wants to communicate. With the masters of the so-called School of Barbizon we witness the spread of painting en plein air, which will be the stylistic code of the painters generally referred to as Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. Landscapes, trees and rivers become the protagonists of the works together with the subjective vision of the performer, who often proceeds quickly and with large brushstrokes; the boundary between preparatory sketch and finished work becomes blurred!
Thanks for example to letters and biographies, about the habits of painters, we are in possession of a lot of information. We know, for example, that Daubigny had prepared his study on a boat and that Monet did the same, as well as usually painting from his own garden. At the same time, many objects for outdoor painting were invented, including kits with transportable easels, while the development of photography was an important support tool in capturing images of atmospheric phenomena, to be reworked with ease in the studio.
Diagnostic investigations allow us to know more about the “experience” of a work, about how the painter chose colours, how he gave quick brushstrokes before the light changed and how some works were retouched even after years.
In the most curious cases, like that of Van Gogh, they also give us the pleasure of feeling, at least for a moment, transported inside the painting, among the leaves moved by the mistral.
Do you want some more examples? The sprouts of leaves on the canvas of Gustave Caillebotte‘s “Laundry hanging to dry on the banks of the Seine” and the grains of sand on Armand Guillamin‘s “The sea at Saint-Palais”. This is also living art … as well as living on art !!
500 years after the death of Raphael, and in conjunction with the planned celebrations, a very important project is underway: “Study, restoration and valorisation of the “Putto holding a garland” of the National Academy of San Luca” (here below). The assumption is that the putto may be an original by the Master. The restoration began on 7 January, sponsored by the Borghese Gallery-Roman Heritage Onlus .
The project involves an interdisciplinary team with expertise in historical-artistic research, restoration and diagnostic investigations.
A story full of charm and mystery, but which clashes with some provenance data and thus starts with many doubts. Hopefully this complex project with lead to definitive answers.
The fragment belonged to the collection of the neoclassical artist Jean-Baptiste Wicar. Documented for the first time in 1829, it became part of the collection of the Accademia di San Luca in 1834 as a bequest of the French painter and collector. It probably arrived from Bologna, as Quatremère de Quincy wrote in 1829.
Before this time, however, there is no trace of the putto.
In the restoration of 1959, Pico Cellini found a relationship with a passage from Vasari’s Lives: the putto would be what remains of the first version of the fresco depicting Isaiah made for the Church of Sant ‘Agostino (here on top). Apparently, after having seen the Sistine Chapel in the company of Bramante, Raphael decided to redo the depiction of the prophet from scratch, adding two “lively and pinkish” cherubs.
However, in fact in the same year the art historian Luigi Salerno put forward the hypothesis that the putto could instead be a painted copy of the same Wicar.
The first to document the fresco’s “stacco” was Pungileoni, who however describes a wrong provenance. According to what he wrote, the putto in question, at that time in the collection of Jean Baptiste Wicar, it was on a fireplace in the apartment of Innocent VIII in the Vatican.
The fresco depicted two cherubs holding the coat of arms of Julius II and those, would have been detached and alienated, when works for the Vatican Museum were carried out. One of the two would have arrived to Wicar, the other instead was sent to England. But the putti of Julius II still exist (see at the top).
Plausible hypotheses can only be the followings: an original executed by Raphael with the same cartoon used for the putto in S. Agostino, a later copy or a fake.
We will know the answers at the end of the work, which starts with the right skills, but, in my opinion, with little hope.
Sono aperte le iscrizioni alla Scuola di Archeologia Giudiziaria
Unfortunately, the world of archaeological heritage is increasingly subjugated by criminal practices. The mind immediately goes to the infamous “grave robbers” who have plundered and still plunder our soil and our seas in search of antiquities.
But this practice has also been documented, for example, to the detriment of the Medici tombs.
The portraits of the Medici family, especially those of women, display their splendid jewels, with which they were often buried. As early as 1857, the director of the State Archives and Grand Ducal Antiques Dealer, Luigi Passerini Orsini de’Rilli, in charge of the Reconnaissance of the bodies of the Grand Dukes, found that many of these had been desecrated and deprived of the precious objects they contained.
How to defend yourself?
Archaeology, and art in general, need more and more competent professionals.
The fight against criminal activities in this sector passes through the institutions set up by the States, with the help of professional, who operate in the judicial and extra-judicial sphere, with adequate and complete academic preparation.
In this context that the Centre for Criminological Studies – Cultural Heritage Area – Judicial Archaeology Department in collaboration with the Archeomafie International Observatory, is programming a BIENNALE SCHOOL OF HIGHER EDUCATION on “JUDICIAL ARCHEOLOGY AND CRIME AGAINST CULTURAL HERITAGE“, where Art-Test’s experts will teach.
The school is aimed at graduates in archaeology, history of art, architecture, conservation of cultural heritage, restoration and other disciplines in the legal and humanistic sectors.
For those interested here is the link: https://bit.ly/3mWTV6x
Life, death, his fortune, the inheritance he left, the history of the “Archives”, fakes, foundations, exhibitions.
Already in January we discussed the innovative exposition that the Museum of Lille created for Amedeo Modigliani. An exhibition with an investigative approach. But, given the pandemic we are in, it was not possible to open it, and also the related Symposium did not take place.
But the scrutiny of the Labronian painter and his work, does not stop. “L’affare Modigliani” published by Chiarelettere is a book rich of information, all supported by references to sources. It tackles all the hot topics, including fakes and the role of foundations. Three hundred pages where the story is organized into “crime scenes“. where each topic is treated with scientific rigor.
Our favourite chapter is of course the one where Modigliani’s technique is illustrated through material analysis. Of course, we would have liked it to be even more detailed but we realize that a substantial appendix would have been necessary.
If you haven’t read it yet, waiting for the French exhibition, Art-Test recommends it.
A year has passed, we have 12 months behind us in which our life and our work have changed.
Looking back to understand the present is part of our work, as is the careful study of the “back” of a painting.
Very often the “verso”, “back” of a work makes the “front”, the “recto” more understandable. We know that artists from the 15th century began to sign their works on the front, but in recent times many chose to put their signature on the back, also indicating a date.
But in addition to the signature, true or fake, on the back we can find stamps, labels, codes: each of these elements is an important fact in the reconstruction of the work’s past.
Codes referable to the cataloguing in a collection or to lot number in an auction. Stamps imposed by protection offices or customs and labels of various kinds. But even this kind of data can be forged. The first doubts may arise during a careful condition report, but specific diagnostic analyses can be targeted to understand if they are original elements. For example, a colour label, created with a dot matrix printer, cannot be produced for an exhibition in 1975 !
Perhaps not everyone knows that the court case of one of the most famous contemporary counterfeiters: Wolfgang Beltracchi (born Wolfgang Fisher), began with a label on the back of a painting bearing the words “Collection Flechtheim“, when it was known that Flectheim was indeed an important collector, but never put labels.
In short, looking at the back is as important as studying the front. Knowing a “verse” well, helps us to better understand the “front”. In the same way we must look at this past year with attention to understand well our present and thus try to imagine our future.
Almost 720 years ago, March 10, 1302, “Alighieri Dante is convicted of bartering, fraud, falsehood, wilful misconduct, malice, unfair extortion practices, illicit proceeds, pederasty, and is sentenced to a fine of 5000 florins, perpetual disqualification from public office , perpetual exile (in absentia), and if he is taken, burned at the stake, so that he dies “(Book of the nail – State Archives of Florence)
The accusations were spurious, it was a political revenge, but Dante was still condemned along with four others, all in default.
And from that moment on, he never saw his homeland again.
But how was the Florence he was leaving?
“The city Dante lived in was full of construction sites, where the municipality and the Church were spending a lot, and giving work to crowds of workers, to create the Florence that we know, and that Dante, (…), never saw completed: from 1279 the construction site of Santa Maria Novella was open, from 1284 that of the Badia, from 1295 that of Santa Croce, from 1296 that of Santa Maria del Fiore, from 1299 that of Palazzo Vecchio. Like London or New York today, Florence pulsed with life and money, and changed face without regret or concern for the past “, writes Alessandro Barbero in” Dante “(Ed. Laterza, 2020)
But which artworks, of those that remained till today, did he manage to see?
Surely Cimabue‘s Crucifix, made between 1280 and 1285 for Santa Croce in Florence, and also that by Giotto – the artist was practically the same age of Dante – painted between 1285 and 1290 for Santa Maria Novella.
As Alessandro Barbero has often recalled, the Middle Ages, the times in which Dante lived, was certainly not a dark and barbaric era. Even in painting, as we know, these were revolutionary and positive years.
The Byzantine dogma of the icons that substantiate the divinity and have a precise place in the iconostasis, the area intended for the liturgy, was subverted.
The icons, probably because they were initially treated as relics in the West, and therefore worthy of a place on the altar, were no longer forced into the iconostasis’s space and could therefore take on any shape and size, offering much more freedom to artists.
Freedom of expression and recognition of social status that allow Giotto to invent a new language and the art to go from having to imitate jewellery to be considered precious, to enchanting for its ability to represent real life.
It is a fascinating journey that we discussed at the 2015 “Paths to Europe” Conference in Brussels and that you can find in the database of the works of the Pinacoteca di Siena, which documents this extraordinary moment, which now, also thanks to the undisputed communication skills of Barbero, is rediscovered.
The recent discovery of a very rare Chinese porcelain reminds us of another remarkable discovery for Eastern art and technique in which we were involved.
A few days ago, thanks to a search started in 2014, a RU bowl belonging to the Song dynasty was identified within the collection of the Dresden museum. A similar specimen was auctioned, and sold, in 2017, to the record price of 37.7 million dollars.
For the exclusive use of the imperial court, the colour of these porcelain is a particular blue shade made possible by the presence of agate. Poetically it is described as “blue of the sky in a clearing of the clouds after the rain”.
The subject of the discovery made by working together with S.T.Art-Test and the scholar Riccardo Montanari, on an object of oriental origin too, was also colour, and its trade and use in the East.
The original aim of the research was to demonstrate how non-invasive investigations could be alternatives to micro-destructive ones and diriment in the authentication of oriental porcelain. Thus, favouring non-invasive diagnostics, the study featured a polychrome enameled Mukozuke porcelain, also very rare, produced in the Kan’ei period.
In particular, the analyses investigated blue and yellow pigments. The yellow surprisingly turned out to be Naples Yellow, a novelty for Japanese production. A somewhat destabilizing discovery.
But this data was crossed with historical sources, and it was possible to understand how the Jesuits imported, in their mission to Japan, the Renaissance technique of majolica decoration and therefore the use of this yellow pigment.
Only later, did the Japanese potters transfer this know-how to their Chinese colleagues.
Another step in the endless journey of research. Here is the article for those wishing to read more
The renewed controversy over the attribution of Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi calls for a reflection on how it has become all-important not so much to choose which painting to buy but which attribution.
We have seen several times how the purchase of some artworks was later refused because of a disputed attribution. Indeed, the painting does not change, but the attribution does, and it makes all the difference.
A typical path is that of the so-called dormant attributions, or works initially proposed in generalist auctions, which after a few years acquire credit , with new more prestigious attributions, and become among the objects of most interest of important circuits. The carousel often does not end there. Because the prestigious attributions are then challenged and questioned. And again the economic value changes.
Logically, one would think that the more important the proposed name is, the more thorough the testing, and, therefore, more certain and definitive the attribution.
Moreover, since the auction is governed by a sales contract, one could imagine that among the documents available to the buyer there must be also the results of a standardized scientific diagnostic campaign – not limited at mere photographic snapshots or involving the use of other not appropriate instrumentation, but following a specific protocol.
But in reality these cases are still rare.
In the magical world of auctions, unlike in other fields, the buyer is not allowed, for example, to appoint own consultants to check the documents exhibited or perform new tests.
Take the Salvator Mundi: it was initially a “Boltraffio” at a lesser auction, then it was later proposed as a “Leonardo” with great fanfare. And only today the controversy focuses on the effectiveness of the analyses used and questions whether all possibilities have been examined.
We wonder, for example, if the recently discovered Salvator Mundi, owned by the Museum of San Domenico Maggiore in Naples, has already been studied with a correct scientific perspective or if it will also be taken for a merrygoround.
We know that during the loan for the “Leonardo in Rome” exhibition in 2019, it underwent a restoration and was proposed with an uncertain attribution Girolamo Alibrandi or the beloved Caprotti. But what about a serious diagnostic campaign?
Of course it is not (yet) proposed as a work by Leonardo but nevertheless a complete diagnostic campaign could help to better clarify the genesis of the copies of this subject by the Leonardesque circle. And to record how it is scientifically possible to distinguish an Alibrandi from a Leonardo. And stop the carousel.
Polemiche pretestuose sul nuovo direttore di Pompei
Gabriel Zuchtriegel is the new director of the Pompeii Archaeological Park. Not even 48 hours have passed since the appointment and the controversy is pressing. He is judged to be “too young” with “little experience”. On the contrary, during last years, we were able to appreciate his passion and professionalism, and his academic preparation.
In 2014, thanks to AIAr, we participated in the studies conducted on archaeological finds from Paestum. The goal was to contribute to an exhibition that highlighted the morbid drives behind the theft or the purchase of archaeological finds from clandestine excavations.
Thanks to the team scientific investigations it has been possible to understand which pieces were original and which were fakes, created for pure fraudulent purposes.
In 2016 we replicated the Paestum experience by being part of the research group that studied “The diver” and “the lovers”, as well as the “palmettes” tomb decorations.
The results of the first campaign can be consulted in the catalogue of the “Possession” exhibition. Outcomes of the second investigations were presented in the latest edition of Florence Heri-Tech and published OpenAccess.
Art-Test wishes the best wishes to the new director of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, may the work and the results that are unanimously recognized for the Paestum area (Museum, redevelopment of the perimeter areas, development of the tourist industry) be replicated in his new assignment.
Cats… they hide everywhere and pop up when you do not expect them! For example, in this painting by Frans Floris in which a cat is visible only thanks to Reflectography, as it is not present in the final version.
And, did you know that a painting very similar to this one, now at the Palatine Gallery in Florence, can be seen in the “Cabinet d’amateur”, which represents the workshop of Jan Suellincks and is attributed to J. Franken II (now at the Musées Royaux des Beaux Arts in Brussels)? Can you spot it? Will there be a cat underneath there too??
How to double your income during pandemic
This past year was a fatal year. A year of closures or openings in fits and starts, of crises and layoffs; in short, a disaster for the state of health of art, increasingly overwhelmed by events. The bitter truth is that there is still no end in sight to the pandemic.
The average decline in visitors to European museums in 2020 compared to 2019 was 75%, as published by the Network of European Museum Organisations (NEMO), surveying 600 museums in 48 countries.
But it is not the demand for art that declined. During the long lockdown period, it was often art that we called to comfort us. Many institutions remained “open” online, offering each public a different experience, in order to keep interest alive and active.
Some performed better than others. It is evident that not everyone has been able to face this chaos in the same way, some for lack of staff, some for lack of equipment, or even worse for the absence of a strategy for programming, design and creation of contents. But It is evident that there is a great potential for digital.
At this point, as the pandemic continues, museums will all need to be able to work in a structured way with this new means. As budgets are not forecast to increase, what could be the new business model?
To face the challenge that this change imposes, not only should institutions evolve, but also the general thinking should do so. It is fundamental to relaunch the very idea of a museum. In fact, one of the fundamental investments should be the recruitment of trained and qualified figures and not (only) of trainees who improvise as social media managers, fundraisers, supervisory assistants, secretaries or press officers.
Moreover, and above all, it is necessary to get rid of the association museum = a closed and mouldy place, which lives in the imagination of many. It should be replaced by the concept of the new museum that intertwines with the community, and is a place of local identity where people can recognize themselves and actively participate to events, not just a place where masterpieces can be admired in a passive fashion.
But of course this involves a semi-revolution, and it certainly comes at a cost. How to deal with it?
Museums are not doing well as we have seen. For example, there was a strong controversy, followed by a petition, for the auctioning of works of art by the MET. The New York Times reported that the Met, facing a $ 150 million deficit, has contacted auction houses about potential art sales. The New York museum is not the first, but given the weight of the institution, it could definitively clear this practice, prompting other museums to follow suit, in America, but also in the rest of the world.
Less art to keep museums alive?
At MArTA in Taranto they found an alternative, new and advanced model that we really like and that has allowed them to double their turnover by offering a full virtual 3D experience of the whole collection, attracting donations, and, mostly creating a modern FabLab inside the museum, offering a variety of workshops for modern craftsmanship.
We hope that in the New (!) Italian Minister of Culture it will take a cue!
The Madonna and Child by Bartolomè Esteban Murillo, dated around 1675, counts Gustave Flaubert among its many admirers. He, after having made a trip to Rome in 1851, spoke of it in these terms: “I am in love with the Virgin by Murillo of the Gallery Corsini. Her head haunts me and her eyes continue to pass in front of me like two dancing lanterns”. ‘The French writer had grasped the great intensity of an apparently simple but highly expressive composition.
What he had not been able to grasp, is what only current diagnostic investigations can do!
On the occasion of the recent restoration, the painting was subjected for the first time to scientific studies which revealed the presence of the figure of a Saint, almost certainly Saint Francis in prayer, underneath the figure of the Virgin. The reuse of canvases in itself is not a novelty, on the contrary, both in painting and in sculpting the custom of “recycling” materials and supports is probably as old as art. But here something exceptional happens,: parts of the previous picture are used as a basis for a new figure, the folds of the Saint’s habit form the drapery of the Madonna’s leg.
The wonders that artworks reveal are always numerous and unpredictable!
We await with curiosity the presentation of the restored painting, scheduled for April!
Let’s face it, about a year after the start of the pandemic, we can’t wait to go back to travel. We practice our languages watching series with the original sound tracks, cook recipes from faraway latitudes, write a nostalgic emails to our Erasmus friends, and sighly archive airline newsletters. But. But when something beautiful happens in Florence, -and luckily things happen often- , a proudly parochial motion shakes us!
The great restoration work of the mosaics in the Baptistery of Florence is about to end and they will soon be accessible to the public in all their beauty, together with the discoveries that have emerged, about the history of the monument and the artistic techniques used.
Art–Test also had the pleasure of working in “our” Baptistery a few years ago: we conducted a thermographic survey that involved the mosaic in the “Women’s gallery” to verify the success of the innovative consolidation technique developed by the restorers of the Opificio Delle Pietre Dure.
Thermal maps can shed light on the life of a work, the materials it is made of and the renovations it has undergone.
It is always amazing the amount of interesting information with which we can enrich the view of the artistic treasures… everywhere!
Selfie in the caraffe
We were extremely honored to hear Dr. Maria Matilde Simari talk about the discovery by Art-Test on Caravaggio’s Bacchus during the popular Facebook online events produced by the Uffizi Galleries.
A small but extraordinary self-portrait that literally came to light thanks to the multispectral investigations we conducted in 2009, when the painting was still covered with old deposits and aged varnish.
Now the restoration has brought it back into view and it has become an attraction within an attraction, for tourists from all over the world. “Especially for the Chineses”, says Dr. Simari, adding: “who knows why”.
Here is the full video of the lesson, which explores many aspects of this famous painting: from its discovery in the Uffizi storage room to the relationship that binds it to Florence and the Medici.
We love to look at it and hear its history, proud of having contributed to shedding some light on the painting and on the artist.
In diretta dagli Uffizi, Maria Matilde Simari, storica dell’arte, ci illustrerà il Bacco di Caravaggio.
Pubblicato da Gallerie degli Uffizi su Martedì 19 gennaio 2021
On February 3, 1865, Florence became the capital of Italy, to stay so until 1871.
The news, which should have made Florentines proud, on the contrary, did not excite them at all. Bettino Ricasoli, who was also Prime Minister, in anticipation of major problems and an equally waste of money, called the move a “cup of poison” for the city.
The town planning was partly modified in the name of the necessary modernization and the need to host “the burocrats”. The “avenues” were traced, gutting the medieval quarter and tearing down the walls by Arnolfo di Cambio.
The historic buildings of the city became the seats of political power. The King took up residence at Palazzo Pitti, the Prime Minister at Palazzo Medici Riccardi. The Chamber of Deputies was housed in the Salone dei Cinquecento.
Politically, the years of the Florentine capital were quite turbulent: 8 governments and 5 presidents of the Council.
A good beginning bodes well!
In the photo an unpublished painting currently in the studio in our laboratory: Carlton Alfred Smith (British, 1853–1946) “Piazza del Mercato Vecchio in Florence”. This square was destroyed to make room for Piazza della Repubblica. On the left the Loggia del Grano, now in Piazza dei Ciompi
It was January 30, 1518, when Leonardo Buonafede, “spedalingo” or rector of the hospital of Santa Maria Nuova in Florence, commissioned Giovan Battista di Jacopo di Gasparre, a promising artist of humble origins, without a real surname and called Rosso Fiorentino (Florence, 8 March 1494 – Fontainebleau, 14 November 1540) a Sacred Conversation with the Madonna and Child surrounded by Saints: Saint John the Baptist, Saint Anthony the Abbot, Saint Stephen and Saint Jerome.
Delivery was scheduled for June of the same year and the agreed amount was 25 wide gold florins (fiorini larghi).
Vasari tells us that, however, Spedalingo, seeing the sketched panel, was strongly disappointed: he established that the Saints seemed rather “devils”, and so he ran away from home and did not want the panel, saying that Rosso had pranked him.
But everything has a price: the dispute was resolved with the deduction of 9 florins from the remuneration for the painter, an almost 40% discount.
However, the altarpiece never reached the Church of Ognissanti. It was still too disturbing, despite, probably, some corrections to the expressions on the faces that, according to Vasari, at the beginning Rosso always made “cruel and desperate”, softening them just before delivery.
The Spedalingo resolved it was better to send it to a country church owned by the hospital, dedicated to Saint Stephen, in Mugello.
In fact, many innovative elements were introduced in the painting, first of all is the elimination of any hierarchical form between the Virgin and the Saints: the Madonna is not placed at the top, in a dominant position, but stands on a par with the Saints, and the figures are compressed into a confined space, without the elegant frame of a paradisiacal architecture or landscape to set the mood.
Donatello’s reliefs in the pulpits of the Passion and Resurrection in San Lorenzo probably inspired Rosso in creating the angular and rough effects used for the depiction of male bodies. These have dark faces, deep shadows carved into the flesh, with restless and disturbing looks, accentuated by a marked gesture. These characteristics of exasperated expressiveness of the faces will also recur in later works by Rosso.
However, we must be careful: the accentuation of the shadows under the eyes in Jesus, so unnatural, is actually due to the re-emergence of a “pentimento”, probably corrected when the Saints were modified. There were also other afterthoughts: for example, 4 eyes are visible in the face of the Child.
One cannot remain indifferent to this painting, in front of these stripped and elongated bodies, with almost grotesque faces, that are however accompanied by the sweetness of the little angels in the foreground and by the great chromatic richness with bright and iridescent hues.
Despite the disdain of the Spedalingo, this work is today one of the most important of Florentine art of the sixteenth century, and is now preserved in the Uffizi. And the little angels are considered among the most enchanting images of all Western art.
Art-Test investigated another small delightful work by Rosso of the Uffizi collection: Portrait of a Young Lady, but who knows what one could discover under the Pala!
(Chiara Martine Menchetti)
Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Roundel, by Sandro Botticelli, was last offered at auction at Christie’s London in December 1982 with the title Portrait of Giovanni de Pierfrancesco de’ Medici and it was sold to the New York real estate magnate Sheldon Solow for a then-record £810,0000 ($1.1 million in today’s currency).
Some eminent scholars at that time including the consultant in the Old Master department at Christie’s, held reservations about the attribution to Botticelli, and preferred to credit his less renowned colleague Francesco Botticini as actual painter.
As we read in The Art Newspaper Mr. Solow, the then buyer, to be reassured about the authorship of the painting asked an art historian go to the saleroom and report back to him. The scholar told Solow that he indeed did not know whether it was a Botticelli or a Botticini, but that it in his opinion it was the epitome of a great Renaissance portrait. Solow bought the picture the following day.
This time the painting had a thorough scientific examination dossier, including XRays, IR reflectography, XRFluorescence and more. The name Botticini never came back and Botticelli sold at at almost 9x price time compared to 1982.
May diagnostics take the credits for this?
Work in progress on the Dome of the Florence Cathedral
The night between 26 and 27 January 1601 must have been not so peaceful. A very violent lightning struck Verrocchio’s golden ball that overlooks the dome of the Florence Cathedral, threw it off and dropped it where a plaque still remembers the point of impact. The impression was enormous. It was seen as a clear sign of the incoming end of the world.
But the restoration works immediately followed: the lantern was restored, and already on 21 October 1602, the ball was relocated. Very quickly, considering that the challenges: the total elevation of the entire structure is 116.50 meters, and the ball weighs 18 quintals.
Before the installation of a lightning rod in 1859, the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore had been hit 27 times, with an average of once every 15 years. And such occurrences, as you can imagine, often involved damage to the structure of the lantern.
Details on how to intervene sometimes emerge where you do not expect them. For example in the “Assumption of the Virgin” by Santi di Tito, preserved in the Church of the Carmine in Pisa.
In the preparatory drawing, visible in the reflectograpy made by Art-Test, there is a sort of crane drawn on the right side of the lantern, a crane which then disappears in the finished painting. So we can assume that the crane was visible at the time of the drawing but not when the painting was concluded. This detail could therefore help with the dating both as regards its conception, and therefore the realization of the first underdrawing, and as regards the finished artwork.
But could the crane we see be the one on the lantern following the lightning strike of 1601? The recognizable details of the crane drawn in the painting in question do not allow to recognize the exact typology. We know with certainty that machines with winches and pulleys were already known and used at the time of the construction of the dome
Although Brunellleschi did not leave any descriptions of the machines he used, (which in many cases were invented and custom made), many drawings (among which we show Leonardo’s) show how he made use of cranes, and how these were used, even after his death, by the workers who completed the project. It is also known that, for example, a crane was designed specifically for the lantern. But the drawing made by Gherardo Mechini in 1601 shows a large scaffolding that surrounds the whole structure. So either the Carmine altarpiece was built when the restoration works were over, or it was at the time of another near-end of the world.
Much of what we know about Van Gogh comes from his correspondence, especially with his brother Theo, collected and published posthumously by Johanna van Gogh-Bonger, his brother’s widow. In one of the letters, dated January 22, 1886, composed while studying in Antwerp at the Academy, Vincent also writes “… this week I painted a big thing with two nude torsos … two wrestlers”, an exercise probably.
This annotation changed the life of the painting “Vase of Flowers”, later “Still life with meadow flowers and roses”, which experts claimed could not be by Van Gogh, despite the signature, because it was too big and too .. crowded. The signature was also in an unusual position, in the upper right corner. The painting hung for decades in a Dutch museum with an incorrect attribution before the X-ray revealed that it was hiding a completely different subject underneath: a boxing match, and, thanks to the letter, only in 2003, it was recognized. autograph to Van Gogh.
Do you want to have fun combining x-rays and paintings? This couple and others are in our game:
Procida Capital of Italian Culture almost seemed to be an oxymoron. An island, a territory albeit full of history, tradition, very small and on top of it, in the middle of the sea. To apply, knowing that the beautiful postcards with Procida unrivalled landscapes, that have been used by the most renowned brands for years, would not be enough, seemed a gamble. Also because the competition did not require to rattle off own virtues and dowry only, but to go further: to propose a vision of culture that was more attentive to the evolution of human relationships and the environment. The project manager, Agostino Riitano (formerly at the helm of Matera’s candidacy as European Capital of Culture) expressed himself as follows immediately after the announcement: “It was an epochal victory because the commission understood that the Procida project incorporates a paradigm shift of culture in our country, not only large cities of art but also, and above all, the extraordinary cultural heritage spread in small towns. We are convinced that the concept of “minor” contains the prophecy of a change in the country’s cultural policies. During the hearing held on 15 January, visible to all on the MIBACT youtube channel (in Italian), the proposal for the small island was described as “the largest project comes from the smallest place”. Things like these don’t happen by chance, it’s not enough just to have the best professional, but you need to have a long-term vision of the future of your territory, involving at least one generation. Perhaps it is for this reason that the budget that MIBACT makes available (1 million) is not sufficient to cover all the costs that are used to cover the entire project. The ability of the city to make everything sustainable, which is indispensable, is also evaluated.
Thus Franceschini, the Italian Minister of Culture: “The project is (…) capable of transmitting a poetic message, a vision of culture that extends from the small reality of the island as a wish for all of us, to the country in the months that await “.
Go Procida Go! The fun has just started
Even today, almost a year after the onset of the pandemic, culture does not give up and continues to grit its teeth patiently. The online programming of foundations and museums continues unabated, cultural activities on social networks and on the various sites are increasingly numerous. The hope is to keep interest alive, and increasingly shorten the distances imposed on us by anti-contagion restrictions.
Museums, even when closed to the public, aren’t deserted! Within them, research continues to thrive, as do studies, restorations and all other activities.
Italian Minister Roberto Speranza announced that the museums located in the regions in the Yellow zone can reopen. He illustrated the measures contained in the new DCPM which came into force on January 16th.
The openings are optional.
An autonomous decision to open or close, in a tailored way, enables the directors to manage their “own” museum, since each of them is different and has different needs. In this way, those who consider it viable, both from an economic and a security point of view, can open, assuming the responsibilities of the case, who, on the contrary, consider that it is not the case, will waits.
After all, every museum is different, not all are the Uffizi, there are also small city museums with their own balance sheets, not too stable. A risky opening could compromise their existence. In fact, over the years, museums have been calibrated to function and last with a certain flow of public, of events, which are among the main sources of income, as so are customers of other additional services (restaurants, libraries, guided tours). If the minimum number of visitors is lacking, this machine risks malfunctioning, generating additional costs and unsustainable anomalies.
Perhaps the closure of museums is not a plot or a malice against the world of culture, but only a way to protect it.
(Chiara Martine Menchetti)
It's BREXIT, dear!
January 1 2021 marks not only the beginning of the new year, which hopefully will be better than the horrendous 2020, but also the beginning of a new era for Great Britain which, after 47 years, has left the European Union. This means that the UK is now a “third country” for the EU.
Despite the Christmas agreement between London and Brussels, it is now necessary to introduce a large number of extra obligations, such as customs declarations, special licenses, certifications, controls and conformity tests, for goods to be imported and exported from the UK.
The first problems already arose immediately after the transition period, during which for six months, Great Britain suspended the introduction of controls from the European Union – a unilateral decision that the old continent did not reciprocate.
The procedures to be followed have not yet been clarified, as well as the prices of shipments.
What is certain, is that unlike what happened so far, the goods moving between Great Britain and the EU will undergo more accurate customs, regulatory and security controls, with longer bureaucratic procedures and obviously great delays.
This caused great problems even with the air transport of works of art. In many cases, in fact, the certification that declares the contents of the inside of a box is no longer sufficient, but these are examined and x-rayed as soon as they enter English territory, or worse still, opened by officials with no experience in handling them. This is not a small problem since in some cases the content has a great value and the damage could be irreversible.
Many gallery owners have been provident, and to avoid these inconveniences they have protected themselves by invoicing and shipping all the works to the UK before the end of the year 2020.
But there is no doubt that the current block on the circulation of goods will have a strong economic impact on the medium and long term, on transport, as well as on the economy of the art market, and I believe it is urgently necessary to find solutions soon that guarantee the correct application and interpretation of the rules, if they do not want Great Britain to move from a preferential hub to one excluded from the circuit.
While it seems that Paris is gearing up to take up former UK place.
(Chiara Martine Menchetti)
Never have paintings raised more doubts on authenticity than those attributable to Amedeo Modigliani.
Even when they are signed, with flawless provenance, doubt lingers.
For years, a painting hwas accepted as authentic only if accompanied by the expertise of very few “connoisseurs”, very often without any scientific dossier or, if existing, only self-referential.
The opinions pronounced by these “names”, even with a faint voice, could, and did, decree the fortune or oblivion of a painting.
Modigliani’s paintings have for years been the subject of studies, sometimes even pseudo-mathematical, on the proportions of the faces or the precise distance of the eyes. But the parameters to establish an authentic Modigliani are still unclear or in any case considered the prerogative of very few. Creating a monopoly that is everything but transparent and scientific.
However,, perhaps also thanks to the many scandals, the situation is changing. Soon there will be a new database to study, new reference elements!
For the first time, the investigations on a substantial number of Modigliani will be presented in an exhibition, and they will be shared.
Thanks to a powerful diagnostic campaign carried out by C2RMF on 27 paintings, including two copies, and three sculptures, all from public collections, the secrets of Modi’ will be disclosed.
We will be able to dive into diagnostics during the exhibition that will open next February (hopefully), and to listen carefully to what will be discussed during the Symposium on March 17-18.
Starting with Antonia (in the image a collage of the investigations).
After 2020, the unfortunate year dedicated to Raphael on the 500th anniversary of his death, we are ready to embrace 2021 which in Italy, and around the world, will be the year of Dante’s celebrations, seven hundred years after the death of the great poet. It will be a year full of exhibitions, theatrical productionsmeetings, readings and conferences to which it will be possible to participate online, if not live, to celebrate Dante and the art of his time.
Although the scholastic definition of the Middle Ages as a “dark period” is widespread, we can confidently assert that art in Florence at the time of Dante was anything but dark! It was dazzling in its colors and extraordinarily flourishing in its many variations: from painting on wood to sculpture, from wood carving to mosaic decoration, from miniature to goldsmithing. An art rich in secular and profane symbolism, where form and content became one to convey concepts through images.
Art–Test had the pleasure of participating in the study of the cenotaph of Guillaume Bertand de Durfort, French count of Artois, who came to Italy as a military tutor and advisor to Aymeric de Narbonne at the service of the King of Naples Charles II of Anjou. He fell during the famous battle in the Campaldino plain, to which Dante himself took part.
The Count’s remains were brought to Florence and buried in the Church of the Santissima Annunziata, given the spiritual link between the leader and the newborn Order of the Servants of Mary. The work, attributed to an artist of Byzantine culture, is characterized by a sober and fully absorbed classicism, by a broad definition of the expressive yet impassive face and by the elegance of the molded frames. And, speaking of art dazzling in colors, it is interesting to note that diagnostic investigations revealed that the work was originally polychrome!
In this case we report about a small piece, but only in its size! It is a painting depicting a “Jesus Christ with the crown of thorns and the cross” owned by a private Catalan collector, previously attributed to El Greco’s workshop or to one of his pupils. The study conducted over two years by the Study Center of Modern Art (Caem) at the University of Lleida allowed for the work to be attributed to the hand of the master El Greco.
We couldn’t help but think of a “piece” that Art–Test had the honor of studying: the “San Giovanni Evangelista and San Francesco d’Assisi” in the Uffizi! The non-invasive, but in any case “in-depth” analyzes, also in this case allowed us to attribute the work to Master El Greco, as we describe here!
The recent discovery of YInMn Blue, even if the pigment is extremely expensive (€ 148.52 for 40ml), is a joy for artists – always among the first ones to welcome new findings-, but also for art scientists!
In fact, the analysis of the pigments used has always been very useful for establishing the dating and provenance of a painting.
Lapis Lazuli, for example, is a medieval invention. Theophilus who wrote his treaty in 1120, does not mention it: his blue is azurite, while Cennino Cennini knows it well.
But the Lapislazuli loses its purity in oil painting. Therefore it also loses part of its charm and its use reduced over time, as the new medium imposed itself.
However, outside Italy it was already very uncommon. Few, in fact, could afford it. One was Dürer, who however complained a lot about its price (100 times that of the other pigments)!
For centuries, the Azzurri remained luxury items. Smalt and Verditer blue were not expensive, but the only, mild, alternative to the shade of Lapis was Indigo.
The situation changed around 1705, when Prussian Blue was discovered. It had a great success, but it could still not really replace Lapis.
Although Cobalt Blue had been discovered in 1802, it was Goethe, incredibly, who suggested that as blue deposits were found in the Italian lime kilns, and perhaps some similar procedure could be studied to synthesize an artificial Lapis Lazuli.
In 1842, the Société d’Encouragement per l’Industrie Nationale offered a prize of 6,000 francs to whoever produced it first. Once a stable formulation was found, around, 1870 Cobalt blue became the standard blue color, used by everybody.
Nevertheless, even if 1935 brought with it two new pigments: Monastral Blue and Manganese Blue, the perfect blue had not yet been invented.
The painter Yves Klein between 1945 and 1955 turned to a producer, convinced that they could do better. He thus patented the International Klein Blue, where, however, the real novelty is the binder. We now have the new YInMn Blue.
And the history of art continues to go hand in hand with that of technology.
“In the past century, and at the beginning of this one, dealing with Botticelli would have seemed madness”, wrote Symonds, a great scholar, specialist of the Italian Renaissance, in 1877. And in 1895, Bernard Shaw followed, among others: “Today ten acres of Carracci, Giulio Romano, Guido, Domenichino and Pietro da Cortona, would not buy an ounce of Botticelli, Lippi or Giovanni Bellini”. And in fact it was only at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that there was an abundant traffic of Botticelli’s works, at gradually increasing prices – and of course also of fakes, including documented ones by Joni.
However, original, exceptional works were also sold. For example, the Bardi family, heirs of the commissioners, sold the Santo Spirito altarpiece (Pala Bardi), now in Berlin.
Pala Bardi, Botticelli
Primitives were very popular, and people came to Tuscany to admire them, study them and buy them (the Horne museum, after all, was born this way).
And today? Botticelli are very rare in the market. Are they still so desirable? Or has taste changed?
This is what we will see on January 28 at Sotheby’s, where a very intriguing painting is auctioned. “The portrait of a young man with a roundel” is in fact per se a puzzle. Who is he? Why is he holding this small portrait cut from a more than a century older painting?
The closest Botticelli painting we know is the “Portrait of a Young Man with a Medal” from the Uffizi. This medallion is also a “foreign body” embedded in the artwork.
Portrait of a Young Man with Medallion, Botticelli
The investigations on the work at auction (rather complete, with a dossier very similar to the one that Art–Test offers to our customers) refers of an unusual adhesive that is located at the edges of the roundel, and therefore it cannot be said with certainty that the composition we see today was originally so. Maybe he too originally had a medal in his hand?
Is it one of the Botticelli brothers who were goldsmiths, portraying their products? Was they who created the medallions with Cosimo?
In fact, the “sitter” of the Portrait of the Uffizi is also unknown. And, given the similarity with Botticelli’s self-portrait of the Pala with the Adoration of the Magi, the hypothesis of a brother has been advanced.
If it is not his brother, we have an idea. He is an ancestor of John Travolta.
With a crescendo reminiscent of Zimmer’s musical pieces, in recent years we have increasingly heard, read and defined the word: sustainability.
In the beginning it seemed to be almost something elitarian but it turned out to be quite the opposite.
So what does sustainable mean for us? Is culture sustainable? Should it be?
Perhaps the time has come (although admittely talking about time in this period is actually a bit weird) to address this topic and try to understand how culture can be be part of a sustainable economy.
That is, an economy that safeguards the earth’s resources.
One of the Goals indicated by the UN 2030 Agenda is: “Providing quality, equitable and inclusive education, and learning opportunities for all.
We would like to briefly reflect on this.
In our opinion, when a society manages to make culture accessible to all, it creates a future of people capable of actively contributing to global sustainability.
Even more, only if this role for culture is recognized, it will be possible to have a virtuous circle that will see investments in this sector coming also from other parts of the economy, aware that it is the humus that feeds a sustainable future.
It will be the multiplier of every action aimed at the well-being of a community. If we think about it, this reflection is also the primitive thought that led to the creation of the European Cities of Culture.
The cultural programs presented in these occasions are the implementation of that virtuous circle we mentioned before. Culture is the beginning and ultimate end of living the community well, and therefore of contributing to the evolution of the world economy, which increasingly needs to continue in a sustainable way.
In recent years, for all Italian and European cities the sustainability of the projects presented was the keyword for the feasibility of it.
For all of them there was a new renaissance.
Art diagnostics is, among other things, an outpost for the protection of cultural heritage. The case we are presenting here is one of the many we have treated. Not all of them become public, and they do not all end in court.
In France legislation imposes to destroy fake paintings. Perhaps this is too extreme. But the damages that a fake painting can do to the buyer, to the understanding of the esthetic of a painter and to the market, iare vast.
Who wants to have a fake Picasso circulating the market?
Years ago we received a painting presented to us as by Picasso. During the first Scientific Condition Report we highlighted inconsistencies, despite the painting having deceived even scholars and the members of the commission of the Export Office of the Superintendence of Turin.
Thus, we were asked to deepen the analysis with a complete diagnostic campaign, both with non-invasive and micro-destructive investigations: multispectral analysis, infrared reflectography, radiography, color analysis with XRF, and with chemical analysis on micro-samples.
All the elements of the painting were evaluated, even the frame on which it was anchored and the labels on the back. All of course in concertation with the study of the Picasso’s technique and way of working.
After having realized that something is wrong, it is in fact necessary to recognize which ones are the irrefutable evidences that the artifact is an intentional forgery.
In our world the word “false” has multiple declensions, nuances, not always totally negative: e.g. a work even if it is not to be attributed to a given author, may still be of the same period, produced at the same time, and have a consistent value.
In other cases paintings are sometimes incorrectly indicated as false when they are “academy exercises”, in this case they are in fact better defined as “copies”.
This time, however, we were confronted with an “intentional forgery”, that is, an artifact created and placed on the market with the sole purpose of defrauding a possible buyer.
The painting we are talking about is El Pintor, signed “Picasso”.
Following the diligent work of the Carabinieri Protection Unit, on 2 August 2019, the investigation work conducted was disclosed. Investigation and process that led to identify those responsible for the scam.
Of course, the advice is always to proceed with the analyzes before purchasing. And also this time our motto (originally by Leonardo) falls perfectly: “it is better a small certainty than a big lie”.
Galleries, concert halls, exhibitions have been mostly off-limits since March, with some rare exceptions.
And what will they do now, in this holiday period that usually sees them as protagonists?
Over the past few months they have shown admirable resilience. Conferences, guided tours, presentations, vernissage, exhibitions, much has been online, available for free from home, comfortably sitting on an armchair.
However, very little has been done for Christmas.
Some exhibitions can be visited online, such as the Tiepolo exhibition at Gallerie di Italia in Milan, which attempts a new format, specific for this type of use. Most of the largest museums have an online tour available
And then there are the scheduled conferences, for example those of the Uffizi, which continue in remote mode, but no one seems to have dedicated real events to this period.
Perhaps not everyone has the skills or the budget to continue to produce attractive online material. Apparently after an initial boomh, the visualisations have gone down significantly over time.
Maybe they expected to be able to get back to normal for the festive season. Perhaps it is an economically unsustainable model in the long run.
But will be so the remote visits like “Christmas at Home with Monet” that Linea D’Ombra is organizing for a fee?
Or the Gala’s organised but the San Carlo theatre in Naples? Or the
Handel and Haydn Society: Monteverdi Vespers of 1610, at the Met in New York.
The art world is rethinking itself, and it is not only a necessary, but also an interesting exercise.
But undoubtedly we lack the physicality of visiting the Museum or Exhibitions.
It will be a less beautiful Christmas.
“One sees clearly only with the heart. The essential is invisible to the eye “, said the fox to the Little Prince according to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
But the “essential” protagonist of our story is visible and is visible above all to diagnostic investigations such as reflectography, radiography, x-ray fluorescence and dendrochronology. We are talking about The Holy Family created by Jacob Jordaens which was exhibited for about sixty years in the offices of the city planning councilor of Saint Gilles (one of the 19 municipalities that make up Brussels) and considered a copy.
When, as part of the recent inventory campaign promoted by the Brussels Region, the painting was detached from the wall, it was possible to appreciated what was never seen before, first of all the presence of the trademarks of the panel. It was therefore decided to subject the work to in-depth scientific investigations, with the result of being able to attribute the work to the hand of Jordaens and to set the year 1615 as the date of realization. The same composition was replicated by Master in three more paintings, currently exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg and the Alte Pinakotek in Munich.
The Brussels’ work will be restored and then exhibited in the Old Masters section of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts in Brussels.
Who knows how many other unrecognized treasures adorn the waiting rooms of offices and buildings? What a teasing question!
Up to 10 pairs of Paintings and their Xray images are waiting for you to match them! Do you know their secrets? For each match you will get their stories.
We also love the virtual tours, the lessons, the interviews, the insights that museums and cultural institutions are publishing online.
But we would like to dispel a doubt. These videos are produced in an attempt to keep the cultural world visible.
Many videos are interesting, some illuminated, almost all enriching
With a digital platform it is possible to attract the attention of a considerable number of spectators.
However, this is does not mean it is the solution to keep this sector alive.
Art historians, conservators, and art diagnostic specialists went on stage during these months of closure in an attempt not to be forgotten, but they want to continue to do what they do best, ie. their profession, and they want this work to be appreciated and valued.
The art world is suffering, and we are not too sure competing with Netflix has any chance to succeed.
The papers presented at Florence Heritech, a scientific conference on restoration and diagnostics of cultural heritage, have been published in the IOP Conference Series: Materials Science and Engineering journal.
A great opportunity for those who missed the event, to still browse through them.
Art-Test contributed with a work that paves the way for the scientific testing not only of artworks, but also of the diagnostic images that are used in the attribution process (See publication, and video).
Of the many contributions presented, we highlight the work of Pier Giorgio RIGHETTI – honorary professor of the Department of Chemistry, Materials and Chemical Engineering “Giulio Natta”, of the Politecnico di Milano: “What Sherlock Sorely missed: The EVA Technology for Cultural Heritage Exploration“, which presents the results of a new investigative method. It is a functionalized film that can be used to capture all materials present on a surface without damaging it in any way.
With this new non invasive diagnostic method, iconic items were analised: Bulgakov’s manuscript of Master and Margarita, where traces of morphine have been found, and the shirt worn by Anton Chekhov at the time of his death, where tuberculosis bacteria were found.
But more spectacularly than that, the surviving documents of the plague of 1630, preserved in the historical archive of Milan, were also analyzed. And even centuries later, Yersinia pestis bacteria were still detected.
Another example presented is George Orwell‘s letter discovered in the Russian state archive, on which, although it was typewritten, the bacteria of the tuberculosis he contracted weeks before in Barcelona, were still present.
A fascinating studio that will surely lead to more exciting surprises!
Raphael's new pigment
It could be the soundtrack to this news, or, maybe, “Blue eyes, baby’s got blue eyes, like a deep blue see on a blue, blue day!” as Elton John sang in the early 1980s and again in the Premium subscription of many of us
You probably thought you knew him well. He was the subject of your studies in high school and later at university too, perhaps in a nice monographic course. It is the kind of artist who you look for in exhibitions and museums, that excites everyone and puts everyone in agreement. Can we, then, say that we know him well? No!
Art never ceases to amaze us and, if we often have to thank the archives and their finds, just as often we have to do so with the diagnostic investigations that today reveal Raphael as the “inventor” of the first artificial pigment in history!
This is how things went: in the midst of the “Roman period”, between one commission for Pope Gulius II and the other, Raphael works for Agostino Chigi in what will later be known as Villa Farnesina. Let us stop on the ground floor, in front of the fresco that represents the nymph of the sea, Galatea, triumphant, driving a chariot in the shape of a scallop and surrounded by a procession of marine deities and lovebirds. Well, the analyses on the work tell us that Raphael’s immersion in mythology and ancient art, which he loved and knew deeply, not only inspired him in the conception of the scene, but also in experimenting with the pictorial technique. Raphael recreates the so-called “Egyptian blue”, a pigment that had disappeared at the end of the Roman Empire because it was supplanted by the lapislazzuli. He then uses it everywhere: we find it in the sky, in the sea and in the dreamy eyes of the nymph.
Five hundred years after his death, he seems to have still much to say… and scientists to investigate…… the search continues!
When in 1507 the Raphael‘s Baglioni Altarpiece was placed on the altar of San Matteo in the Church of San Francesco al Prato, in Perugia, no one would ever have imagined that about 100 years later Cardinal Scipione Borghese would have craved its possession so much to commission its theft. Robbery that, following the riot of the Perugians, in a few days became a “voluntary donation” by the friars, immediately ratified by Scipione’s uncle, Pope Paul V.
At the time of the crime, in 1608 Raphael’s art, the Baglioni Altarpiece and the subject of the central altarpiece, “The Transport of Christ“, still enjoyed great fortune. Therefore, many copies had been made over the years.
Two of these are now preserved in the National Gallery of Umbria.
Although of the same size (184 × 176 cm), and equal to the original one, which is now in the collection of the Galleria Borghese in Rome, the Perugian copies were made at different times and on different media.
A copy on wood was made in 1554, when the original was still in its initial location, by Domenico Alfani, a friend of Raphael, in collaboration with his son Orazio. The panel was destined to the church of Sant’Agostino, also in Perugia.
The other copy, instead, on canvas, is attributed to Cavalier d’Arpino, and dated 1609, considering that it was commissioned by the cardinal to compensate the city for the deprivation of the original.
On both of these two copies, Art-Test Firenze performed with the Vis-IR scanner Infrared Reflectography on the entire surface. Thanks to the particular flexibility of the instrumentation, and to excellent coordination with the restorers and art historians of the National Gallery of Umbria, we were able to complete the works in just two consecutive days.
The reflectographic campaign, returning the image of the preparatory drawing, will be used by scholars to study the theme of “copies”, evaluating the methods of execution, through similarities and differences between them and with the original, that was also recently investigated and restored. All of this was to be on display at the exhibition, currently canceled for the closing period due to COVID19, entitled “The fortune of Raphael’s Pala Baglioni through its copies”.
We hope it will be rescheduled soon!
The case of the Ludwig Museum in Cologne is very topical, with the exhibition “Russian Avant-garde at the Ludwig Museum: original and fake. Questions, research, explanations“, which sees works certified as authentic (for example by Kazimir Malevich and Natalia Goncharova) alongside others whose attribution was rejected by the museum’s researchers, following an investigation campaign diagnostics carried out on each artwork.
It is interesting to note the participation of other museum institutions, such as the Momus Museum in Thessaloniki and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid, which have lent some pieces from their collections.
The emergency of Covid-19 has unfortunately led to the suspension of the exhibition until 30 September, which for the moment remains scheduled until 3 January 2021.
The exhibition scheduled at the House of European History in Brussels Fake for Real, A History Of Forgery And Falsification is also temporarily closed, but scheduled until next October 2021.
“In the routine of daily life, the sensational, spectacular and supernatural are sweet seduction. They allow us to escape the ordinary. But the game of deception is only fun when we have agreed to it. When we are deliberately deceived, we are on the losing side in many regards, losing our money, credibility, integrity or even our existence”
We hope that it will be possible to return to visit museums soon and soon and that they will remain a beautiful example of historical-artistic and technical-scientific research finally “exhibited” together!
It goes without saying that the certainty of authenticity is an indispensable prerequisite for a work of art and is what allows the collector, in some cases together with a certain amount of valerian, to sleep soundly.
We can only imagine how abrupt the awakening of the buyer must have been, when he, ten years after the purchase of a tapestry by Alighiero Boetti (1940-1994) on Telemarket Spa, discovered he had a fake in his hands!!
When it could be estimated between € 350,000 and 500,000 as in last Christie’s auction.
Before you begin to look with suspicion at the portrait of a gentleman that you now exhibit in the room and to doubt the Fabergé egg that you keep in the cabinet, we inform you that there can be a happy ending, at least in litigations, as it has happened in this case.
However, the advice we will never tire of giving you, is to request a valid authentication and a complete diagnostic file before purchasing!
The picture from private collection, “The temptations of St. Jerome“, attributed to Giorgio Vasari, a brilliant painter, architect, historian and biographer of the Italian Renaissance, was sold at auction at a world-record price for the artist of 800,000 euros.
A great satisfaction for the auction house, and a supposedly good time for ancient art, even one should consider that this selling price is still around 16% of, for example, the 5 million euros paid for “Black Ground (Deep Light)” by contemporary artist Julie Mehretu. (Don’t you know her?)
Vasari’s painting, on whose autography none appears to have doubts, is accompanied by a free circulation certificate, and therefore can be exported outside Italy. We therefore do not know if it will remain in the country.
The painting is identical in its subject and size to the one exhibited at the Galleria Palatina in Florence, that Art-Test studied in 2010, during its restoration.
Given the almost perfect overlap of the version at auction with that in the public collection, a comparative study would have been interesting, a reflectographic survey, for example, to establish which of the two versions was the first, and to investigate the adherence to the execution methods in which Vasari excelled.
Art-Test, in fact, had the pleasure of investigating many paintings by this extraordinary artist, and admiring, in addition to his sublime inventions, the extraordinary technical ability of himself and of his atelier.
Trump will leave the White House and hopefully he is packing his lies and anti-scientific attitude.
How about his art? He loves fakes to bits.
He is known for having a phony Renoir in his apartment (formerly on his plane), and having raided the France’s ambassador residence taking a Benjamin Franklin bust, a Franklin portrait and a set of figurines of Greek mythical characters.
However, they were also fakes. The figurines date to the early 20th century and were made by Neapolitan artist Luigi Avolio, simulating a 16th or 17th centuries style.
After White House art curators examined the pieces, also the Franklin bust appeared to be a replica. The Franklin portrait snagged from Paris was also a copy of the one by Joseph Siffred Duplessis painted in France in 1785, which now hangs in the Oval.
Instead, he did not want to buy an original Andy Warhol, that the pop art artist made for the Trump tower: it did not match the colour scheme.
So we though it could be now the right moment to offer him this authentic masterpiece.
Go Kamala Go!
Armine Harutyunyan was recently addressed as the “ugly” Gucci model and violently attacked.
This was certainly not the judgement that Laura Battiferri received five centuries ago.
The important nose did not frighten Bronzino when he wanted to portray her, and, evidently, she did not have a problem with it either.
The profile brought her, a poetess, closer to the great Dante. So did the book that she elegantly holds in her hands: it refers to Petrarch (and to her first name).
Laura Battiferri, in fact, the legitimate daughter of a noble prelate from Urbino, had received a humanistic education and, at the time of the portrait, was an esteemed literary woman, with access to the cultured circles of Renaissance.
Married for the first time and widowed, she remarried in 1550 with Bartolomeo Ammannati, an appreciated sculptor and architect. She regularly frequented Michelangiolo, Benvenuto Cellini, Benedetto Varchi, Annibal Caro and other Florentine intellectuals, and was in correspondence with other poetesses, such as Lucia Bertani from Bologna and Laura Terracina from Naples.
Laura never had children, but a very successful marriage.
She published her first volume with Giunti in 1560 and was admitted to the prestigious Accademia degli Intronati in Siena. Her fame crossed borders and she was known from Madrid to Prague.
Bronzino’s portrait of her is of poignant beauty, but it is not the only one. There is another one by Alessandro Allori in San Giovannino degli Scolopi in Florence.
While she was collecting all her verses for the third book Rime, Laura dieds, at almost 66 years of age. She was buried in the church of San Giovannino.
On the request of Bartolomeo, inn “Christ and the Canaanite” Allori represents l’Ammannati as Saint Bartholomew and, on the right side of the Canaanite woman, Laura is seen as an elderly matron, still with a book in her hands, but this time a religious volume.
Bronzino’s painting is kept in the Palazzo Vecchio Museum in Florence, where it is exhibited together with all the works of the Loeser donation (i.e. the bequest to the municipality of Florence by the American art historian Charles Loeser).
Stay tuned, more news soon!
Have you ever wondered if art today is truly free, if it is truly democratic or if it makes distinction between sexes?
Making art is in all probability one of the oldest profession, and the presence of women in this area has been documented since a long time, certainly centuries. However, women artists have only recently been able to feel confident in signing their artworks. And only in the last few years they have they received some recognition, although still not commensurate with the real female presence and talent.
Why do women still have to work so hard to see their value recognized?
Discrimination is a real problem. How it is possible that, even today, in this society, there is still a strong gender discrimination?
What is certain is that investing in a woman is a gamble and the data speak for themselves: the female presence in the art market has discomforting numbers, just glimpse through at “The French Culture” by Morineau: “women are taken into consideration by galleries much less than men. In the twentieth century, most of them did not have a gallery to represent it and, even today, the works that bear a female signature have a much lower value than those of men (between 16-30% less)” .
If you go to visit a museum, you will immediately realize that most of the works on display are by male authors: according to a 2019 study by the Public Library of Science, in the permanent collections of most important US museums only 13% of artworks are by female authors.
Moreover, data show that, in the primary market, female artists represent only 44% of the artists exhibited in galleries. It is frustrating, considering that the number of female graduates from art schools far exceeds that of males. As for the secondary market, the situation is even more disastrous; in 2019 the works of female artists sold at auction represented only 7% of the total and 6% of the total turnover.
Why is it so?
Numerous studies like, “Glass ceilings in the art market” (2018, Bocart, Gertsberg and Tilburg) highlight the enormous difficulties that women have to face in order to enter the secondary market. Top 0.03% of the art (which corresponds to 40% of the total value of sales) turns out to be completely inaccessible to women. Just to get an idea: in 2019, only 7% exceeds the figure of 1 million dollars and even lower than 5% is the percentage of works that exceeds 10 million dollars.
It is essential to reflect on how necessary it is to re-evaluate the role of women in the artistic world. The first step is to recognise that a gender issue is present.
But what are the reasons for this gap? Why is a man such much favoured over a woman in the market, especially the secondary one?
Educational initiatives for inclusion not only in the art market but in all areas need to take place, because in the end, as always, art is a mirror of society, and a society that discriminates against women cannot be called free or democratic, nor can the art that reflects it.
Have you ever tried to imagine your life without art?
That thing you always thought was frivolous, superficial and superfluous, not your core business, bit of a waste of time, that thing that I may read later, now I don’t feel like it, it is not so important.
The same thing that makes you better, beautiful, cultured people. That pushes you to go to museums, and to distant cities, thta makes you pull out your mobile to take hundreds of photos (which you punctually ruin with big faces with unlikely expressions). The one that makes you gasp and makes your heart sing.
Arguably, art saved us during the first terrible and interminable lockdown, all glued to the screens waiting for a new culture pill. And now? Now nothing … Museums and exhibitions are again closed, in most part of the world, no galleries, no fairs: art has fallen into oblivion, and the sector is struggling, many risk closure.
The phenomenon has a global reach. The Brooklyn museum was forced to sell 12 works from the collection at Christie’s. The paintings offered for sale were by big names like Donato de ‘Bardi, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Gustave Courbet, Corot, Miro’. A new sale is coming.
What will happen to this art? Probably in private hands, someone will have itjust for themselves. And we will (almost) all be a little poorer.
(Chiara Martine Menchetti)
Is art only a matter for good family ladies or unscrupulous forgers? The portrait of the art world in many of the media is polarized around these two scenarios, which are also punctually to be found in Christopher Nolan‘s film.
The movies still amazes with special effects, but bores with unnecessary shootings and even more useless stereotypes about the art world. And the film doesn’t pass the BECHDEL test. To pass the test there must be at least two women talking to each other and their conversation must concern something other than a man. Easy? It must be said that not many films pass the test.Try to think of more than three.
Inheritances never leave us unmoved: they inevitably accompany a passage, they bring with them existential/geographical reflections (who we are, where we come from, where we go… etc. etc.), they disappoint the venal when they do not meet their expectations, especially when horrible cousins come in the way.
We don’t know exactly what emotions are behind the story we are about to tell you, but rediscovering in a house in the department French of Ain a work by Alfred Sisley will certainly have been a nice surprise!
The work, signed and dated 1892, represents a view of Rue des Fossées in Moret- sur- Loing where the artist lived. The painting remained for about 130 years in the home of a descendant family of Alfred Ernst, art and music critic, in turn a relative of the artist Charles Cottet who had exhibited with Sisley in 1890. The painting was auctioned for 250,100 euros. It will also be included in the reasoned catalogue of Sisley’s work by Francois Daulte, soon to be published.
Certainly the signature and the place of discovery are key elements in the study and attribution of a work, but just as certainly it is the diagnostic analysis that helps us to complete the puzzle!
Let’s face it, if we’re part of the big group of mere mortals, our online shopping will probably cover yet another pair of “uncomfortable but I must have them” high heels, yet another beige cardigan that we’re sure won’t be damaged by the wrong washing, as it happened with the previous twenty ones (we’re sure we’ve learned the lesson), some futuristic device to certainly improve the quality of life of the most tech-addict of us, or a lock as heavy as a remorse that will cost us more than the bike itself.
But there is a whole other kind of online shopping that has flourished and spread in these times of pandemic and that seems destined to surprise us again and for a long time: that of online auctions.
Let’s mention perhaps the most striking cases: Sotheby’s, which last June presented, among others, Francis Bacon’s triptych inspired by the Aeschylus Orestea (1981) to which Christie’s responded the following month with the event auction “One: a Global Sale of the 20th Century” including Roy Lichtenstein’s Nude with Joyous Painting (1994) and just last October 6, during the evening auction “20th Century” there was “Nature Mort avec pot au lait, melon et sucrier”, presented as Cézanne‘s largest watercolor on auction in recent decades, sold for 28.6 million dollars.
The virus has not affected the passion of collectors, indeed the market seems to enjoy excellent and excited health! Now more than ever is evident the decisive role of the diagnostic dossier that must accompany each work in order to feel safe buying on-line. Art is something we like to invest in!
And, suddenly, the beige sweater has lost all its charm. Let’s get him off the wishlist, come on.
P.S. Was it foreseen by the recent Nobel Laureates who won the prize for economy?
At the long-awaited Florence Heritech conference, Art-Test in collaboration with two departments of the University of Florence, with S.T.Art-Test, and with the National Optical Institute of the CNR, will present “Forensic Imaging for Art Diagnostics. What evidence should we trust?“.
The work presents the first results on the scientific analysis of the integrity of diagnostic images, and in particular X-rays images.This is a relevant topic since more and more often these imagines are, rightly so, used to support or dismiss an attribution. This is a totally new subject that is being addressed for the first time in the scientific literature. For this year the conference will be held online from 14 to 16 October, and the proceeding, subject to rigorous review by experts, will be published by IOP Conference Series: Materials Science and Engineering, an indexed journal, and as always, in open access mode, therefore accessible to all.
We will miss direct interaction with other participants but we hope that this format will allow a good number of people to follow remotely. Don’t miss it! The event calendar will be announced on October 14th here
The longstanding question regarding the authentication of artworks, both old master and modern ones, is always relevant. Even today, no shared scientific protocols have been established, so to start a correct discussion on this topic. Not later than last week, this problem became clear again at auction.
Two paintings declared “FOLLOWER OF SIR PETER PAUL RUBENS, about 1700”, had already been sold six months ago by the same gallery but with a different attribution: “CICLE OF SIR PETER PAUL RUBENS” were auctioned.
What has happened in the last six months that got the paintings from being a “workshop” to being a “copy” of the following century? Moreover, the same two artworks eleven years ago were offered by another large auction house for a double estimate. How can this happen? What information was added between one auction and another?
The Condition Reports which are generally published –same here- report only the conservation conditions, observed rather superficially.
The provenance only rarely adds decisive information on the autograph. As indeed this is the case this time as well. We wonder why it is not explicitly stated in the catalogue if any type of analysis has been performed that has implied consequences for the attribution. One could think of analyses performed showing an anachronism in the materials used, or a C14 on the wooden support.
A Condition Report enriched with Radiography, Reflectography and colour analysis would have clarified many doubts.
Especially at a time like this, where auction houses only offer online sales, it would be appropriate to offer works with more detailed curricula, also enriched with elements that the human eye cannot perceive. This could offer complete transparency, a de-risking for the investment and therefore an incentive to buy. Who would buy with closed eyes?
The day after is about to arrive. What will change in the art world?
Il Giornale dell’Arte dedicates an insert to the reopening.
136 contributions from museum directors, superintendents, foundations directors but also gallery owners, auction house managers and publishers. All aware that the return to normality will not mean restoring the same status quo of March 8.
Let us comment on it together. What has changed in the meantime? During the Coronavirus explosion, “digital” has had space.
In these almost 70 days, many museums have offered virtual visits and digital contributions. Also as regards the art market, which saw the cancellation of fairs and events, the digital response was immediate. Galleries and auction houses have changed physical appointments into digital appointments: online auctions, and other tools for the most demanding customers, with dedicated virtual environments.
Will digital continue to be massively used even after the end of the quarantine?
Minister Dario Franceschini spoke of a possible portal, such as Netflix, where it will be possible to publish original content, not freely shared on other sites or social pages. Cultural products on payment.
So far, everything was all for free. We are back to the question how culture should be accessible to everyone. Nevertheless, it is useless to hide that the idea of a culture accessible to everyone is probably not sustainable. For a time still not defined, and definable, the cultural sector, firmly linked to the tourism sector, will have limited resources. Especially small businesses.
However, we would like to reiterate that making culture is not at no cost, not even for the digital part. Behind any contribution published in recent months, there are hours of work of many professionals, who have invested in accelerating spreading the understanding of the digital language with their work. They can’t work for free forever. If these digital contents are truly the solution to attract and communicate with possible visitors, and return back to surplus, they must be recognized for the value they have, avoiding to think of them as pastimes. Or accessory tools at best.
Now is really time to create a new future for culture, and to recognize the creation of content for digital use, the space and resources they deserve. An evolution and growth opportunity for the cultural system.
Let’s see if we can take it!
Illicit trafficking in works of art to finance terrorism, money laundering, hidden financing.
“Organized crime has many faces,” added Catherine de Bolle, Europol’s executive director. “The trafficking of cultural goods is one of them: It is not a glamorous business run by flamboyant gentlemen forgers, but by international criminal networks. You cannot look at it separately from combating trafficking in drugs and weapons: We know that the same groups are engaged, because it generates big money.”
Moreover, even in the consultation of the European Commission for new actions against money laundering, launched to collect input from all citizens, but above all from the most interested parties, there are art dealers in the list of involved stakeholders.
It is evident that for art dealing it is considered necessary to introduce greater control, to make the art market more transparent. However, the value of artworks is inevitably conditioned by their authenticity, which affects the profits that can be made from them. Or by their alleged authenticity. And the absence of shared protocols for certification of works of art leaves much room for maneuver.
Something needs to change