Paintings out of jail: the restoration of the paintings of Porto Azzurro.

On the 9th of April, at SACI (www.saci.florence.edu) a symposium was held on the paintings belonging to the Church of San Giacomo Maggiore the Fort of Elba, now the chapel of the current penitentiary.

The Symposium was an interesting opportunity to learn, thanks to the Superintendent of Pisa, Dott. Francesco D’Anselmo, the official Amedeo Mercurio and to Dr. Roberta Lapucci, head of the restoration department of SACI, about the history and the current status of the fortification built in 1603 on the initiative of Philip II, and the adjoining church. A nodal and strategic site to defend Elba and Argentario from pirate raids from the south and French attacks from the north. Depleted from this function, from the mid-nineteenth century the fortification was gradually converted to a penitential institution.

The paintings which belong to the church and were the subject of analysis and restoration are of the Florentine school and dated between the seventeenth and eighteenth century. They were donated by the Tuscan grand ducal court or commissioned by the governors of the Fort. The iconographic theme is centered on sacred subjects and honours the saints celebrated by the post-Tridentine tradition.

In 1987, because of a riot in the prison, the church was severely damaged and has since been abandoned.

Only now, thanks to the synergy between the SACI school and the Superintendent a project is being carried out to return to the public part of the goods stored here Art-Test has contributed a diagnostic campaign that has studied the first four paintings which underwent restoration. Both addressing conservation aspects and studying the genesis of the paintings through the study of the underlying composition, visualized thanks to reflectographic imaging performed.

The day ended with a praise for the initiative, with the confirmation of the obvious need to recover a site so important to the history of Elba island but also with a reflection, as underlined by dr. Mercurio on what could be the future of the church’s art apparatus. Currently it is not foreseen for the church to be reopened to the public. The restored works if not relocated would still remain unseen by the community. Alternative solutions are therefore being sought after. An alternative way of exhibit could for example include showing the diagnostic surveys to add intriguing information and create fascinating opportunities for the curious tourist.

Here the link to a video of the exhibition https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iS9Jb3GkM9o