Posts Tagged ‘Art Restoration’

Leonardoda VinciSalvator Mundi

Leonardo da Vinci
Salvator Mundi

An inscrutable smile, a curious pose and mesmerizing eyes are all reminiscent of the Mona Lisa. Over the course of centuries missing da Vinci’s have been coveted and searched for. No less true for the Salvator Mundi, Leonardo’s “Savior of the World.”

The story of the painting’s journey crosses country boundaries and centuries of time. About one hundred years after the painting was completed, an engraving was made of the work by Wenceslaus Hollar, a Bohemian engraver. Over twenty copies of the painting are known to exist.

It was in 1763, upon the sale of the contents of Buckingham House (now Palace) that the painting disappeared from view. 137 years later, in 1900, Sir Frederick Cook acquired the painting for his personal collection. Cook’s descendants sold the work at auction in 1958 for £58.00, believing it to be yet another copy-and a poor one at that.

As with nearly all works of the Renaissance, there were many copies made over the course of centuries. Such is certainly the case of the Salvator Mundi, whose copies number over twenty.


Salvator Mundi

It was only upon further inspection and study by the art historian and New York art dealer, Robert Simon, and a team of other experts that the hidden secrets of the painting became known. Damaged by numerous attempts at restoration, including poor work on the wood panel upon which the work was painted, it took patience, the use of x-ray and infrared study as well as other scientific methods to discover that this is the original da Vinci.

There were many crucial points of evidence that have convinced the art world that this is truly by Leonardo. The attention to the detail of the painting, the beauty of the crystal orb that Christ holds in his left hand (a symbol of the world) and, most importantly, pentimenti, proved the marks of the master.

Pentimenti? These are preliminary positioning and design that the artist changes in the course of the work. The detail that finally gave the conservators the information they needed was, interestingly enough, was the thumb on Christ’s raised hand. Upon infrared inspection it was discovered that the thumb had originally been in a slightly different position than that on the final work. Further, the pigment’s consistency, the type of media used and the technique all prove, without doubt, that this is the original.

Art experts from Florence to Milan, New York, Washington and Paris studied the restored work and all have agreed; da Vinci’s work. What is still not clear is when or where the painting was completed. Some believe it was painted in Milan around the time of the Last Supper. Others believe that it was painted in Florence after Leonardo moved to the city in 1500.

Regardless, the fascinating and mesmerizing eyes, the finely captured blessing hand and the living and breathing figure we encounter only serve to add further mystery to the works of Leonardo.

After years of studying Italian Renaissance art, I have come to believe that it is Leonardo’s eyes that truly fascinate us. Their hypnotic similarity, their quixotic inscrutability are what draw us in. Give this some thought, a combined photo of an eye of the Salvator Mundi and an eye of the Mona Lisa. Hmmm…

The Eyes of Da Vinci

The Eyes of Da Vinci

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It is a symbol of hope, illuminated from the shadows of November 1966, the days of the flood.

Crucifixion, ca. 1265
Post Restoration

Those who love Italy cried in the wake of the early days of November 1966 when waters, as deep as sixteen feet, tore through and across Florence and western Tuscany. Heating oil, from tanks in cellars across the city,  broke. Water, infused with oil and the detritus of city living, of trees and farm animals who died in the mountains east of the city, poured into the most treasured museums and libraries of this most favored of Renaissance cities.

In the monastic cellar below the church of Santa Croce, the ‘pantheon’ for many famous Renaissance artists and city leaders, lay a 13th Century Crucifixion by the early period artist, Cimabue. Bencivieni di Pepo or in modern Italian, Benvenuto di Giuseppe, was born in 1240. Many people do not know his name. Yet, when his role as the teacher of Giotto is made clear, visitors understand his importance to the world of western art. His work broke with the stilted style of post medieval art and was one of the earliest works depicting the figure of Christ, his mother and John the baptist. Created by Cimabue’s hand was a human figure, someone with all the characteristics of ‘real’ people.

For Florentines, the work was the penultimate treasure of their city, a symbol both artistically and figuratively of the birth of renaissance art.

In early November 1966, flood waters nearly destroyed this masterpiece. With over sixty percent of the

Facade, Santa Croce

surface  damaged or destroyed, the city prepared to mourn the loss of an irreparable treasure. The art world rallied with experts and the citizens of bella Firenze and, in 1976 the work was again displayed for the world to enjoy.

Last Supper &
Tree of Life
Taddeo Gaddi

Damaged, as well, during the flood was the huge fresco that covers the western wall of refectory. Taddeo Gaddi’s monumental work of the Tree of Lfe and the Last Supper are additional masterpieces housed in this little visited  hall of the church. In 1335 Gaddi, who was the godson of yet another early Renaissance Master, Giotto, began work on these frescoes. The Last Supper (Cenacolo in Italian) was significantly covered in oil tainted water in the wake of the flood; you would hardly know that today. Due to the incredible work of an art restoration team, the Last Supper was completely restored, and the Tree of Life (and other of Gaddi’s works, the Four Miracles) were brilliantly returned to life.

Many visitors enter Santa Croce to pay homage to the sepulchers of the famous. When you visit Santa Croce, take a moment to visit the Refectory where Gaddi’s fresco overwhelms and Cimabue’s masterpiece holds pride of place.


Santa Croce Basilica and Cloister

Piazza Santa Croce, Florence

Monday – Saturday 9:30AM – 5:00PM

Closed: January 1, Feast of St. Francis on October 4, Christmas 25 December, Feast of St. Steven on 26 December, Easter, Easter Monday, 1 May and 2 June.

NOTE: Ticket office entrance is along the north wall of the Basilica. If you are facing the facade of the Baslilica, walk to the left side of the building to locate the ticket office. This is the official visitors entrance.

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