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Category → frescoes

Drilling Holes In To One Painting To Look For Another. Hmm…

Drilling into a Vasari painting to look for a da Vinci. Credit: National Geographic.

This blog devotes a lot of digital real-estate to cool experiments on art and artifacts that are non-invasive, or at least minimally so.

So I’ve got to admit that I was not particularly overwhelmed by the breathless reports last week in a myriad of media about a project to drill 14 holes into a Vasari painting in order to search for a possibly hidden da Vinci below.

The articles were subsequent to a press release by National Geographic on March 12, which was presumably trying to raise interest in a documentary about the project airing a few days later (March 18).

Yesterday the well-respected Art-Info published an interesting take-down of the drilling project, entitled “The Search for the Lost Da Vinci Fresco: Serious Science or Irresponsible Hype?”

The piece pointed to a protest-petition against the project signed by 530 members of the museum community, including high-profile curators at the Met and the Louvre.

According to the Art-Info article, none of these critical folks got face-time in the National Geographic Channel documentary. This is how the writer Kate Deimling put it:

    “”Finding the Lost Da Vinci,” which aired on the National Geographic Channel on March 18, certainly looked like an infomercial for the project. The program’s narrator describes opposition to the drilling as a “media feeding frenzy” and an “attack from the press,” but none of the experts opposed to it is interviewed or even mentioned by name. Instead, scientists in lab coats decry the opposition to their work and are then seen boring holes into the painting while dramatic music plays.”

The Art-Info piece also voices criticism from the conservation science community, namely that the pigments detected by the drilling project might be from brick instead of paint.

Another criticism is that non-invasive analytical equipment (such as newer radar technologies) should be used instead of destructive drilling.

Bringing A Controversial Mural in LA Back To Life

By David Alfaro Siqueiros. From www.olvera-street.com

In 1932, David Alfaro Siqueiros got kicked out of Mexico for his political leanings so the artist spent six months in Los Angeles, California, where he produced a controversial mural called América Tropical.

Siqueiros may not be as well-known as his teacher and contemporary Diego Rivera, but these two, along with José Orozco, formed “Los Tres Grandes,” the big three Mexican muralists of the early 20th century.

During his stint in LA, Siqueiros was asked to paint a mural on a second story wall that overlooked Olvera Street, which was–and still is–a romanticized, somewhat kitschy Mexican market set up for tourists.

The idea was for Siqueiros to produce something that celebrated tropical America. The expectation was probably that it might be a romanticized vision of Mexico—just like the street below.

Instead Siqueiros, who was a die-hard Communist, produced a profoundly political piece of art: A crucified indigenous Mexican is at the forefront of the mural, with an American Eagle flying ominously above. A sharp shooter approaches from the right with his gun aimed at the Eagle.

To say the piece made a splash is a pretty major understatement. Continue reading →

Up Some Scaffolding, En Route To Heaven

At the top of the scaffolding in Capella Maggiore. ©Sarah Everts

During most of my visits to Italy, I end up with neck cramps after craning my head backward for hours to look at faraway ceiling frescoes in churches across the country. But last week, I found myself peering directly into the eyes of fresco angels at the top of the Capella Maggiore in Florence’s famous Santa Croce Basilica.

These frescoes have been under restoration since 2005 and for the next few months small groups of people can climb the scaffolding to view the artwork up close. The frescoes were painted in the 1380s by Agnolo Gaddi, a disciple of Giotto, one of the architects of the Italian Renaissance.

I climbed up the scaffolding with Mariarosa Lanfranchi, a restorer from the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, Italy’s foremost restoration laboratory. She’s been leading the fresco restoration project.

One of the first questions she asked me is whether I suffer from vertigo, because we would be going up about 30 meters to reach the very top of the cathedral. Assured that I wouldn’t suffer a panic attack, she began her awesome tour by telling me that the last restoration of part of the church’s frescoes was in the 1930 or 40s.

Angels up close. ©Sarah Everts

Since then, air pollution has coated the art with a layer of brownish grime. Meanwhile, construction around the city has covered the artwork with little chunks of gypsum dust. The frescoes are porous, and with the city’s high humidity, the gypsum penetrated into the frescoes, giving the artwork a rather speckled look, Lanfranchi explained.

To remove the grime and gypsum, the restorers used the “Florentine method,” a combination treatment of ammonium carbonate, followed by a treatment of barium hydroxide, Lanfranchi said. The first step of adding the ammonium carbonate dissolves the unwelcome dust and gypsum (calcium sulfate dihydrate) so that both can be removed from the surface and inside the fresco’s pores.
Continue reading →