Florence and Rome
Florence and Rome
The repainting of pictures was not favoured by Tuscan authors writing on art, and, remaining faithful to Vasari’s concept of “disegno”, they are also careful to recommend conservation for earlier works pre-dating the modern manner in painting. Within the literary tradition, Masaccio was very much present (although often confused with Filippino Lippi in the cycle of frescos in the Carmine), as well as the artists active at the turn of the sixteenth century to whom Vasari had guaranteed renown, and Andrea del Sarto.
In his Ragionamenti delle regole del disegno, which was published around the same date as Vasari’s work, Alessandro Allori mentioned in passing the cleaning in 1565 of the frescos in the Brancacci Chapel in the Carmine, as well as Agnolo Gaddi’s cycle in the main chapel of the church. And in 1627, a certain Giuliano Fratellini, having discovered a secret method of cleaning paintings, noted that this method had then been used with good results on the frescos by Ghirlandaio and Filippino Lippi in Santa Maria Novella. Baldinucci referred to the cleaning in 1688 of the two equestrian portraits by Paolo Uccello and Andrea del Castagno in the Duomo in Florence: “not having removed any brightness of colour” their paintings remained as we “had seen and enjoyed them for so long beforehand”.
Apart from these restorations which show the continued interest in fifteenth-century works, in March 1590 a sum was paid to Alessandro Allori for having directed the “cleaning” (“rifioritura”) and restoration of Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio’s frescos in the chapel of Palazzo Vecchio, as well as the frieze by Cecchino Salviati in the Sala di Camillo, the whole operation taking thirty-nine and a half days. For other paintings which have very old retouchings (such as the Deposition from the Compagnia del Tempio dell’Angelico), we can date the restoration from the fact that the works were submerged in the flood of 1557: extensive restorations of the paint layer can be seen in Fra Bartolomeo’s and Giuliano Bugiardini’s Deposition which is now in the Palazzo Pitti, and in Andrea del Sarto’s Madonna of the Harpies, in which the whole of the lower section which was present until the recent restoration, was the work of an artist who had replicated with a good deal of understanding the style of the original.
Baldinucci, when not deploring the quality of interventions on paintings by past masters, only mentioned the activity of restoration if this element was useful in the understanding of the character of a particular artist. This is the case, for instance, with Carlo Dolci, a pious and modest man, who during his sojourn in Innsbruck had retouched for the Archduchess of Austria “several devotional paintings, created by worthy men, which time had spoiled”. At times, the restorations seem to indicate a certain pietas for the Old Masters (of the kind shown by Vasari towards Perino del Vaga): when Pope Urban VIII granted the Church of the Santissima Annunziata in Florence the privilege of four peniteтtiaries, a commemorative stone was erected:
“When the builders and labourers made the holes in the wall beneath the loggia so as to be able to erect scaffolding and comfortably place the inscription, one of the them was so thoughtless as not to realize that on the other side of the wall, in the small cloister, were the wonderful stories from the life of San Filippo Benizzi, painted by Andrea del Sarto. He dug through the entire thickness of the wall, emerging on the other side with the result that two of the most beautiful heads along with part of the chest, painted by that great master in the story of the resurrection of the child, fell to the ground . Having heard this, Passignano rushed to the scene and having searched for the fallen pieces with great care amidst the rubble, retrieved them and with the greatest diligence, put them back where they had come from, so that the heads were once again almost as beautiful as they had been originally, with only the finest hair cracks visible at the joins. And thus, that which was seen then with great anguish by lovers of art, because of Passignano’s skill, is today looked at with wonder.”
Giovanni Bottari recounted a similar incident concerning Cecchino Salviati’s fresco in the Palazzo Vecchio representing Camillo attacking Brenno, in which – in one the fallen participants – one can still detect the joins in the intonaco where Baldassare Franceschini (il Volterrano) picked up and replaced the fallen pieces.
In Baldinucci’s Vocabolario toscano dell’arte del disegno, the term “rifiorire” clearly makes the distinction between these integrating interventions, whether conservation or restoration, and the retouching, reworking or reconstruction which were always condemned whether or not they were arbitrary:
“Almost to flower as new: extremely colloquial term which is used by the common people to describe their unbearable foolishness in having old paintings covered with a new layer of paint if they have been somewhat darkened with the passage of time, and usually by the hand of some unskilled practitioner, which not only removes the beauty of the painting, but also any appreciation of its antiquity. One could term to restore, or to repair or to bring back to a state of well-being, the remedies applied to small sections of a painting even by one of the greatest masters, where paint has been lost or otherwise damaged, which it is easy for a skilled hand to carry out; and as far as the painting is concerned, it only seems that one is removing that defect – however small – which disfigures and ruins the work. However, there are many, and not entirely lacking in expertise in the field of art, who have been of the opinion that great paintings must never be retouched even a little or at all, not even by those skilled in the practice because, whether immediately or with time, and to whatever extent or degree, the restoration will always become visible; it is also true that a painting which is not pure, untouched, will always be accompanied by a poor reputation”.
In addition, the manner in which Baldinucci referred to the cleaning of paintings (another way of making them “reflower”) was quite rightly brought up at the time of the “cleaning controversy”:
“This term rifiorire has also been understood by ignorant people as the practice of cleaning old paintings; which at times is carried out with the same lack of restraint as might be employed in rough-hewing a piece of marble. They do not take into account that it is often the case that the nature of the priming or ground layer is unknown, as is that of the pigments employed by the artist (and earth colours are much less susceptible to the action of lye or even milder cleaning agents than pigments artificially made). Not only do they endanger these paintings by losing with the cleaning the glazes, the half-tones and also the finishing touches, which constitutes their perfection; but they could flake off all in one go. I recall this happening to a fine self-portrait by Giovanni di San Giovanni, in oil on canvas. Maybe because the ornamentation required attention, it first went to a skilled gilder who, wanting to clean it, used the same method he had previously used on many paintings. Cleaning accomplished, almost immediately the priming and the paint began to flake off and fall to the ground in tiny pieces, and soon nothing of the original beautiful picture remained but the canvas and the stretcher”.19 In his search for authoritative figures that he could use to back his position against restorations, the description Baldinucci gave of Passignano is significant. He described him as an artist who “held the art he practised in the highest esteem, and the works of skilled artists in high regard; because of this he would refuse to lay a finger on their creations, nor would he tolerate anyone else doing so”; to the extent that he refused do allow the traces of the casting to be removed from a bronze Crucifix by Prospero di Brescia, as well as not allowing it to be cleaned “as it seemed to him that no one but the artist could carry this out satisfactorily”.
The concern that he showed in the search for the fragments of Andrea del Sarto’s fresco and their reinstalment demonstrated the esteem in which he held Old Masters. However, the image we have of an artist respectful of the works of others is refuted by a documentary source which revealed that in 1618 he “paints” (colorisce) the panels of Sant’Agnese by Andrea del Sarto in the Duomo in Pisa, whilst Gaspare Celio related that the altarpiece in the Cappella degli Angeli in the Ges^ which was “by” Federico Zuccaro, “had been ruined by the Cavaliere Passignani”. Baldinucci himself, having described this attitude a few pages earlier, then goes on to mention in passing a panel in the old manner, with much gold ornamentation, which Passignano was repairing during his stay in Venice. This brings one back once again to the almost universally accepted demarcation between respectful interventions on paintings in the buona maniera, and the freedom of intervention in the renovation of paintings in the old manner.
The position characteristic of Baldinucci, with all the exceptions one might expect to find in practice, is in some way reflected in the respect shown in the enlargements carried out to Florentine altarpieces between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. In the church of Ognissanti, the Assumption by Francesco Traballesi was enlarged with an arched top by the addition of two angels, one of the Santi di Tito’s most pleasing creations; in San Giorgio alla Costa, the Conversion of San Giovanni Gualberto by Passignano was adapted to Foggini’s renovated altar, by the addition of a shaded coulisse, which created the illusion that the scene was taking place through an arch; whilst at the Carmine, Gregorio Pagani’s Adoration of the Magi was given an addition that perfectly matched the perfection of the surface of the original, which makes it one of the best preserved paintings in Florence.
In Rome also, renovations and restorations are often considered activities unsuited to a great master. Baglione joins Celio in deploring the restoration of the panel by Giulio Romano in Santa Maria dell’Anima, which was carried out by an artist for whom he had little regard (in terms of both his art and his behaviour), Carlo Saraceni: “wherever he had intervened, Giulio’s hand was no longer apparent, and all the masters were very unhappy that he [Saraceni] should have dared to lay a hand with so little restraint, on so precious a work”.
For artists living at this time, even the partial reworking of one of their paintings by a colleague could become a question of honour. Pietro da Cortona, compelled by Pope Innocent X to cover the nudity of the Christ child in a painting by Guercino which had been presented to the Pope by Prince Ludovisi, “wrote a letter of apology to Giovanni Francesco [Guercino], protesting that he had been compelled to ruin his painting”. Guido Reni, according to Bellori, “rightly complained” of the “excessive impudence” of Lanfranco who had replaced Reni’s angel in the Vision of Saint Ildefonso with the figure of a Virgin by his own hand, in the Cappella Paolina in Santa Maria Maggiore; a reworking (rifacimento) executed at the request of the same Pope, once Reni had returned to Bologna.
Artists who, like Federico Zuccaro, insisted on both the antiquity and the nobility of the art of painting (it was Zuccaro who first cleaned the Nozze Aldobrandine when this renowned Roman wall painting was first unearthed) extended this point of honour to encompass the defence of past masters. According to Baglione, “it happened that the painting of Saint Luke by the hand of Raphael, which the artist had donated to this place [the Accademia di San Luca], having incurred some damage was given to Scipione da Gaeta, a worthy member of the Academy, be put into order; he carried out the repairs and then, as he was accustomed to do in his own works, he painted in a card beneath the figure, with his name. Federico, seeing this, and taking note of Scipione di Gaeta’s presumption, destroyed the card and his signature, and covered him with insults, so that they came to blows, and it took much effort to calm them down. This is how zealously he guarded the honour of the great masters and of the excellent works of art”.
Giambattista Marino, writing to Bernardo Castello in 1604, felt obliged to apologize for having had Il Cavaliere d’Arpino retouch a Venus which had arrived in Rome in poor condition. A number of observations by Giulio Mancini show us a world more closely linked to collecting than to the conservation of paintings in churches. Mancini belongs wholly to the tradition that is critical of reworkings (rifacimenti), and we find him lamenting the retouching of more ancient works as well, such as those in the apse of San Lorenzo in Lucina (possibly), and on the Paradiso by Antonio Pastura in the Infirmary of Santo Spirito in Sassia. However, in his discussion on the conservation (manMenziowe) and presentation of paintings, he shows himself not to be averse to the application of varnish, nor indeed to the cleaning of paintings. Speaking of varnish, he cites the precedent of Apelles’ use of atramentum as described by Pliny the Elder, and asks himself how it could be suitable for paintings with tempera as the medium, such as those painted by the ancients, when modern usage of varnish was exclusively on paintings with oil as their medium. However, in San Giacomo degli Spagnoli, he had seen a painting which could no longer be enjoyed, restored with: “I know not what material, perhaps based on a varnish or maybe something else”. He felt that the cleaning of paintings should be entrusted to “intelligent men with a knowledge of what constitutes dirt on paintings, of the variation in pigments in different areas of the painting, for instance in the flesh, or in the draperies containing black pigment, and in other parts, as different pigments will suffer to different degrees from the cleaning process. Should there be such a master with knowledge of these distinctions, then I would recommend cleaning, as one can see in the altarpiece of the Birth of Marcello Santa Maria della Pace, which was cleaned recently and has come back to life. If no such master is available with this discernment, I would recommend leaving them as they are”.
From all over Italy and Europe, artists and their clients came together in Rome, each bringing their own customs and practices. As perhaps can be seen more clearly in Venice, alongside the various practices concerned with the conservation (manutenzione) of paintings, there is the tendency, associated with collecting, to improve and embellish works of art. Paul Brill repainted the landscape in a Story of Saint Benedict by Baldassare Peruzzi in the garden of San Silvestro in the Quirinale; Francesco Cozza restored paintings in private collections, as did Angelo Caroselli, who “held many secrets for the cleaning, and imitation of past styles (maniere)”. This activity was one which often resulted in minor reworkings or additions, such as the small Christ figure painted in by Cigoli in a Saint John in the Desert by Annibale Carracci in Casa Chigi, a collection which also records in its inventory a Nativity by Sodoma and a Venus Cutting her Nails with a Cherub, both retouched by Ventura Salimbeni. Of Borgognone, Baldinucci goes as far as to say that “for a certain sculptor”, he worked on some portraits by Velasquez which had been left – apparently – unfinished, and that he completed them.
In the case of frescos, an example might be the repainting of Sebastiano del Piombo’s Polyphemus in the Sala dei Pineti in the Farnesina, carried out in the middle of the seventeenth century, as well as the cleaning of the Sistine Chapel and the restoration of Raphael’s Sybils in Santa Maria della Pace, of which we have the details in a letter written by Fabio Chigi in 1627. The intervention became necessary due to the staining caused by the oiled paper used by copyists in tracing:
“Because this is a jealously guarded activity, I shared [the information] with monsignor Mancini, as well as with Giovanni Lanfranco and Cavalier Giuseppe D’Arpino, both excellent painters. I followed the procedure adopted in the Vatican, where the Sala Regia, which had become unrecognizable with the accumulated dust of years, was cleaned in the following manner, and now can be enjoyed to the full in all its painted details. We began with the Prophets above, continuing beneath the cornice with Raphael’s Sybils, and then proceeding in the following manner: with the bread from a country loaf, suitably moist inside and at times warmed, if necessary, the painting is rubbed, removing all the dust and the counter-effects of smoke, the air and time. Finally, a thin layer of glair is applied which revives the colours wonderfully”.
In his Lives, and in the manuscript annotations in the margins of a copy of Baglione, Bellori also referred to several examples of paintings which had suffered through poor cleaning or repainting: for instance, Domenichino’s frescos in San Luigi de’Francesi, his panel in San Lorenzo degli Speziali, the Tabitha by Baglione in Saint Peter’s which was retouched – and ruined – by the artist himself.26 However, in such a melting pot of diverse traditions as was Rome, it was Bellori who would become the author who, leaving behind the tradition which unconditionally condemned all restorations, and through his keen appraisal of the restoration work carried out under the direction of Maratta on Raphael’s frescos in the Stanze and the Loggia di Psiche, opened up the debate on the restoration of the painted image (restauro pittorico), which was to involve some of Europe’s most artistically cultivated authors of the eighteenth century.
In Florence, the attitude of respect towards tradition and towards the masters of old which we found in Baldinucci, in the eighteenth century led to some notable interventions on the older paintings of the Tuscan school. In 1730, Giovanni Bottari, in his preface to Raffaele Borghini’s Riposo, paused to comment on the conservation of good and ancient paintings, specifically using as examples paintings from the sixteenth-century school which corresponded to his taste, in contrast with the modern styles: “every one affected and mannered”. The Old Masters, when they lacked art, compensated for their lack with a close attention to nature, and left behind them works which were worthy of study for these qualities and for the “great treasure chest of old costumes and manners of the time”. Nevertheless, the earliest of these works referred to by Bottari were still the frescos of the Brancacci Chapel, for which he wished more respectful behaviour from the faithful who would light candles and hang ex voto to the miraculous Madonna on the altar.
The interest in the beginnings of painting remained alive in certain local traditions, for instance in the restorations which continued on the frescos of the Camposanto in Pisa (between 1665 and 1670, it was Zaccaria Rondinosi who worked on them, and in 1728 the Melani brothers, who were painters of perspectives and printmakers). This would eventually lead to an important intervention, such as the revision of the frescos in the Capellone degli Spagnoli in Santa Maria Novella by Agostino Veracini between 1731 and 1733, and of the Rinuccini Chapel in Santa Croce in 1736.
A pupil of Sebastiano Galeotti and of Sebastiano Ricci, Veracini produced paintings in an eclectic style, sometimes of note because of their high degree of culture, if not for any great pictorial beauty. In the Cappellone of the Spagnoli, it was his restorations on which Ruskin paused to remark, in his Mornings in Florence. For a long time, they led to perplexity and confusion, as, for instance, the addition of Giotto’s Campanile in the Via Veritatis, or the edifice in the Pentecost painted in the vault. Almost all these additions were removed in the restoration which took place around 1965; during the restoration of the Rinuccini Chapel which took place during this same period, accurate photographic documentation was carried out which allows one to follow in detail the work of the eighteenth-century restorer.
It is worth noting that Veracini would repaint the damaged parts of frescos, but would confine himself to the architecture and the backgrounds, whilst abstaining from “improvements” to the figures: he added mullioned windows to the end of the nave in the Temple of Jerusalem in the Cacciata di Giovacchino, simplified the coffered ceiling in the House of the Pharisee, painted over the now tarnished metal leaf of the cutlery in the Conversion of the Magdalen and Christ in the House of Martha and Mary; but in the case of the figures, with the exception of repainting some of the drapery, he only touched the hand of the youngest apostle participating in the feast of the Pharisee. Finally, as was also the case in the Capellone degli Spagnoli, he repainted in light blue the ultramarine of the backgrounds, interpreting them naturalistically, as skies. The proximity of Giovanni da Milano shows up the wretchedness of the eighteenth-century restoration, whilst on the works of Matteo di Picino (that is, “the Master of the Rinuccini Chapel”), the outcome of Agostino Veracini’s restoration is not displeasing: for instance, the leafy fronds with which he transformed the garden in the Noli me tangere, the abolition of a spatially ineffective wall replaced with a blue sky, and various 51, 52 divagations of a vegetable order.
Some of his restorations have received critical approbation, for instance the additions to Botticelli’s San Barnaba altarpiece, which are thought to be compensating for an earlier 53 mutilation. It should not be necessary to point out the eighteenth-century character of his paint handling, which can clearly be seen, for instance, in the shepherd’s dog in the Incontro alla Porta Aurea by Giovanni da Milano, were it not for the fact that until Erling Skaug’s verification of the punchmarks it had been generally assumed that the tondo representing Christ 54 painted in the centre of the vault of the Rinuccini Chapel was the product of the eighteenth- century restoration. Such a conclusion can easily be disproved if one looks at Veracini’s awkwardness in the restoration of a supposed Cimabue, a Madonna by Bernardo Daddi now in 55 the Accademia, restored in 1750.
An even greater ability than Veracini’s in adapting to the style of painters pre-dating the modern manner can be seen in the restorations of Ippolito Maria Cigna di Volterra, who was responsible for the 1732 repainting which, until 1966, covered part of Signorelli’s Circumcision in the National Gallery in London. Still in existence is his restoration of Luca Signorelli’s Annunciation in the Pinacoteca in Volterra, which was struck by lightning in
1731; a work which, as we now see it, is glazed with brown tones quite foreign to the taste of the painter from Cremona, and which was described by Cavalcaselle as one of the artist’s “most graceful and pleasing” works.