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Advocates 'adopt' Apostles to restore largest painting by Renaissance woman artist
Preparing 'the Apostles' for the Santa Maria Novella Museum. Photo: Francesco Cacchiani.

FLORENCE.- Florentine Renaissance painter Plautilla Nelli authored the only early Last Supper by a woman artist and signed her massive masterwork with a call to action: 'Pray for the 'paintress'. Advancing Women Artists, a US-based non-profit restoring art by women in Florence for over a decade has taken Nelli's petition literally: Pray for the paintress so that the hidden half of the Renaissance may be fully revealed. Pray for the paintress to celebrate Nelli's creative legacy and encourage art lovers the world over to safeguard her art through restoration.

AWA's 'Adopt an Apostle' program is Phase II of 'TheFirstLast', a four-year restoration, in collaboration with the Municipality of Florence, that was launched in 2015. Its crowd-funding campaign completed two years later garnered $65,000 in on-line contributions from 410 donors in 19 countries. The 'adoption' of the painting’s figures by individuals throughout the world ($10,000 per saint and $25,000 for the figure of Christ) will catapult the project toward completion, making Nelli's Last Supper ready for exhibition in Florence’s Museum of Santa Maria Novella in October 2019. Thomas, Simon and Philip are still seeking 'parents', while the other Saints are well on their way to being 'saved'.

Florence Mayor Dario Nardella has been at the forefront of Nelli's restoration whilst spearheading a massive restoration project for the SMN Museum: "I hope that all the Apostles will soon be 'adopted', and that the restoration will soon be completed. I appeal to the generosity of the Florentines, so that together with citizens from other countries can give 'The Last Supper' new life. Plautilla Nelli was the most important female painter of the Florentine Renaissance and her city will pay her homage by exhibiting this work in the Santa Maria Novella Museum Complex."

As the Last Supper's three missing patrons join the restoration effort, confirmed adopters of Nelli's Apostles share what they find most intriguing about the artist and her painting:

An entrepreneur against all odds. "Nelli's all-women workshop made her convent self-sufficient. Renaissance women did not have legal standing and could not issue invoices. The fact she became a working artist and entrepreneur is a success story for creative women everywhere, in the fields of both art and business." --Alice Vogler, Saint James the Elder, for Lynne Wisneski, art patron

One giant canvas for womankind. "It was illegal for women to study anatomy, but that did not stop Nelli from emulating Leonardo by tackling the life-size male, probably by studying the corpses of deceased nuns. Her workshop stitched together three twenty-one-foot canvases, and then constructed scaffolding. It's amazing!" --Ted and Deborah Lilly, Saint Andrew

The signature, the sign. "Renaissance masters didn't usually sign their works, but Nelli did. I think she wanted posterity to know the painting was authored by a woman. Women artists simply did not tackle history painting, life-size figures and least of all Last Suppers which came to symbolize male mastery." ---AWA founder Jane Fortune. Saint Matthew for Bob Hesse, the organization's co-founder.

Restoration produces 'art detectives'. "We hope to identify each of Nelli's Apostles by comparing her work with that of her sixteenth-century counterparts. The chance to become an art detective is exciting. Thomas, Judas and John are known for certain, the rest await rediscovery as does the painter herself." ---Bill Fortune and Joe Blakley, Saint Peter

Do Nelli's paintings have spiritual power? "As artistic heir to Fra' Bartolomeo, whose 500 drawings she inherited. Florentine nobles believed her works to be holy. Many nuns of Nelli's time had 'visions'; the only way women could speak unchallenged was through divine intervention. The strength of this painting is spiritually moving." ---Jane Adams, Saint Bartholomew, in memory of Josephine O'Brien, a chemist who would have been interested in how Nelli learned to mix pigments

A community of women. "Since the 1966 flood, restoration has become a field dominated by women in Florence. Nelli's restorer Rossella Lari works with two female museum curators, of the 30-plus that direct the city's museums. It is important to see today's successful women working to reclaim the forgotten past." ---Cay Fortune, in recognition of Jane Fortune's work with Advancing Women Artists

A winning case. "We wanted to make the connection between this pioneering artist and a very modern judicial leader by adopting the patron saint of Lost Causes, for Beverley McLachlin, the first female Chief Justice of Canada's Supreme Court, Canada's court of last resort. Nelli will 'win her own case' as her legacy is reclaimed." ---Margaret MacKinnon and Wayne McArdle, Saint Judas Thaddeus for Beverley McLachlin

Can we tell the work was painted by a woman? "Women artists in history were often praised for their eye for detail, and Nelli led the way. Details are surfacing thanks to restoration. You can now see the decorative borders on Jesus' collar and cuffs or his eyelashes (not generally a feature for men in art during Renaissance times)." ---Donna Malin, Jesus Christ, for John and Sophie Lalas, her grandparents

How Nelli's Last Supper is bringing people together. "Nelli's masterwork encapsulates great Florentine traditions: art and food. No painter puts as much food on the table as she does… the tablecloth is ironed, the dinnerware fine. It represents unity, in more ways than one. Food and art are two forces that unify people no matter their background." --Nancy Galliher, Saint James the Younger

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