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Saving at-risk art in Florence and Venice: Americans contribute to preserving universal cultural heritage
Maestro di Badia a Isola, Madonna and Child Enthroned with Angels, c. 1315, tempera and gold on panel, 172 cm. x 103 cm. (5’7” x 3’3”). Galleria Palazzo Cini, Venice.

NEW YORK, NY.- From the Monuments Men of World War II to the “Mud Angels” who rescued art and books in Florence and the art historians in Venice who responded to the November 1966 floods, Americans have played a substantial role in preserving cultural treasures in Italy.

Today Save Venice Inc. and the Friends of Florence Foundation launch a new preservation initiative in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the two great floods in Italy when the water in Venice’s Piazza San Marco rose to an unprecedented height of 194 cm. (6’4”), and the Arno overflowed its banks, leaving up to five meters (16’ 5”) of water in parts of Florence. The U.S.-based non-profit organizations will collaborate for the first time on restoration projects in Florence and Venice designed to highlight and respond to urgent conservation needs.

Scheduled for unveiling in November 2016, the joint projects demonstrate the interconnected histories of art and preservation in Italy. In Florence, Save Venice and Friends of Florence will fund conservation treatment of 48 drawings by the Venetian artist Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1692–1770) at the Horne Museum. In Venice, Friends of Florence and Save Venice will contribute to restoration of a major Tuscan panel painting from the early fourteenth century, Virgin and Child Enthroned with Angels, by the Maestro di Badia a Isola (active 1290–1320), a contemporary of Duccio, in the Palazzo Cini Gallery.

Matthew White, chairman of Save Venice said, “Save Venice was born in response to the floods of 1966 so it is fitting that we commemorate the anniversary with what we do best—restore cultural treasures. We are proud to partner with Friends of Florence and hope that this collaboration underscores the continued urgency to preserve irreplaceable artwork in both Venice and Florence for future generations.”

“We are delighted to join forces with Save Venice, which has been a continuing inspiration for our work,” said Simonetta Brandolini d’Adda, founder and president of Friends of Florence. “Lessons learned from the flood show that fifty years on, we still need to do the utmost to protect the important artistic treasures, both grand and small, that truly form the basis of Western civilization. The Italian government cannot possibly safeguard all the treasures found here. Our members are thrilled to partner with Save Venice to preserve our common cultural heritage.”

The Save Venice-Friends of Florence preservation partnership was developed to honor the 50th anniversary of a natural disaster that transformed international awareness of the importance of heritage preservation. The November 1966 floods in northern and central Italy marked a turning point in international recognition of the need to preserve endangered art and architecture. In the succeeding decades, Save Venice and Friends of Florence have made a measurable impact on cultural preservation in Italy, pioneered new methods in art conservation, and served as influential models of private philanthropy.

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, 48 Drawings of Visual Motifs, c. 1740, ink on paper.
Horne Museum, Florence

In 2016, Friends of Florence and Save Venice Inc. will sponsor the conservation treatment of a group of 48 drawings by the Venetian artist Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1692–1770), held in the Horne Museum of Florence. Forty-four of the drawings are bound in an album and an additional four from the same album are mounted separately. The drawings vary in size and subject, most being studies of visual motifs datable on stylistic grounds to about 1740. They are executed in black smoke ink and brown iron gallic ink on various types of paper.

The English architect, art historian, and collector Herbert P. Horne (1864–1916) bought these works by the famed Venetian artist in London in 1903, and brought them to Florence in 1911 when he acquired Palazzo Corsi in Via Benci in Florence. The Palazzo became the Horne Museum in 1916, after Horne’s death and the bequest of his home and art collection to the Italian state.

The Horne album was part of a series of nine volumes gathered by English collector Edward Cheney in the mid-19th century, probably sold at Sotheby’s in 1885. Two of the nine albums are conserved in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and one is in the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York. Together with the Horne album, they form one of the most important graphic testimonies of Tiepolo’s art.

Giovanni Battista (Giambattista) Tiepolo was Venice’s most important painter in the 18th century. During his illustrious career, Tiepolo created nearly 800 paintings and a vast amount of fresco painting on the walls of palaces, churches, and villas throughout Europe, with commissions extending well beyond Venice due to his popularity with the royal houses of Spain, Germany, Sweden, and Russia. In addition, Tiepolo was a prolific and prized draftsman. His sketches and drawings comprise an important legacy providing insight on his artistic practices.

Conservation treatment of the drawings in the Horne Museum funded by Friends of Florence and Save Venice will be preceded by non-invasive photographic studies in raking, ultraviolet, and infrared light to further understand the drawings’ state of conservation and the materials used to create them. To begin conservation treatment, restorers will remove the pages from the album and clean the drawings with brushes, micro-vacuums, and conservation erasers to remove dirt and deposits. Glue stains will be removed and tears repaired. As the drawings were long ago glued onto the pages of the album, they suffer from deformation of the supporting paper and from folds. They will gradually be flattened back in shape through the application of Gortex or by using a humidity chamber. The four drawings that had been removed from the album will be reinserted in the volume on new paper supports. The binding of the album, so tight that the album cannot be fully opened, will be restored to ease the movement of the pages. The original box housing the volume will be repaired and amplified to fit the album, which will be slightly larger after conservation treatment due to the insertion of Japanese paper veiling between each page for protective measure.

Maestro di Badia a Isola, Madonna and Child Enthroned with Angels, c. 1315, tempera and gold on panel, 172 cm. x 103 cm. (5’7” x 3’3”). Galleria Palazzo Cini, Venice
The Madonna and Child Enthroned with Angels in the Galleria Palazzo Cini in Venice, an important Tuscan panel painting of the early 14th century attributed to the Master of Badia a Isola, will be restored by Save Venice Inc. and Friends of Florence in 2016. Painted in color pigment bound in egg tempera on a wooden support, the picture utilizes traditional Tuscan iconography of the period. The Virgin Mary is enthroned in majesty with the Christ Child in her arms, accompanied by four slender angels standing in tiers flanking the throne. The Christ Child playfully reaches for his mother’s white veil within the hood of her blue mantle, a premonition of his imminent sacrifice and the shroud within which he will one day be wrapped. The painting’s gold background suggests the figures’ holy realm.

Italian industrialist Vittorio Cini (1885–1997) purchased the painting for his gallery in Palazzo Cini at San Vio in Venice from the Contini Bonacossi collection in Florence in 1955. Due to its large dimensions, the panel is thought to have originated in a Tuscan church, but has been recorded in various private collections since the early 19th century.

The Master of Badia a Isola was a Tuscan artist active from circa 1290 to 1320 whose precise identity is unknown. He owes his name to a painting in an abbey church in Abbadia a Isola in Monteriggioni near Siena. He was a contemporary of Duccio di Buoninsegna, and his works are often considered in close relation to paintings from Duccio’s early period. Indeed, scholars in the 19th century, and also some experts more recently, have proposed that the Master of Badia a Isola could possibly be young Duccio, due to stylistic similarities to the Ruccellai Madonna in the Uffizi Gallery. Other works by the hand of the Master of Badia a Isola have been identified in collections in Italy, Germany, and the United States.

This large panel painting, 172 x 103 cm (5’7” x 3’3”), is composed of vertical planks covered with a thick gesso and glue ground layer applied to the support to prepare it for painting with gold leaf and color pigments bound in egg tempera. Its poor state of conservation is evident; the ground layer is separating from its wooden support and pictorial film is flaking off from the ground preparation. The colors are altered and oxidized, and the varnish is dense and uneven.

Conservation treatment funded by Friends of Florence and Save Venice Inc. will be preceded by non-invasive preliminary analysis including photography in diffused, radiant, and ultraviolet light. Infrared reflectography techniques will be used to look through the paint layers and reveal possible underdrawings and changes to the paint layers, while images resulting from ultraviolet induced visible fluorescence will reveal past conservation efforts not visible to the naked eye. Conservators will consolidate the painting’s ground preparation detaching from its support and will meticulously re-adhere flaking paint on the pictorial surface. The painting will be cleaned to remove accumulations of dust and grime. Stucco fills and repainting over paint losses applied in the last restoration in 1952 will be removed and replaced with updated materials. Conservators will integrate the losses with watercolors of a reversible nature, and apply a final coat of protective varnish.

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