Restoration of Artemisia's painting in the home of Michelangelo announced

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Restoration of Artemisia's painting in the home of Michelangelo announced
Artemisia Unveiled Project donors and management. Photograph: Olga Makarowa. Artemisia Gentileschi’s "Allegory of Inclination" descends from Casa Buonarroti ceiling. In-progress restoration on public view until April 2023.

FLORENCE.- Florence’s home-museum dedicated to the memory of Michelangelo embarks on the restoration of Artemisia Gentileschi’s Allegory of Inclination (1616), one of the first paintings the artist created during her 7-year sojourn in Florence. From now until April 2023, it will be restored in public view, at the Casa Buonarroti Museum, following its removal from the gallery ceiling. Artemisia’s allegorical figure depicting ‘the inclination to produce art’ was originally painted nude, only to be censored, in the 1680s, with the addition of drapery and veils.

This conservation project, dubbed ‘Artemisia Unveiled’, and co-funded by British not-for-profit Calliope Arts and British philanthropist Christian Levett, will use modern diagnostic and imaging technologies, to discover what the painting looked like, as Artemisia created it. The project includes an exhibition at Casa Buonarroti, from September 2023 to January 2024, spotlighting the project’s findings, and foresees the refurbishment of select areas of the museum, including a full re-design of the Galleria’s lighting, so that Artemisia’s painting – part of a cycle celebrating the glories of Michelangelo that includes paintings by 14 other up-and-coming Tuscan artists of her time – will be revealed in their full splendour.

International Support for Casa Buonarroti

“To see Artemisia’s painting come down from the ceiling was very emotional, because none of us had ever seen a painting descend from there before,” says Casa Buonarroti Foundation president Cristina Acidini, “Most likely, it has never been taken down, since it was painted in 1616. So, this is the first step of a great adventure, for which we are extremely grateful to our generous donors.”

The project ‘Artemisia Unveiled’, created in conjunction with Casa Buonarroti Museum and Foundation, is supported by Calliope Arts, a not-for-profit organisation based in Florence and London. Founded in 2021, it promotes public knowledge and appreciation of art, literature and social history from a female perspective, through restorations, exhibitions, education and a magazine and YouTube broadcast ‘Restoration Conversations’. The project’s major donors are Calliope Arts co-founders, British/Canadian philanthropists and retired lawyers Margie MacKinnon and Wayne McArdle, and British art collector Christian Levett, founder of the Mougins Museum of Classical Art in France and the Levett Collection home-gallery in Florence, featuring artworks by major female Abstract Expressionists.

Artemisia ‘uncensored’

“Artemisia Gentileschi lived in a world where women were excluded from the study of anatomy – a gender-based limitation that continued until the early 1900s. Her painting of the nude figure representing ‘Inclination’ not only proved she was up to the challenge of anatomical drawing and painting – but that, as a woman, she could very skilfully put the female body at the centre of the canvas,” says donor Margie MacKinnon. The drapery and veil were added in the 1680s by Tuscan artist Baldassare Franceschini, known as Il Volteranno, by order of Lionardo Buonarroti who lived in the palazzo and wanted to protect the decorum and modesty of his wife and children. “This project aims to restore Artemisia’s first Florentine painting and investigate what lies beneath Volterrano’s later additions,” donor Wayne McArdle adds. “What is the condition of the original paint and canvas? What will we learn about Artemisia unveiled? These are the project’s guiding questions, and we are excited to support and follow the conservation process, in hopes of finding the answers.”

In-progress at the Museum

From October 2022 to April 2023, during museum opening hours, the art-loving public will have the opportunity to see the Allegory of Inclination restoration project in progress, thanks to a worksite set up in Casa Buonarroti’s ‘Model Room’. The conservator will be available to answer questions from the public, on Fridays. This home-museum, brainchild of Artemisia’s patron Michelangelo the Younger, was a venue Artemisia herself frequented during her stint as a court painter in Florence, hobnobbing with her patron – whom she called ‘godfather’ – and renowned members of the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno, Europe’s first drawing academy, of which Artemisia became a member in 1616. Her fellow members include Galileo, with whom the artist corresponded, even after his exile. The compass her allegorical figure is holding is thought to be a nod to the renowned scientist and his controversial theories. As a sidebar, just steps from the in-progress restoration, visitors will find the museum’s Marble room, newly restored by Friends of Florence and Michelangelo’s Madonna della Scala and Battle of the Centaurs, from whose central figure Artemisia sought inspiration for the positioning of her allegorical figure.

Detective work

“Through working photographs, diagnostic imaging and analysis, we will be able to determine the exact technique Artemisia used, correctly map the work’s condition, and monitor our treatment plan for the painting,” says US Florence-based conservator Elizabeth Wicks, who heads the project’s state-of-the art team comprising expert technicians and restoration scientists, under the supervision of Casa Buonarroti Director Alessandro Cecchi and Jennifer Celani, official for the Archaeological Superintendence for the Fine Arts and Landscape for the metropolitan city of Florence. “Due to the historic nature of the repaints, it is not possible to remove them from the surface, but the scope of our diagnostics will facilitate the creation of a virtual image of the original that lies beneath the surface of the painting, as we see it today,” Wicks explains. “Next week, we start our virtual journey ‘beneath the veil’ under diffuse and raking light sources, followed by UV and infrared research. Hypercolormetric Multispectral Imaging and examination by digital microscope will then help us learn as much as possible about the condition of the original painting technique and the later repaints. X-ray and high-resolution reflectography and other analytical techniques will follow.”

Refurbishment and TLC for Casa Buonarroti

“We’d like to look at this project as the start of something bigger,” says project co-donor Christian Levett. Beyond the painting’s restoration, the project includes a refurbishment of the museum entrance, the renewal of its signage, and the redesign of the Gallery room’s lighting. This museum has an amazing story to tell, and we want to shed more light on it—literally.” This ‘tender-loving-care’ for the gallery will be completed by the end of 2023, and enhance the visitor experience, particularly of the seventeenth-century wing, a treasure trove designed by Michelangelo the Younger over the course of 30 years, whose genius conceived the first-ever architectural and artistic tribute to an artist, his great uncle, ‘Michelangelo the Divine’.

‘A’ is the beginning

“The conservation and research project surrounding Artemisia’s ‘Inclination’ is the start of a wider project that will transform into a future exhibition at Casa Buonarroti, scheduled to run from September 2023 to January 2024,” says museum director Alessandro Cecchi. “The show will spotlight conservation findings and explore the context surrounding the painting’s creation, including the significance of her Florentine debut and her key relationships with Grand Duke Cosimo de’ Medici and the city’s cultural milieu.” Its English language exhibition catalogue (The Florentine Press, 2023) will be flanked by the Italian language publication ‘Buonarrotiana’ series (2023 edition) featuring specialist studies on Artemisia and her time, followed by a lecture series with major scholars in response to the show.

Who’s involved?

The project brings together restoration scientists, technicians, photographers and filmmakers to compile, analyse, document and share findings. The project’s players include: Italy’s National Research Council (CNR) and National Institute for Optics (NIO), Teobaldo Pasquali for X-ray and radiographs, Ottaviano Caruso for diagnostic images; Massimo Chimenti of Culturanuova s.r.l. for digital image creation; Olga Makarova for video and reportage photography.

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