Have You Seen Me?

You most certainly haven’t seen Raphael’s Madonna recently, even if you have been to Florence’s Uffizi gallery during the past five years. Since May of 1999, the painting has been missing from its regular location, with a poor copy in its place. It has been transported to the Opificio della pietre dure, where it has been undergoing a particularly lengthy and disconcertingly quiet restoration.

The Madonna of the Goldfinch, or Madonna del Cardellino, suffered some traumatic damage only decades after Raphael painted it around 1506-7. According to Giorgio Vasari, the work was crushed when a landslip destroyed the house of its owner, Lorenzo Nasi, on 17 November, 1548. He reports that the pieces of the painting were recovered from the rubble, and reassembled by Lorenzo’s son, Battista. In addition to a 16th century restoration, perhaps by Michele di Ridolfo, evidence of an 18th century intervention has been detected.

This current restoration under Opificio director Cristina Acidini is being carried out by Marco Ciatti and Cecilia Frosinini. Following several years of tense silence regarding the condition of the work since its disappearance from the Uffizi, we began to wonder if something had gone drastically wrong.

Yet, it now appears as if we should see the work in about a month. On 17 December 2002, a conference was held at the Opificio delle pietre dure in Florence in celebration of the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the painting restoration laboratory in 1932 by Ugo Procacci, and an announcement was made that the work would be returned to view within a year. It was at this time that the Opificio released a single photograph of the work in showing the restoration underway, along with a technical report.

ArtWatch International’s Annual Fall Meeting in New York

Dear ArtWatcher,

Throughout the past year, ArtWatch International has been deeply engaged in a battle with the
Galleria Accademia and the Soprintendente of Arts in Florence in an attempt to halt the cleaning of Michelangelo’s David, conducted to coincide with the 500th anniversary of the statue’s placement on the Piazza della Signoria in April 1504. Since the resignation of Agnese Parronchi, the restorer initially hired to carry out the work, a worldwide fervor has erupted. At our urging, fifty art historians and Renaissance specialists, including the world’s most renowned Michelangelo experts, have signed a letter addressed to the Italy’s Minister of Culture. We requested that before any work was initiated an independent committee be formed to evaluate the methodologies available and to determine if, as we believe, no intervention is necessary at all. Although Italian officials have not yet responded to our concerns, the world’s press, favorable to ArtWatch and our stance, has provided extensive coverage of the issue, and attention remains focused on the David, even as his cleaning is beginning in Florence.

I am happy to announce that the documentary film on ArtWatch, directed by James Martin, is finished and is ready for worldwide distribution. It will be first screened at the New York Independent Film Festival at the Village East Cinema on November 11th at 8pm, and in additional venues in the future, to be announced. The trailer of the film will be shown at our meeting, and we will keep you informed on our website.

Please join us for our 11th annual meeting at the Art Students League at 215 West 57th Street
on Wednesday, November 19th 2003 at 6:30 PM. In addition to discussing the details surrounding the cleaning of Michelangelo’s David and awarding the Frank Mason Prize, there will be a report from the Executive Committee and an update on our ongoing battle to prevent the dismantling and moving of the Barnes Collection.

Also at the meeting, ArtWatch member Edmund Rucinski will report on his discoveries regarding the recent and severe “restoration” of a Turner painting in the Clark Art Institute in Massachusetts, which resulted in the loss of a ship in the background of the seascape. The results of this cleaning have caused a rumble in the international press and we are awaiting the response of the restoration team and the museum director.

ArtWatch’s unrelenting defense of our art treasures has informed art lovers, restorers, museum officials, art scholars, and art dealers about the crucial issue of art restoration. Be assured that we are making a difference — we need your encouragement and your support.

James Beck


The Rescue of a Masterpiece??

PINKS UPDATE(10/18/2004)

As London National Gallery celebrates their version of the Madonna of the Pinks with a travelling exhibition, James Beck lays out the evidence against the attribution of the small panel to Raphael.

It is my opinion that the Northumberland picture cannot be the original, prime version of the composition known in about 48 painted versions and many engravings, at least three of which date back to the seventeenth century.

According to the Gallery, the best “evidence” which the supports the picture’s attribution as a Raphael rest not on fact, but another attribution, namely the underdrawing as revealed by Infrared reflectography. Methodologically this system of circular argumentation is hardly convincing. Furthermore, what has been used for the attribution of the drawing cannot be seen by the naked eye, but is a shadow of the underdrawing or under painting which is recomposed by computer. Connoisseurs shun making attributions based of what they cannot see with their eyes; shouldn’t the same principle be applied for the National Gallery’s newly acquired little Madonna? My judgment that the picture is not a Raphael is confirmed by the earliest official mention of the picture in a legal document which was in the evaluation of Pietro Camuccini’s collection in 1833, following his death. Pietro was the older brother and guide of Vincenzo Camuccini, the assumed owner of the picture. According to the appraiser, himself a Roman painter, the picture was described as, not a picture ” by” Raphael, but a picture “in the manner of Raphael”. The entire presumed history of the Northumberland picture before 1828 is pure invention, first set forth in 1851 presumably in preparation for an eventual sale. The fact remains that it has no confirmable history before it turned up in the collection of the Camucccini who themselves were known painters, dealers, copyists, restorers and fakers. Conclusive evidence that the Northumberland picture is a copy is found on the right edge of the painting where the copyist was, carried away by painting the flower in the blank area as he did with part of the landscape. The large number of aberrational or at least peculiar elements found in the work confirms my opinion that it is not an original painting by Raphael of the 16th century. In any search for due diligence, the Gallery, its trustees and the art historical community should respond to these points.

(1) The totally atypical not to say unique color for Raphael found in the painting, a factor widely recognized but not explained.

(2) The same should be said of the smooth surface, and the tight application of the paint.

(3) The preparation of gesso ground was defective. This feature does not correspond to the situation with other works by Raphael at the National Gallery, and presumably , elsewhere, and under any circumstances would be unexpected for a painter trained in the late fifteenth century, especially one who was then supposedly building his reputation in Florence.

(4) The irregularity of the parts of the panel left unpainted at the edges is uncharacteristic if not unique for Raphael.

(5) The absence of indications of transfer of a design is contrary to Raphael’s practice and is, in fact, unique for him.

(6) No molecular spectrographic IR analysis of the wood support was undertaken either before or after the purchase, to help with its the dating of the panel itself.

(7) The distribution of the cracks on the surface of the Northumberland picture does not conform to that of other Italian pictures of the 16th century.

(8) The exceptionally good condition of the work has to give one pause. After all, a five hundred year old picture is old, and usually shows its age.

(9) The back of the picture is polished apparently in the 19th century, a process which would have obliterated any indications of its history until the 19th century when seals of each of the brothers and a government seal were applied.

(10) The apparently exact copy by Victoire Jaquotot of the Northumberland painting executed in 1817 in Paris is larger and reveals anatomical corrections of the presumed original. How can one explain a condition in which Raphael requires corrections from an enameller? Contrary to their claims is cannot have been copied from the Northumberland picture.

(11) The Camuccini must have had at least two versions of the picture themselves, as the engraving of 1828 is not identical to the version purchased in the National Gallery. Another version mentioned as being in their collection was called heavily restored.

(12) The fact that among the earliest recorded evaluations of the picture, one in 1830 London auction catalogue was extremely negative (“cold and hard”) but it corresponds to the visual evidence even today.

(13) Some versions of the composition are substantially larger, than others suggesting that there were two prototypes. This unusual situation should be explored.

(14) From the evidence so far presented, none of the 48 other versions were studied in comparison with the Northumberland in terms of undergoing similar technical explorations. How can such an omission be defended on the basis of sound methodology?

(15) The Christ Child is wall-eyed (“strabico”), perhaps unique in the history of art.

(16) The uniqueness of the support, namely cherry (or other fruit wood). In their defense of the use of cherry, the Gallery has pointed to the Transfiguration (Vatican) in Rome, but the large altarpiece was executed a decade later in a diverse cultural milieu (Rome), in a vastly different size and scale. One curiosity might be mentioned in this context: the individual in charge of the restoration of the Transfiguration in the early 19th century, at a time when cherry wood inserts were applied to lost sections, was Vincenzo Camuccini. That he might have been tempted to use cherry wood on his own seems plausible.

For a real Raphael Madonna, it is unique and unlikely. The series of unique aberrational features of the picture raises serious questions about it originality which must be confronted before a connoisseur can accept the attribution.

Moses, Cleaned and Unveiled

The tomb of Pope Julius II in San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome, including Michelangelo’s Moses, was unveiled following a cleaning that lasted for nearly three years. In keeping with the commemorative trend of recent restorations, the celebration of the project’s completion was timed to coincide with the 500th anniversary of the inauguration of Julius’ pontificate, which began on the 1st of November, 1503.

The restoration was funded by Lottomatica, which holds the state concession from the Ministry of Finance to run the Lotto in Italy, and which has touted its “many promotional and communication campaigns to mark the opening of major restoration projects”. In addition to copious signage on the facade of San Pietro in Vincoli, as well as throughout the interior, the cleaning was publicized through its hig-tech website, which featured Michelangelo games and trivia, along with a feature that allowed cyber-visitors to manipulate on-site cameras to watch the restoration in real time.

During the course of the multi-media “Project Moses”, which began with a conference in November of 2000, many occasions were celebrated as grandi momenti, including the completion of a film documenting the tomb, the composition of a musical score to accompany the unveiling of the statue, the receipt of the “Interactive Key Award” by Lottomatica for the website, and the release of the Project Moses screensaver.

All of which served as a distraction to the real issue at hand, the restoration of Michelangelo’s Moses, along with the pendant figures of Rachel and Leah. Initial comments by the restorer suggested a minimalist approach to the cleaning, which seemed appropriate considering that the work has remained inside for its nearly 500 year history. Eschewing the often-heard claims of returning a work to its original splendor, chief-restorer Antonio Forcellino instead warned in at the onset of the project, “It will never be as it was when Michelangelo made it.” Claiming that the Moses was stained by a waxy substance following the production of casts, Forcellino noted that removal of the stains would be “too risky an operation” and promised to limit the cleaning to minimize or “lower the tone” of the discolorations.

Nonetheless, more common restoration rhetoric emerged upon the completion of the statue, as Forcellino stated, “Our aim was to rediscover the real work of Michelangelo, first mutilated by the critics and then the builders… When we arrived it was filthy, but little by little we have rubbed away the stains”.

Rubbing doesn’t seem the half of it. While Forcellino claims that the “actual cleaning process isn’t rocket science” and that the success or failure depends more on the restorer’s skill, he technique employed by his team is not without controversy. The restoration was carried out through a technique of distilled water applied to the surface of the marble in a compress of Japanese paper for 40 minutes at a time, the same technique that has aroused massive concern from the art historical community since its selection for the restoration of Michelangelo’s David.

Another unveiling ceremony is planned for January.