Just a few short blocks from the current media circus over David‘s dust, it is raining inside one of Florence’s most important churches. While high-powered sponsors and celebrities stand in line to contribute enormous sums of money to restore high-profile objects, the Florentine city council has announced that they do not have the funds necessary to repair the leaking roof, which alone would eat up 25% of their annual budget. This is not a new problem, but one that has been ongoing for many years, as evidenced by an ArtWatch photo taken in June of 2002, which shows already extensive damage. Had the matter been addressed in its early phase or as a maintenance issue, then perhaps lesser budgetary allocations could have minimized what is now a serious problem.

Why is Santissima Annunziata important?

The Annunziata, located at the end of the processional route from the door of the Servites on the north side of the cathedral of Florence, has been home to a miraculous image of the Annunciation since the middle ages. Filippo Brunelleschi’s successor, Michelozzo di Bartolommeo, modified the church in the early mid-15th century, under the patronage of Piero de’Medici. Later modifications by Leon Battista Alberti to the tribune were carried out by the end of the 15th century. The loggia in front of the church, which faces onto Brunelleschi’s Ospedale degli Innocenti, was completed according to Michelozzo’s design, by Giovanni Battista Caccini at the turn of the 17th century. Many important works of art still remain in their original locations inside the church, by early Renaissance masters such as Andrea del Castagno, Alesso Baldovinetti, and Pietro Perugino, whose high altarpiece is now installed in a side chapel. In addition to its collection of 15th century works, the Annunziata acquired significant decoration during the early phases of Mannerism, which was to define the direction of 16th century Florentine painting. In the chiostrino is an important series of frescoes begun by Andrea del Sarto with contributions of various scenes by Franciabigio, Jacopo da Pontormo, and Rosso Fiorentino.

In the tribune, which encompasses the choir, are nine radiating apsidal chapels, which were decorated variously from the late 15th through the mid 18th centuries. Among the treasures of the tribune currently in situ are Alessandro Allori’s Birth of the Virgin (1602), a painting of a Madonna and Saints attributed to Perugino, a large painting of the Resurrection by Agnolo Bronzino, a bronze Crucifix and six bas-reliefs of the Passion by Giambologna, and an altarpiece by Passignano.

In short, the collection of the Annunziata far exceeds in quality the collection of many museums around the world. Furthermore, it is one of the few major monuments that insists upon existing as a religious structure amidst a sea of tourists, and as such commands an additional level of responsibility.

Flooding at the Scrovegni Chapel

February 2004

Water Problems Persist at the Scrovegni Chapel

In the spring of 2002, ArtWatch made the following forecast, as the restoration of Giotto’s Scrovegni chapel frescoes in Padua came to a close:

This past winter has been a dry one, but when the rains come as they usually do, one can again expect that the subterranean water condition will continue to be the major threat to Giotto’s frescoes, despite all of this recent intervention.

The reality is that the ongoing water problems at the site, due to an extremely high water table beneath the chapel, has resulted in the frequent presence of several feet of water at any given time in the crypt. This recent photograph reveals that these issues — which should have been adequately addressed prior to any intervention on the frescoes themselves — still continue to threaten Giotto’s work. Since they restored Giotto’s frescoes without taking any action regarding the underground situation, there must now be serious consideration on the part of Paduan officials as to what will be done to protect the chapel.

February 2004