English 24 July

Open Letter to the Hon. Minister of Culture Giuliano Urbani
Signed: James Beck, President of Artwatch International and ArtWatch Italia. Commendatore della Repubblica Italiana.

Heartfelt thanks, Signor Minister. You have personally given Soprintendente Antonio Paolucci of Florence permission to proceed with the restoration of the David. However, you have also given the world hope that Paolucci and his team will limit their intervention, which is due to start on 18 September, to the specifics of your statement: “poultices of cellulos impregnated with twice distilled water, where the contact with the surface of the statue will be of a highly reduced time period, and differentiated from zone to zone.”

Under any circumstances, permission to move ahead does not mean that they must move ahead. Still the most hopeful aspect of your permission is that you have not provided for the employment of solvents which represent the aggressive aspect of the method advocated by the Opificio delle Pietre Dure and of great worry to many.

Although“solvents” have been largely hidden from the recent exchanges in the media, they were occasionally mentioned by the Florentine officials as a fundamental aspect of the desired procedure. In fact, the method according to Franca Falleti, Director of the Galleria dell’ Accademia “consisted in applying compresses soaked in a chemical cleaning fluid,” as reported by Alasdair Palmer in an article symptomatically entitled “Chemical David,” which appeared on June 15th in the London Sunday Telegraph. In the same interview she also calls for ”using the compress and solvent method.” The application of solvents is also referred to by Sovrintendente Paolucci himself in similar terms in an interview in the Corriere della Sera of July 5: ”the utilization of poultices with distilled water and solvents.” [”UTILIZZARE GLI IMPACCHI CON ACQUA”] DISTILLATA E SOLVENTI.”]

Hence those of us concerned with the future health and appearance of the David are consoled that the Florentine team will kept to your clear limitation to bi-distilled water, and no solvents. Actually however, I fear that they might be tempted to expand the parameters of the permission because the bi-distilled water treatment is bland indeed, perhaps too bland for their intentions.

In effect, we are back to the starting point of the controversy, between a “wet, ” a “dry” dusting (advocated by Agnese Parronchi) or “no” treatment possibilities, and with this fact in mind, and in the sense of compromise and in a spirit of intellectual transparency as well as to assure the world that Italian restoration is truly the avant guard, I implore you in consultation with my friend Paolucci to create a small commission to review the entire matter of Michelangelo’s David. In a letter signed now signed by 50 specialists of Italian art, many of who are world experts on Michelangelo and about half Italians, we urged such a commission. All are art historians, like Paolucci, Acidini, head of the Opificio, and Falleti.

We now suggest a specific composition of the commission, which would act as an advisory body to you. Four or five members, composed of Italian winners of Nobel prize and judges from Italy’s supreme court (Cassazione) would seem to us sufficient. None are experts in art history or restoration but being of unquestioned intelligence, all the elements can be readily presented to them in layman’s terms so they can form an opinion, and if necessary they can call upon their own experts. We emphasize the all-Italian character of the proposed commission, to avoid chauvinistic objections which have already been raised.

Considering its place in history and as a icon of the Renaissance, of Florence, of Italy, of the power of the human figure, and of the genius of Michelangelo, the David merits such high level consideration. Besides, the world at large and art lovers everywhere will be convinced of the seriousness of Italian restoration methods and the nation’s desire to conserve its artistic treasures for its own citizens and for the entire world.

(Signed James Beck)