A Look at Art Conservation in the News.

Ruth Osborne

In order to get a better sense of how conservation is presented to and perceived by the public today, ArtWatch has undertaken an overview of art conservation as it has appeared in the media over the past year.

Thoughts and opinions on the purpose of conservation have developed and changed over the past 150 years as society considers new scientific technologies.  Noticing trends in news coverage of conservation interventions, as well as the state of the field as a whole, will allow for an understanding of the role of conservation as it is understood in the 21st century. This post will consider the following:

(1) How are conservators represented in relation to the works they’re treating?

(2) What is given precedence in reports of current conservation treatment, the work itself or benefits for the field at large?

(3) According to news coverage, what is the ultimate goal of modern conservation and what is being put in place to further this goal?

2015-03-24 - The Phillips Collection Picasso The Blue Room

Patricia Favero, conservator at The Phillips Collection, with Picasso’s The Blue Room and showing its under layer. Courtesy: Evan Vucci/AP.

Art conservation as a field was born of the need to care for works of art as they experienced the ravages of time and misuse. Taking this into consideration, would it not come as a surprise that so many news stories covering the work of conservators focus on the promise of discovery instead of preserving the physical nature of the work from further deterioration? Is the act of prodding for findings beneath layers of paint with infrared imagery to discover an underlying image that the original artist painted over considered “conserving” the work from future deterioration? Regardless of how this fits into contemporary or classical theories of conservation, research into Picasso’s The Blue Room was still presented in the media last June as being part of the work’s conservation.

Just this week, The New York TImes reported on a new “discovery” of Jackson Pollock’s technique revealed by conservators treating his 1947 Alchemy at the Guggenheim Venice. His intentional, rather than random, paint-splattering technique has in fact been acknowledged by scholars before. Time magazine’s art critic Robert Hughes wrote in 1982 that: “…Pollock–in his best work–had an almost preternatural control over the total effect of those skeins and receding depths of paint. In them, the light is always right. Nor are they absolutely spontaneous; he would often retouch the drip with a brush.” It is certainly interesting how computer imagery can unpack the layers of this painting. But cannot the eyes of connoisseurs already perceive his technique by examining the painting and its underlying grid in a thorough visual analysis, instead of relying on computer analysis to reveal his method?

But dialogue is being pulled away from connoisseurship and its capabilities and towards a heavy reliance on science to achieve “objective” proof. Is science truly as definitive and free of error as is assumed by the media?

2015-03-24 - Leonardo La Belle Ferroniere Louvre

Leonardo da Vinci, La Belle Ferronière, 1490-96. Courtesy: Louvre, Paris

After announcement was made in February 2014 of the Louvre’s plan to restore the extremely vulnerable La Belle Ferronière by Leonardo, and after Michael Daley of ArtWatch UK questioned the safety of this plan, several months later it was revealed that it was to be the first Leonardo to show in the Middle East. Its planned transportation to the Louvre’s new satellite museum in Abu Dhabi was released to the press in October. This risky proposal to transport an extremely important confirmed Leonardo was precisely what necessitated its conservation, no doubt, as Louvre representatives related: “For such an important painting it is very important for us to have time. The first [restoration] committee met last week and now we will restore the painting and take all the time we need [and then] we will be very proud to show the restored painting.” But how does one simply gloss over the danger of transporting an already vulnerable painting overseas for temporary exhibit? Is it to be assumed that restoring it will make it less susceptible to damage? We have already had our share of works severely ruined on transport within the same country – even within the same museum building.

On another Leonardo panel surrounded by much controversy is his Lady with an Ermine, which has been altered by several restorers over the centuries.  In 2007, ArtWatch reported on the promise of the picture’s digital reconstruction through a multispectral high-res camera. In these investigations, the role of conservation proposes to help undo the work of past ill-treatments and restore a more authentic version of the original. However, as we wrote:

“It is critical to remember that the conclusions drawn as a result of these diagnostic tests are not necessarily correct. Even the most ‘objective’ scientific evidence requires interpretation, and so many of the public announcements that have been made, touting the newest discoveries of the original intentions of the artist, are not universally agreed upon, nor should they be…the concern lies in the knowledge that historically latest technologies have often been used to promote rather than replace restorations. The fear in this case is that believing to fully understand what lies beneath the surface of an artwork will embolden restorers and justify their aims to go looking, with their preconceived notions, for what they now expect to find.”

2015-03-24 - Leonardo Lady with an Ermine

Digital imaging showing three different versions of Leonardo’s Lady with an Ermine. Courtesy: BBC News.

Come 2010, ArtWatch UK argued against its traveling to London on loan for a National Gallery exhibition. To prevent damage in transit, and to ready the painting for blockbuster exhibit, pieces are often sent to the conservator’s studio with the hope of increasing stability in the work. But the more a painting is handled and touched, the more its integrity is altered, no?  BBC coverage last fall revealed conservators were still working with the panel to reveal “extraordinary revelations” about Leonardo’s work through this process. The reporter highlights the promise of new discoveries about Leonardo’s method as this digital digging has used “intense light” emitted from a multi-lens camera to make visible three different stages of the canvas. Who knows what this might mean for any future proposed traveling exhibitions on Leonardo’s process for which this work could be put at risk again?

Conservators’ abilities to unravel mysteries about the artist and his subjects with the help of technology was certainly a popular theme in 2014.  It was seen in the multiple reports on the “artist’s original intention” that emerged from Gustave Cailleboite’s Paris Street; Rainy Day at the Art Institute of Chicago. Revelations about the artist’s true palette and the canvas’s true dimensions abounded. Here, the conservator serves to uncover a truer version of Cailleboite that had been “hidden” for decades since its last restoration (of an unknown date). Under old varnish, the sky was found to be a more saturated blue and to contain greater light and movement in its surface gradation. Sharper details overall, according to this report, have now altered relationships between the figures and buildings in the composition.

2015-03-24 - Art Institute Chicago Kelly Keegan Gustave Caillebotte Paris Street Rainy Day

Art Institute of Chicago conservator Kelly Keegan with Gustave Caillebotte’s Paris Street; Rainy Day. Courtesy: Art Institute of Chicago.

One article on the Art Institute’s website even suggests that: “The result is a transformed sense of light and atmosphere that is likely to change the way viewers respond to Caillebotte’s vision of 19th-century Paris and its people.” But does the woman’s hand inserted into the central man’s arm not still indicate their relationship as walking partners? Though the skies have cleared up a bit, wasn’t it presumed this would happen with cleaning of the varnish? Even if the sun may be about to come out, does it really reveal all that much about the artist’s true intentions, as the figures’ umbrellas are still up to protect from rain?

Meanwhile, the The Wall Street Journal reported that this treatment is now the reason to confirm the artist’s designation as an Impressionist: “As a result, curators now believe Caillebotte is likely to be viewed more as a bona fide Impressionist and less a traditional realist.” But wasn’t this already assumed by scholarship? Is this treatment really a breakthrough, as the media might have us believe?

These breakthrough discoveries were only made possible by a series of scientific tools, including infrared imagery, microscopy, and UV light and X-Rays, apart from the actual cleaning via swabs. While it is certainly important to have a solid understanding about a work’s makeup before treatment, will all works now expect to reveal hidden secrets every time they are cleaned? Have the expectations on a work of art increased, and will this help or hurt the integrity of works in the long run? The notion about conservation revealing hidden secrets in a painting continued in coverage of Villanova’s two-year treatment of the Triumph of David in September. In this case, the news report touted the x-ray and infrared tools that allowed conservators to “see into the painting.” According to this coverage, conservation once again aims to return works to, what is presumed to be, a more authentic state.

In a related issue, conservation has also been promoted for its “forensic” capabilities for authenticating authorship of works. Last March it was reported that two canvases by the nineteenth-century American romantic painter Martin Johnson Heade underwent testing at the Atlanta Art Conservation Center to prove their authorship through the existence of the artist’s finger print and brushstrokes, after being denied by Harvard’s Fogg Museum. In this press release, lab testing is referred to as “forensic science” that should take precedence alongside the connoisseur’s trained eye: “…the public needs to realize that connoisseurship has to adapt to a new and demanding educational standard. That standard I believe will become the future of proper art attribution…”

2015-03-24 - Harvard Straus Center for Conservation

Henry Lie, Director of the Harvard Straus Center for Conservation. Courtesy: Index Magazine.

Hand-in-hand with the claimed abilities of science and technology to do what the human eye is no longer trusted to, came unreserved praise for new high-tech conservation lab techniques. Reports on the newly re-opened Harvard Art Museums emphasized above all the dynamic influence of science in the origins of modern conservation: “it was really the beginning of the field…the first time a science-based approach was taken to looking at these materials.” Meanwhile, the role of new “optical illusions” was the focus of one article on conservation studies at American universities. According to this article, the microscopy, nanotechnology, and x-ray tools conservators use allow them to bring back to life that which was once considered lost. Terms like “forensic tool” are used. But can we truly bring back something from the past? Will all traces of time truly be wiped away? That seems to be what this reporter would have his audience believe is possible.

Finally, the last line from an article entitled “What does a conservator do?” adds rather presumptuously: “Above all they are soothsayers, probing cultural materials to reveal the secrets of how and when they were made, and how they will survive into the future” (emphasis added).

The Power – and Danger – of Attributions.

Ruth Osborne
2015-03-05 - Triumph of David Villanova restoration

Triumph of David removed for conservation treatment. Courtesy: Villanova University.

In the fall of 2013, a badly-damaged 17th century painting attributed to Pietro da Cortona (known for his frescoed ceiling at the Palazzo Barberini in Rome), was exhumed from the microfiche storage room of Villanova’s library. The work, entitled Triumph of David, has been undergoing a two-year $100,000 conservation effort ever since.

On Villanova’s website, the September 2013 press release about the treatment campaign says the painting is “by 17th century Italian artist Pietro da Cortona,” while a December 2014 report in The Washington Times praising the effort states twice that the painting is only attributed to the Baroque master.

2015-03-05 - Pietro da Cortona Villanova

Conservators setting up canvas for x-rays. Courtesy: Villanova University.

In media coverage of art conservation, scientific methods are often promoted  as a way to return the canvas to an “original,” more “authentic” state. In this view, conservation is a truth-finding mission that serves to uncover enlightening facts for public benefit. As such, works can be subjected to treatment in the lab solely for this purpose – for the promise of discoveries beneath the surface (such as with the man found beneath the Picasso at the Philips Collection last summer). The danger of this emphasis on truth-finding is that finding the more “authentic” state of a work does not necessarily protect its physical well-being. It is also misleading, as works can exist in multiple states throughout their history, and thus it is up to the present conservator to judge which is the best state to which the work must be returned. But can it even be truly returned, as if history had never happened? The work will still be altered by the conservator with whatever solvents or lasers that change the chemical structure of the work to remove varnish, dirt, and bad in-painting that retrieve the preferred aesthetic condition. These and other issues are discussed by conservator Dr. Salvador Muñoz-Viñas in his Contemporary Theory of Conservation (2005).

A Villanova blog following the restoration project of the Triumph of David continues to assert Cortona’s authorship, while the above mentioned press release emphasizes the uniqueness of the large work in Cortona’s proven oeuvre:

“Only a handful of collections in the world contain works on canvas by this artist, and for an American collection to possess a painting of this magnitude attributed to Pietro da Cortona is even more uncommon.”

A comment from Villanova’s Vice President for Academic Affairs proudly proclaims the wider benefits of this treatment for art historical scholarship:

“Not only will the restoration be a workshop on the techniques of conservation for the artistic community, it will also be a classroom for students and faculty alike to discover the riches of this artist and the methods of bringing back to life a great masterpiece.”

Being able to attach a legitimate name like Cortona’s to the canvas would indeed make it a work of large renown within the artist’s surviving oeuvre.  When interviewed, the head conservator and chemist involved in the treatment only refer to “the artist,” not Cortona himself. Attributed works, it seems, can turn into confirmed works at the hands of an eager press, almost like a game of art historical telephone.

Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Kathy Boccella writes that Philadelphia Museum of Art curator Carl Strehlke was rather uncertain of the painting’s authorship, while head conservator Kristin DeGhetaldi related that Cortona’s “vibrant blues, lovely colors, beautiful skies” do not appear on the canvas. Further uncertainties about the work include: its history/provenance before the donor acquired it in the 1930s upon moving to Castle Nemi near Rome, and precisely how it was transported to the United States after having suffered damages during WWII.

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Leonardo’s drawing of d’Este (left) with attributed painting (right). Courtesy: The Telegraph.

If anything is to be made of note here, it is that there is great power that can be wielded by assertive attributions.

When newly-discovered works are attributed to well-known artists, as in the case of the Triumph of David, public relations crazes can heat up and make assumptions not backed by solid scholarly research or historic documentation. Thus, works can easily slip into an artist’s oeuvre without much question of its validity in the public mind. Case in point: Leonardo scholar Carlo Pedretti’s denied attribution of the uncovered portrait of Isabella d’Este in a Swiss bank vault. Or, an attribution that is just beginning to be questioned, that of the Fitzwilliam Museum’s pair of bronzes to Michelangelo. When an attribution is, all too often, simply taken as fact and not questioned by the media, the story runs away from the scholar actually doing the work. And then, when anything new comes to light to reverse an attribution, the fanfare of the exhibition or publication that happened decades ago has easily been forgotten, but what is done to right the artist’s oeuvre in public memory?

2015-03-05 - Michelangelo bronzes Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge

Pair of bronzes at the Fitzwilliam. Courtesy: Michel Jones/The Fitzwilliam Museum.

2013-08-13 - Lisa Gherardini skull Mona Lisa Florence Italy

Speculation and Sensationalizing: Art and History through the Lens of CSI Archeology

Ruth Osborne
2013-08-13 - Lisa Gherardini grave Mona Lisa Florence Italy

NBC coverage of Gherardini grave excavations in Florence, Italy. Courtesy: NBC Today show.

Over the weekend there occurred a surge in news reports about excavations at the graves of the husband and sons of Lisa Gherardini, the supposed subject of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa (1503-6, 1517).

NBC reported on Friday that a centuries-old crypt in Florence was opened to extract DNA from these skeletal remains in order to compare it with samples from an earlier excavation.[1] The purpose of this extensive project is to confirm that one of eight different tombs, unearthed in 2011, contains the body of the famed Mona Lisa; the same woman that has become the subject of public domain and many a pop culture parody.


What startles ArtWatch about this recent effort to unearth Mona Lisa is its chiefly speculative nature and invasive disregard for the individuals’ tombs in question (see also ArtWatch UK Director Michael Daley’s interview in NBC news segment). They are treated not as cultural property to be cared for, but instead to be ransacked in a quest to put “scientific” theories to test. In an NBC News segment, one reporter refers to this project as “masterpiece CSI.”


Two direct descendants of Lisa Gherardini, the Princesses Natalia and Irina Strozzi, perform for the newscasters as authenticators of this project: “At first the excavations bothered them. But now they too have caught the fascination.”  The work is posed as a way to satiate public curiosity for “how she really looked” and why her smile “seems off.”[2] The emphasis here on an eye-opening and audience captivating discovery is symptomatic of the modern appetite for an authentic, film-like version of history.


2013-08-13 - Lisa Gherardini skull Mona Lisa Florence Italy

Skull presumed to be that of Lisa Gherardini. Courtesy: EPA.

Kristina Killgrove, a bioarcheologist at the University of West Florida, reveals to NBC the largely unscientific nature of the search for the “real” Mona Lisa: “This will probably bring in some tourist dollars, but other than confirming that this is the Mona Lisa, I don’t see any scholarly relevance to it…And these bones, as far as I can tell from the pictures, are in fairly poor condition.”[3] If the 500 year-old skeletons are so fragile, what authority decided it was worth the tourist revenue to open up a church floor and take apart these tombs?


The search for excavated remains of the Mona Lisa began in 2011 at the determination of Silvano Vinceti, neither an archeologist nor a scientist, but rather a television host and producer who also claimed to have opened the tombs of Caravaggio, Dante, and Petrarch. He follows “instincts” and “hunches” that lead him to seeking after these discoveries. Other pseudo-discoveries include uncovering symbols in Mona Lisa’s eyes and asserting the sitter was in fact a male model.[4]  What does this say about Vinceti’s motivations? He contends to uncover the “truth,” but on what grounds and for what end? For the sake of revealing the spectacular to a public waiting with baited breath.


2013-08-13 - Silvano Vinceti Lisa Gherardini tomb Florence Italy

Silvano Vinceti above family tomb of Gherardinis. Courtesy: Maurizio Degl’Innocenti / EPA.

After much speculation, excavation, and detailed testing, we may be able to acquire a CGI image of the skeleton and see how it aligns with Leonardo’s painting. Meanwhile, a USA Today reporter admits, “there is the possibility that none of the skeletons are Lisa.”[5]  Killgrove asserts that it is impossible to use facial reconstruction to truly identify the face of the Mona Lisa on skeletal remains: “what we cannot do is throw around ideas willy-nilly and claim that we can solve Dan Brown-style mysteries with our capital-S science.”[6] Vinceti’s claim certainly is far-fetched, but it has captured much the public and media attention, and that gets the dollars to fund such purportedly significant archeological projects.  Yet another project in the works by another team of archeologists is set to exhume the skeletal remains of William Shakespeare.[7] Such speculation behind Vinceti’s and other projects tests out unscientific hypotheses at the expense of artistic and cultural heritage.


[1] “DNA Test to prove real identity of Mona Lisa,” TODAY. NBC News. 9 August 2013. (last visited 12 August 2013).

[2] “DNA Test to prove real identity of Mona Lisa,”; “Who is the real Mona Lisa?” USA Today. 9 August 2013 (last visited 12 August 2013).

[3] Alan Boyle, Science Editor, NBC News, “ ‘Mona Lisa’ skeleton and her kin’s remains are due for DNA testing,” NBC News. 9 August 2013. (last visited 12 August 2013); Kristina Killgrove, “Return of the Mona Lisa (or at least her bones…)” Powered by Osteons. 19 July 2012. (last visited 12 August 2013).

[4] “Next on CSI: Renaissance, Who Killed Caravaggio?” TV Host Silvano Vinceti Probes History’s Coldest Cases. 10 March 2010, (last visited 13 August 2013).

[5] “Who is the real Mona Lisa?”

[6] Killgrove, “Return of the Mona Lisa (or at least her bones…).”

[7] Killgrove, “To toke or not to toke…Will Shakespeare’s bones tell us? Uh, no…” Powered by Osteons. 26 June 2011. (last visited 12 August 2013).

2007-12-29 - Leonardo loan protest

Art on Loan

One senses that the ante has been upped in the deal-making world of art loans. Quite a few “first-and-only-time” loans have been made this year.

A conspicuous example has been the traveling exhibition of three panels and several smaller pieces of Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise, which are in the midst of a nearly year-long journey from their home in Florence’s Museo dell’Opera del Duomo to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Seattle Art Museum, the last of these a late addition after intensive lobbying. Much hyped is the rarity of the exhibition, presented as the only time they will travel outside of Florence, due to the undeniable risks posed. A curator at the Art Institute has commented, “Sculpture doesn’t travel well, in general, and so the fact that three of the panels from the Gates can travel at all is remarkable.”

Regardless of the educational and altruistic rhetoric, that these are works that are traveling to offer an unprecedented opportunity for people to study and learn about certain treasures, the reality is that objects are being moved primarily for economic reasons, whether they be international or local. While the entire Ghiberti tour has been seen, undoubtedly somewhat simplistically, as reciprocal arrangement following the donation of funds by the U.S. group Friends of Florence for the restoration of the doors, there are local benefits as well. In the case of the Seattle stop, at least one local hotel is offering the “Gates of Paradise Package.”

2007-12-29 - Leonardo loan protestPerhaps an even more impressive deal was made by British Museum  to secure the loan from China of twenty terracotta statues of the warriors of the first Chinese emperor, Qin Shihuangdi, dating to the third century BCE. The twenty are just a small fraction of the 1000 figures that were unearthed in 1974 – about 7000 still await excavation – but it is the largest amount of this material to ever leave China. Previous exhibitions in Germany and Austria were composed of copies only, though still drawing impressive crowds. The Chinese government has recently made claims that a current exhibition at the Hamburg Museum of Ethnology is made entirely of copies, and the museum has been forced to offer refunds to the 10,000 visitors who have seen the show since it opened in late November.

With the demand high and hype higher, the British Museum show, entitled The First Emperor: China’s Terracotta Army, is a guaranteed blockbuster. By mid-October it was announced that 200,000 tickets at $25 apiece had been sold, and by late November, tickets were sold out straight through February. The tremendous visibility of the show has also attracted a major corporate sponsor, Morgan Stanley. As a way of further validating their support, Morgan Stanley has made the analogy between their role in being the first to bring international investment services to China, and their role in bringing these statues for the first time from their native land.

And the show doesn’t stop here. After it completes its engagement in London, the terracottas and a collection of 120 objects in total will travel to the High Museum in Atlanta. And while the museums and the sponsors involved have gotten great benefit from the arrangement, China stands to benefit as well. Britain has sent three shows in return, and in addition to this exchange, China will undoubtedly see the added effect of stirring interest in Chinese culture in the wake of the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Atlanta’s High Museum, which will host both of these shows, is setting the new standard for international art loans – they engineered not only “first-and-only” shipments of the Gates of Paradise and Andrea del Verrocchio’s  David, but also made the partnership with the Louvre Museum in Paris to send a series of exhibitions to Atlanta, all following the High’s recent $85 million addition which doubled its space. And other museums are following suit, both nationally and internationally. Seattle Art Museum also recently doubled its special exhibition space – and like the High, has arranged to show rarely-shipped works from the Louvre’s collection early in 2008.

The Museo del Prado in Madrid likewise just opened their expanded space by Rafael Moneo, with an additional 237,000 square feet, at the cost of $219 million. The Prado remodeling will bring to light many works that have been languishing in storage. But at the same time, the project was driven by the desire to be a “world-class” institution in terms of attracting blockbuster exhibitions and large numbers of visitors, a record number of which are expected this year, as well as meeting the expectations that are now the norms for museum goers: restaurants,  education rooms, and shops. In an effort to make-over their venerable institution, the Prado also sought “rebranding” by Studio Fernando Gutiérrez, which created for them a new logo, signage and a new marquee aimed at attracting commercial sponsorship and raising money for temporary shows.

Perhaps a less audacious loan in terms of scale, but noteworthy nonetheless for the rare stirring of opposition it caused, was the shipment of Leonardo da Vinci’s Annunciation, which resides in Florence’s Uffizi Museum, to Tokyo this past spring as the star attraction of the exhibition, The Mind of Leonardo – The Universal Genius at Work. The show was part of a larger promotional event called Primavera Italiana 2007, which had as its primary goal the promotion of Italian culture and business ventures in Japan. The loan was not without controversy, especially as it could potentially be viewed as violating a 2004 Italian law which forbids the loan of any object considered essential to its home institution. Although facilitated by the Italian Culture Minister, Francesco Rutelli, prominent critics included the director of the Uffizi Antonio Natali and Italian senator Paolo Amato, the latter of which staged a protest outside of the museum when it was moved.

But the issue is not just single, and supposedly, one-time instances of loans. Large-scale loans by some major institutions are becoming par for the course. The Vatican has recently announced its most substantial collection of objects ever be sent to the southern hemisphere, on a 2008 tour for the exhibition Vatican: The Story, The Art, The Architecture that will include the Auckland Museum in New Zealand and Sydney. As in the case of many recent blockbusters eager for the notion of exclusivity and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, the director of Auckland Museum has stressed that these works will probably never travel there again. The more than eighty objects, which include portraits by Titian and Bernini, as well as an early cast of Michelangelo’s Vatican Pietà, are of such value that they are requiring government insurance and a high level of security to guarantee their safety.

Other recent “firsts” include the current Van Gogh retrospective at the Seoul Museum of Art, Van Gogh: Voyage into the Myth, with sixty-seven works on loan from the Kroller-Muller Museum in Otterlo and Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. It is the first Van Gogh exhibition in Korea, and the largest Van Gogh exhibition held since the one marking the centennial anniversary of his death in 1990.

2007-12-27 - Leonardo Lady with an Ermine

Art and Restoration in the Age of Technology

It seems that art discoveries are in the news daily, spurred on by new technologies that are allowing us to look at artworks in a way that has never before been possible.

The works of Leonardo da Vinci have been easy targets. The Mona Lisa has been in the news repeatedly during the last few years, and different art historians and technicians have used different methods to see beneath the varnish and Leonardo’s paint and make discoveries about its earliest form.

Leonardo’s Last Supper has also made headlines this fall, with the inauguration of a new website which makes a 16 billion pixel image of the famous mural available online, something that has become more and more useful as access to the painting itself has become more restricted.

Also in the last month news came of “multispectral” high-resolution camera investigations on Leonardo’s Lady with an Ermine in the Czartoryski Museum, Krakow, which have enabled scientists to create a digital image of what Leonardo’s painting may have looked like when it was first created in the 1490s. The study of the portrait, which has been much altered by restorations, was undertaken by Pascal Cotte, who has also examined Leonardo’s Mona Lisa. Cotte has applied his technique to hundreds of paintings, gathering a database of “original” images. Cotte is not at all the first to embark on this path. Editech, founded in Italy three decades ago has performed “multi-spectral diagnostic imaging and analytical diagnostics” on more than 2500 paintings, creating a valuable resource of condition reports.

It is critical to remember that the conclusions drawn as a result of these diagnostic tests are not necessarily correct. Even the most “objective” scientific evidence requires interpretation, and so many of the public announcements that have been made, touting the newest discoveries of the original intentions of the artist, are not universally agreed upon, nor should they be.

Undoubtedly these technical advances offer many benefits, most notably the ability to study and virtually “restore” works without touching the originals, and to create facsimiles that could even be hung alongside their source works for further study. But the concern lies in the knowledge that historically latest technologies have often been used to promote rather than replace restorations. The fear in this case is that believing to fully understand what lies beneath the surface of an artwork will embolden restorers and justify their aims to go looking, with their preconceived notions, for what they now expect to find.


A Manifesto to Save Leonardo


Salvatemi per mirabile necessità (Leonardo, Codice Atlantico)
Save me out of admirable necessity (Leonardo, Codex Atlanticus)
Salvatemi dai barattieri e dai pomposi trombetti (Codice Atlantico)
Save me from tricksters and pompous trumpeteers (Codex Atlanticus)
Salvatemi dalle sette di ipocriti (Trattato della pittura)
Save me from the clans of hypocrites (Treatise on painting)
Salvatemi dalle umane pazzie in aumentazione (Trattato della pittura)
Save me from human madnesses which are always increasing (Treatise on Painting)
Salvatemi dalla bava di cane rabbioso (Codice Atlantico)
Save me from the mad dog’s slaver (Codex Atlanticus)
Salvatemi dalle frecce lingue dell’invidia e dei malpensieri (Oxford)
Save me from the tongues lashes of nasty-minded people (Oxford)
Salvatemi dall’assedio della calunnia e dall’ingratitudine (Oxford, Ash I, BM)
Save me from a siege of false accusations and ingratitude (Oxford, Ash I, BM)
Salvatemi dalla fitta infamia (Ms H)
Save me from serious public dishonor (Ms H)
Salvatemi dalla sozza fama (Ms H)
Save me from filthy reports (Ms H)
Salvatemi dalle barerie dei parlari (Codice sul volo)
Save me from the gossipers (Codex on the Flight of Birds)
Salvatemi dalle bugiarde dimostrazioni (Codice Atlantico)
Save me from false proofs (Codex Atlanticus)
Salvatemi dalla mucillagine (Forster I)
Save me from gummy secretions (Forster I)
Salvatemi dai matti e giuntatori (Codice Atlantico)
Save me from lunatics and cheaters (Codex Atlanticus)
Salvatemi dalla ruggine dell’ignoranza e dai vani e instolti desideri (Codice Atlantico)
Save me from rusty ignorance and vain, foolish desires (Codex Atlanticus)
Salvatemi dalla smisurata superbia dei presuntuosi (Codice Atlantico)
Save me from the conceited people’s unbounded arrogance (Codex Atlanticus)
Salvatemi dagli ambiziosi tiranni (Ash. II)
Save me from ambitious tyrants (Ash. II)
Salvatemi dagli ambiziosi che non intendono la bellezza del mondo (Codice Atlantico)
Save me from the ambitious who do not understand the beauty of the world (Codex Atlanticus)
Salvatemi da chi non difende la libertà, dono principale di natura (Ash. II)
Save me from those who do not defend freedom, which is nature’s greatest gift (Ash. II)
Salvatemi da chi nega la ragion delle cose (Madrid I)
Save me from those who deny the cause of things (Madrid I)
Salvatemi da chi vende il Paradiso (Codice Atlantico)
Save me from those who sell Heaven (Codex Atlanticus)
Salvatemi da chi è generato senza amore (Weimar)
Save me from those generated without love (Weimar)
Salvatemi dai fratelli avari (Codice Atlantico)
Save me from avarous monks (Codex Atlanticus)
Salvatemi dai figli nemici (Codice Atlantico)
Save me from hostile sons (Codex Atlanticus)
Salvatemi dagli allievi infidi (Codice Atlantico)
Save me from treacherous disciples (Codex Atlanticus)
Salvatemi dagli homini grossolani e di tristi costumi (Windsor)
Save me from rude and unrefined men (Windsor)
Salvatemi dai capricci della moda (Trattato della pittura)
Save me from the quirks of fashion (Treatise on Painting)
Salvatemi dalla decadenza dell’arte nell’imitazione (Trattato della pittura)
Save me from the decay of the art when it comes to imitation (Treatise on Painting)
Salvatemi dai pittori che non sono universali (Trattato della pittura)
Save me from painters who are not universal (Treatise on Painting)
Salvatemi dalla pittura che fa sbadigliare (Codice Atlantico)
Save me from painting that makes people yawn (Codex Atlanticus)
Salvatemi dai bugiardi interpreti di natura (Codice Atlantico)
Save me from nature’s false interpreters (Codex Atlanticus)
Salvatemi dai negromanti e dai cercatori d’oro (Windsor, Forster II)
Save me from alchimists and gold diggers (Windsor, Forster II)
Salvatemi dall’impazienza, madre della stoltizia (Windsor)
Save me from impatience, the mother of foolishness (Windsor)
Salvatemi dal pericolo della ruina (Trivulziano)
Save me from the danger of ruination (Trivulziano Codex)
Salvatemi dalla discordanza di elementi che ruina e disfa (Codice Atlantico)
Save me from the discordance of elements that spoils and destroys (Codex Atlanticus)
Salvatemi dalle armi sleali dei traditori e assassini (Codice Atlantico)
Save me from the dishonest weapons of betrayers and assassins (Codex Atlanticus)
Salvatemi dalla discordia e dalle battaglie, pazzia bestialissima (Trattato della pittura)
Save me from strife and battle, a most beastly madness (Treatise on Painting)
Salvatemi con hostinato rigore (Windsor)
Save me with obstinate determination (Windsor)
Salvatemi con destinato rigore (Windsor)
Save me with predetermined determination (Windsor)
Salvatemi con l’eccellenzia della verità (Codice sul volo)
Save me with the excellence of truth (Codex On the Flight of Birds)
Salvatemi con la giustizia, che vuol intelligenza e volontà (Ms H)
Save me with justice, which requires intelligence and will (Ms H)
Salvatemi con l’esperienza e la ragione (Ms E)
Save me with experience and reason (Ms E)
Salvatemi con le infinite ragioni della natura che non furono mai in esperienza (Ms I)
Save me with the infinite explanations of nature which have never occured in experience (Ms I)
Salvatemi con la sapienza, figlia dell’esperienza (Forster III)
Save me with wisdom, which is the daughter of experience (Forster III)
Salvatemi con l’occhio dei sogni (Arundel)
Save me with the eye of dreams (Arundel)
Salvatemi con i rebus della felicità (Windsor)
Save me with the puzzles of happiness (Windsor)
Salvatemi con i semplici (Windsor)
Save me with the simple people (Windsor)
Salvatemi con le armonie di numeri, proporzioni, suoni, tempi, siti (Ms K)
Save me with the harmonies of numbers, proportions, sounds, times, sites (Ms K)
Salvatemi con la pittura che è invenzione, scienza e filosofia (Ash. I)
Save me with painting, which is invention, science and philosophy (Ash. I)
Salvatemi con quell’arte che avanza tutte l’opere umane (Ms A1)
Save me with the art that puts forward all human works (Ms A1)
Salvatemi con la pittura che accende ad amare (Trattato della pittura)
Save me with painting that kindles love (Treatise on Painting)
Salvatemi con la città che si fa bellezza (Codice Atlantico)
Save me with the city that turns into beauty (Codex Atlanticus)
Salvatemi con i ponti salvatici (Madrid I)
Save me with saving bridges (Madrid I)
Salvatemi con i ponti in core (Forster I)
Save me with bridges in the heart (Forster I)
Salvatemi con la concordanza (Codice Atlantico)
Save me with harmony (Codex Atlanticus)
Salvatemi con la forza, virtù spirituale, potenza invisibile (Ms A)
Save me with strength, which is a spiritual virtue, an invisible power (Ms A)
Salvatemi con la potenza dell’immaginazione (Madrid I)
Save me with the power of imagination (Madrid I)
Salvatemi con la figurazione al di là del visibile (Trattato della pittura)
Save me with representations which are beyond the visible (Treatise on Painting)
Salvatemi con i pensieri che si voltano alla speranza (Codice Atlantico)
Save me with thoughts which bring us hope (Codex Atlanticus)
Salvatemi perché intenderansi e abbracceransi li omini di remotissimi paesi… (Codice Atlantico)
Save me so that men from very far away countries will understand and embrace each other (Codex Atlanticus)


Salviamo Leonardo dalle interpretazioni anestetiche
Let’s save Leonardo from ugly interpretations
Salviamo Leonardo dalle iperboli della retorica
Let’s save Leonardo from the hyperboles of rhetoric
Salviamo Leonardo dai restauri lifting
Let’s save Leonardo’s paintings from cosmetic cleanings
Salviamo Leonardo dalle attribuzioni vaganti nel tempo
Let’s save Leonardo from willy nilly attributions
Salviamo Leonardo dagli equivoci leonardeschi
Let’s save Leonardo from leonardesque misunderstandings
Salviamo Leonardo dalle inflazioni
Let’s save Leonardo from exaggerations
Salviamo Leonardo dalle infiltrazioni
Let’s save Leonardo from infiltrations
Salviamo Leonardo dalle inibizioni della burocrazia egocentrica
Let’s save Leonardo from the inhibitions of the egocentric bureacracy
Salviamo Leonardo dalle devianze della politica S.p.A.
Let’s save Leonardo from the deviance of official politics
Salviamo Leonardo dal barattar consenso
Let’s save Leonardo from tricking into having consensus
Salviamo Leonardo dai gerarchetti di tutte le mafie
Let’s save Leonardo from all the different Mafias
Salviamo Leonardo dagli avventurieri
Let’s save Leonardo from adventurers
Salviamo Leonardo dalle scorrerie mercenarie
Let’s save Leonardo from mercenary raids
Salviamo Leonardo dal sonno della ragione che genera mostre
Let’s save Leonardo from the sleep of reason, which produces exhibitions
Salviamo Leonardo dalle grandi mostre a grande rischio
Let’s save Leonardo from risky block buster exhibitions
Salviamo Leonardo dai modellacci e modellini
Let’s save Leonardo from ugly and ridiculous models
Salviamo Leonardo dai modellastri funzionanti
Let’s save Leonardo from improperly functioning reconstructions
Salviamo Leonardo dai “musei” dell’orrido banale e dell’atroce virtuale
Let’s save Leonardo from dreadful and horrid virtual shows
Salviamo Leonardo dal museo fast food e dal circo dei cloni
Let’s save Leonardo from fast food like museums and the circus of clones
Salviamo Leonardo dall’egemonia del marketing
Let’s save Leonardo from the hegemony of marketing
Salviamo Leonardo dal kitsch senza humor
Let’s save Leonardo from kitsch without humor
Salviamo Leonardo dalla credulità per misere leggende
Let’s save Leonardo from credulity for wretched legends
Salviamo Leonardo dalla pagina 62 del Codice da Vinci
Let’s save Leonardo from the Da Vinci Code, page 62
Salviamo Leonardo dagli epigoni di Dan Brown
Let’s save Leonardo from Dan Brown’s imitators
Salviamo Leonardo dalla censura
Let’s save Leonardo from cuts and censors
Salviamo Leonardo dall’ignavia
Let’s save Leonardo from indolence
Salviamo Leonardo dall’arroganza
Let’s save Leonardo from arrogance
Salviamo Leonardo dalla falsa bicicletta
Let’s save Leonardo from the fake bicycle
Salviamo Leonardo dalla falsa cucina
Let’s save Leonardo from false kitchens
Salviamo Leonardo dalle false tradizioni
Let’s save Leonardo from false traditions
Salviamo Leonardo dai misteri idioti
Let’s save Leonardo from idiotic mysteries
Salviamo Leonardo con i suoi pensieri attivi
Let’s save Leonardo with his active thoughts
Salviamo Leonardo con coraggio
Let’s save Leonardo with courage
Salviamo Leonardo con ironia “salvatica”
Let’s save Leonardo with saving irony
Salviamo Leonardo con impegno civile estremo
Let’s save Leonardo with strong civil engagement
Salviamo Leonardo con musei etici
Let’s save Leonardo with ethical museums
Salviamo Leonardo con l’etica-estetica della città ideale
Let’s save Leonardo with the ethic-aesthetics of the ideal city
Salviamo Leonardo con la coscienza dell’identità e dell’alterità
Let’s save Leonardo with a conscience of identity and otherness
Salviamo Leonardo con il divenire della ricerca nel molteplice
Let’s save Leonardo with flowing, multiform research
Salviamo Leonardo con la riscoperta del disperso, del dimenticato e dell’inaccessibile
Let’s save Leonardo with the rediscovery of lost, forgotten and inaccessible things
Salviamo Leonardo con la sintesi della complessità
Let’s save Leonardo with the synthesis of complexity
Salviamo Leonardo con la fertilità del dubbio e dell’autocritica
Let’s save Leonardo with the richness of doubt and self-criticism
Salviamo Leonardo con il respiro della memoria
Let’s save Leonardo with the breath of memory
Salviamo Leonardo con le provocazioni alla sensibilità
Let’s save Leonardo by challenging sensibility
Salviamo Leonardo con la voce del silenzio in antitesi ai frastuoni pervasivi
Let’s save Leonardo against pervading noises with the voice of silence
Salviamo Leonardo con la creatività mercuriale
Let’s save Leonardo with mercurial creativity
Salviamo Leonardo con nuovi alfabeti
Let’s save Leonardo with new alphabets
Salviamo Leonardo con tecnologie sostenibili
Let’s save Leonardo with sustainable technologies
Salviamo Leonardo con l’arte libera e l’umanità della scienza
Let’s save Leonardo with free art and the humanity of science
Salviamo Leonardo con originalità e filologia
Let’s save Leonardo with originality and philology
Salviamo Leonardo con gli ingegni palindromi
Let’s save Leonardo with ingegni (ingenious) palindromics
Salviamo Leonardo con i nodi vinciani
Let’s save Leonardo with da Vinci knots
Salviamo Leonardo nel Labirinto dei Vinci
Let’s save Leonardo in the Vinci Labyrinth
Salviamo Leonardo fino agli antipodi
Let’s save Leonardo up to the opposite ends of the earth
Salviamo Leonardo per realizzare frammenti di utopia
Let’s save Leonardo by creating fragments of utopia

Savage he is who saves himself
Salvatico è quel che si salva (Leonardo, Codice Trivulziano)
© MILDV 2005