The National Gallery and Masaccio

Masaccio was the first truly Renaissance artist who, in his short lifetime of 26 years of which perhaps only five were as an independent master, managed to revolutionize Western painting.

He was born in 1401 and in honor of his 600th anniversary, a few relatively modest events are being planned for his birthplace of San Giovanni Valdarno, which does not possess a single work by their local hero. London’s National Gallery has scheduled a far more ambitious event. The Gallery owns the enthroned Madonna and Child which originated as the central section of the altarpiece for the Carmine Church in Pisa. This painting, really a large fragment of the whole, is well documented as having been executed for the chapel of a wealthy notary, Giuliano di Colino degli Scarsi, during the calendar year 1426. It forms one of the very few fixed points in the short career of the master and the entire Renaissance, for that matter.

The altarpiece was a highly complex structure composed of a predella, the broad and rather large central panel including four standing saints, smaller ones set into pilasters (?), half-length saints, and other representations at the uppermost zone. In the later 16th Century Masaccio’s polyptych was removed from the chapel, which was located on the tramezzo and which was demolished. At some point, presumably shortly thereafter, altarpiece was cut up. In the process the four side saints, two on either side of the enthroned Madonna, including the patron saint of the donor and that of his father (Colino=Niccolò), were separated and have disappeared. Other losses include smaller sections, and possibly a strip at the bottom of the Madonna panel which, in turn, was very severely cleaned in the more distant past. In other words what is left of the original painting is highly fragmentary. To be sure, theoretical reconstructions have been offered from time to time by art scholars, but none have received the full support of their colleagues. One of the complicating factors is that the design of the pala was still in the late Gothic style and was created not by Masaccio but by a Sienese carpenter.

In addition to the marvelous Madonna, which was purchased by the National Gallery in 1916, other smaller panels known to have formed part of the altarpiece are found in public collections in Los Angeles, Berlin, Pisa and Naples. The National Gallery has announced that all of the known parts, eleven including their own, will be brought together for an exhibition in London from September 12 to November 11. As a parenthesis, I cannot hide my puzzlement that the National Gallery does not keep it open until Masaccio’s actual birthday on December 21st. Perhaps it doesn’t fit into the Gallery’s plans for the Christmas show.

On its face, the proposal to bring together these sections seems reasonable enough. But upon reflection serious doubts are raised concerning the use of the world’s artistic heritage by this newsworthy exhibition.

The goal seems to be to bring the “masterpiece back to life” [Daily Telegraph, 12 July 2001], that is to “attempt to reconstruct” the polyptych. According to the Gallery itself, however, what will be presented probably amounts to “only a third of the original work.” So if the goal is as stated – and what else could it possibly be? – it is a flawed one. Besides, one of the fundamental issues for any reconstruction of the altarpiece is the very nature and appearance of the frame and how the different extant sections relate to it and to one another. The frame, however, has totally disappeared without any meaningful clues as to its original appearance. In other words the very objective of the exhibition is really an impossibility to start with, and the promised conferences of art historians cannot change the situation.

Perhaps the hidden agenda may instead involve public relations, which has become part of the museum’s modus operandi anyway. By showing how clever they are in bringing these rare objects together, the National Gallery apparently can expect to accrue valuable publicity. This objective is hardly unique to the National Gallery, but it is exceptionally adept at this kind of activity, more so than the Met or the Washington National Gallery. And, of course, the thought that these works will be brought together from far-flung places is pleasant enough. The handful of specialists who might be interested and understand the nuances of the situation should be contented. After all, I recall a difficult winter day in Berlin when I went to specifically to see the seven sections of the Masaccio altarpiece there, several of which are actually autograph, that is, by the master himself: the others are by his workshop.

Still, shipping works around the world should give one pause. It can be dangerous for at least three reasons: (1) there is always the possibility of an accident, either from a plane crash, a boat sinking, truck accidents, dropping, or the like, and not even Dr. Neil McGregor, the National’s skillful Director, with all his power, could prevent such an occurrence; (2) the changes in the natural or acquired environments of delicate works of art inevitably involves some risk, all the more so in the case of paintings on prepared wood panels. This despite all of the preparations and special containers with constant humidity. How this condition compares with the location in their “homes” in Berlin and Naples is quite another matter. Besides according to reliable reports from scientific institutes, the shipment of art works, no matter how carefully executed, is damaging: it is merely a question of how much damage occurs; (3) very often in exhibitions such as this one, special treatment for the paintings is required to help them sustain the trip, treatments which often include unnecessary and frequently misleading restorations.

If I have lined up some of the negatives for the presentation of the exhibition, perhaps we might try to present positives: (1) you could hope to bring more people to the National Gallery to view and appreciate art than might otherwise have come. Of course, while specialists are very keen on Masaccio, the rest of the population probably does not even recognize his name, or retains but a faint memory from an Art Appreciation course in college. It will not be a door buster, and cannot be expected to provide the opportunity to sell a lot of catalogues at the book shop, or generate much needed cash for the Gallery. (2) By bringing these parts together, Masaccio specialists may be aided in their ongoing efforts to determine the authorship of the various parts, separating the hand of the master from that of his workshop, a fairly esoteric activity which could also be done without shipping the objects. (3) There is a publicity value in showing the Museum to be active on an international scale, and thus an institution to admire and support financially.

A very simple, inexpensive, and secure alternative to the National Gallery’s initiative for Masaccio is readily available, and ArtWatch International has urged the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the Berlin Museum, and the National Museums in Pisa and Naples to consider it. They should send high-quality scale facsimiles of their treasures and keep the originals in their proper and safe place. The goals of a pseudo-reconstruction and comparison between the works can be obtained just the same. One is quite able to study and reconstruct to one’s heart’s content without any danger to the rare originals, especially, I must single out, the Adoration of the Magi in Berlin, a tiny masterpiece in quite good condition which ranks with the best pictures of the Fifteenth Century, and the Crucifixion in Naples, another gem, although it has undergone considerable modern restorations. Nevertheless it is a work of the most rare beauty. And if, Heaven forbid, an accident should occur, the reproductions would be lost and could be easily replaced, but the originals would still be there in Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz Gemäldegalerie and in the Capodimonte, where they belong. The fact is that Dr. McGregor himself has stated that it took two years to persuade the other institutions to lend their works. Sometimes even governments get involved in the persuasion efforts or alternatively a borrowing institution coaxes the potential lender by promises of sending them a prestigious work in the future.

To return to the larger issue of the treatment of our treasures, I suggest that the Crucifixion exhibition is basically one which is motivated by efforts to gain prestige for the institution and consequently to reap rewards. This condition is similar to more ambitious blockbuster exhibitions which are held in large and small museums alike with some regularity all over the world and which involve the sending of objects hither and yon. At its core, the problem presents a dilemma. The commercialization of the museum in the West with its explosive museum stores selling every conceivable object, hiring vast fund raising and press relations staffs, and using all of the sophisticated tricks of advanced public relations to make their point involves an obvious rationalization: these are wonderful institutions of culture, they offer wide public access to works of art and a certain amount of instruction on how to understand the art, and they are the objective of “cultural” tourism. They are in constant need of funds to carry out their good work.

So what is really wrong with selling Matisse ties or Michelangelo mouse pads, where the poor little critters get stuck forever on a glue mat showing God creating Adam. It’s fun, it’s practical, it helps the institution. Why fuss? So what if the Metropolitan Museum has fifteen Museum shops, located from California and Texas to Florida? They contribute to the needs of the Museum and even provide work for artisans and middlemen. And if they have fifteen, why not twenty? And what is to stop the Louvre from doing the same, and the Uffizi, and the Prado? And what is wrong with the restoration, unnecessary in the view of Italy’s new Under-secretary of Fine Arts (and my own), of Michelangelo’s Moses, shown on-line, where you can play Moses games? What is wrong with having restaurants all over the Museum of Modern Art, or renting out the main hall of the Metropolitan or the Uffizi for a fashion show or a wedding reception? For many, there is nothing wrong; in fact, it is a pretty good thing, for in this way the institutions become self-sufficient and do not need government support. The issue is a lingering one and requires long and careful debate. It should become one of the crucial issues which the culture will have to face full-front in the coming years.

2001-02-06 Churches Charge Admission Santa Maria Novella admission tourism Florence

City of Florence to Charge Admission at Santa Maria Novella

By James Beck

Should churches charge admission fees to see art?

The recent decision by the city of Florence, with the approval of the Superintendent of Fine Arts (Soprintendente ai beni artistici) of Florence Dr. Antonio Paolucci together with church authorities to charge admission to visit Santa Maria Novella has raised a host of questions pertinent to the culture as a whole. One should keep in mind that this is by no means the first time churches in Italy (and elsewhere) charge entrance fees. At the top of a growing list is, after all, the Vatican which for decades has been requiring a fee or really a ticket to visit the Sistine Chapel. Of course the Vatican is not Italy. And strictly speaking and with considerable finesse, the Sistine Chapel has been defined as part of the Vatican Museums and by so doing any ethical ambiguities have been effectively sidestepped. Museums customarily, though not universally, have been selling admissions for centuries.

The same ‘solution’ has been applied to the Brancacci Chapel in Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence, more recently, following an extensive not to say brutal restoration of the frescoes by Masolino, Masaccio and Filippino Lippi. In this instance the comune of Florence, museum-ized the chapel, lumping it together with the little museum that was always there. Furthermore they eliminated an entry to the Brancacci Chapel from the church itself, effectively eliminating its religious connection. As with the Sistina, the fiction was reinforced that one was not actually paying to enter a church, but rather a museum.

The situation surrounding entrance to the Baptistery, Dante’s bel S. Giovanni, with encrusted marble decoration outside and glistening late Medieval mosaics inside, is slightly different. The tourists must now pay to visit the unforgettable building which stands in the piazza of the Duomo, across from its façade and Giotto’s bell tower. The same has been true for decades at Pisa’s Piazza dei Miracoli where Cathedral authorities have been collecting entrance fees for their marvelous buildings: the Camposanto, the Duomo, the Baptistery. The holy buildings are grouped with the Museum of the Works of the Cathedral and the Museum of the Sinopia on a “cumulative ticket,” for which there is a discount off individual admissions.

Now the Dominican church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence, located a stone’s throw from the train station from which its name derives, will have an admission fee amounting to 5,000 Lire (about 2.50 in Euros). The art in the church and in the cloister is of the highest quality and rivals that in most public museums. Chief works of Cimabue, Giotto, Orcagna, Masaccio, Ghiberti, Brunelleschi, Filippino Lippi, Ghirlandaio, and Paulo Uccello are here. The decision to reclassify the building, in modern jargon, into a “chiesa-museo,” results from two events: the clean up which was conducted for the Jubilee and the restoration and repainting of Masaccio’s unequaled Trinity, painted in late 1425 or 1426.

2001-02-06 Churches Charge Admission Santa Maria Novella admission tourism Florence

Once the total cleaning of the Brancacci frescoes across the river in Santa Maria del Carmine had been completed in 1988, and probably not for the first time, the fame-hungry sponsor (who has since disappeared from the restoration scene) was anxious to become associated with the restoration project of the Trinity, so as to monopolize the Masaccio market. The intervention was postponed until 1999, when officials, taking advantage of the fact that the church was closed in preparation for the Jubilee, moved ahead. Now the fresco will be ready for tourists again. In retrospect it seems almost inevitable that the same fate would await the Trinity and the church itself as the Brancacci Chapel.

Masaccio’s Trinity fresco is, in terms of the history of art and the history of culture, extremely influential. Here for the first time we find a thorough explication of the new perspective, along with the rendering of monumental human figures of decided gravity. The spatial complexity of the Trinity continues to amaze and baffle even the most sophisticated critics. In the Trinity, for the first time, profile portraits of the donors are rendered on a large scale. For good reason, then, the Trinity is featured in all general histories of art as a seminal painting, surely worth the price of admissions: half the cost of a movie or a sit down coffee at Rivoire.

But the ethical question remains to be confronted: should churches charge admission at all? This apparently simple question encapsulates diverse elements. First of all ownership needs to be established. Who owns the artistic treasures of the past? Actually in the fifteenth century, the Florentine government provided quarters for several popes at Santa Maria Novella, and there too Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci prepared their cartoons for the battle murals for the Palazzo Vecchio at the beginning of the following century. Does Santa Maria Novella belong to the Holy Roman church in the larger sense, or to the particular order, in this case the Dominicans, or, perhaps, to the Florentine commune which provided funding? What about the Italian state; or better yet, the entire world?

The city of Florence has assumed the right to create a not-for-profit company (“un’associazione senza fine di lucro called Opera Santa Maria Novella”). As for the state, de facto authority has been assumed by the Superintendent of Fine Arts who reluctantly signed onto the new system. The rarity represented by Santa Maria Novella begins with the facade which was designed by Leon Battista Alberti, sufficient on its own to make it qualify as a world treasure. So far, looking at it is free. Surely, Masaccio’s Trinity stands out even in the most august company but so does Brunelleschi’s rare wooden Crucifix and Orcagna’s unrivaled Strozzi Altarpiece. Thus the inclination persists to advocate world ownership. As things now stand, the Italian government has a good deal of authority, because after all, at least the responsibility for the treatment of the building and its contents, and in the case of the restoration of the Trinity, lies with the government. The issue of ownership requires serious debate.

But if the ownership of Santa Maria Novella represents a thorny issue, the need for an injection of funds is obvious and represents another path for inquiry. The building is visited by thousands each day during the “season,” although Santa Croce in Florence probably has more. [Will this church soon follow?] Such traffic requires every category of maintenance, supervision, guards, cleanup, restorations. Then we can imagine a modern, fully stocked shop which is a sine qua non in every museum worthy of the name these days. Unquestionably the tiny group of Dominican Friars has an overwhelming burden. In other words, they need the financial relief, and if possible generate some income from their treasures. I realize that an infusion of funds would be highly welcomed and necessary. So, gentle reader, you may quite properly ask what is all the fuss about; why am I raising the issue at all?

For an answer, let us return momentarily to the Brancacci Chapel. The frescoes there have been an informal academy for artists since they were painted, and were studied by Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael and Cellini who regarded them as a kind of touchstone for art. Even after World War II, artists and art students continue to slip into the Carmine virtually as a ritual to pay their respects to Masaccio, who in his short life had altered the course of art. All that has ended partly because no one wants to get in line, get a ticket, pay, and be admitted for a short and finite visit, en masse.

What is the proper conduct for such institutions as Santa Maria Novella? How should the culture approach the question? It seems to me that one approach is that related to education. Very few would deny that the provision of an education, up to the age of sixteen or eighteen or even through university, is the responsibility of the commonwealth, the state, the constituted society. Such a responsibility rests at the very heart of state, like health care, road building, providing for defense and protection of its people. Perhaps art should be placed into this same equation. In Italy, where art is ever present, one could make a persuasive case. To be sure, the central government already does take on many responsibilities over art, especially in terms of its care, which includes restoration. Should we expect that government accept the responsibility of keeping a church-museum like Santa Maria Novella open, functional and free?

If the state is unable to do so, for whatever the reasons, one might expect that the European Union might be called upon to step in. A perfectly good case can be made to preserve the “free” status of the rare objects housed in the church.

And if all the avenues of various levels of government fail, payment in the form of a voluntary contribution might be instituted which removes the onus of a mandatory fee. After all among the visitors are relatively penniless artists, art students, younger travelers, tourists with families, and those who might wish to come back again and again, as the Trinity of Masaccio demands.

A true cultural debate seems to be in order.

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Masaccio’s Trinity: The Tyranny of the Fragment

2000-11-02 - Masaccio Trinity Santa Maria Novella

Masaccio, Trinity with the Virgin, Saint John the Evangelist, and Donors, c. 1425-27/28. Church of Santa Maria Novella (Florence).

The Direction of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence graciously permitted me to visit the ongoing restoration of Masaccio’s Trinity, in Santa Maria Novella, on Thursday August 31st, 2000.


In interviews published in Florentine and Torinese newspapers I had publicly lamented the restoration. My objections, in part, were based upon a firm conviction that the mere decision alone to carry on this restoration represented a cultural presumption one which aims at dramatically altering the appearance of the painting as we have come to know it. No broad consensus about taking this step had been developed, not to mention calling was an international meeting or conference of specialists and interested parties. The step to intervene was taken unilaterally. But still more crucial to my disappointment, one has to look in vain for a carefully calibrated statement, or any statement at all for that matter, regarding the need of the “drastic” (the word used by the Opificio official in charge of the operation) intervention nor its goals, which should precede any such work. We have no reports concerning the painting following a restoration by the late Leonetto Tintori, conducted at the beginning of the 1960s. Furthermore a statement about the methodology proposed, if one exists, should have been made public, in my opinion. All the procedures used normal by a medical intervention, for example, were passed over, at least according the information I have been able to obtain. The Opificio, presumably with permission from the appropriate Florentine superintendencies, decided to move ahead without the formalities mentioned. Apparently an occasion offered itself: the church had been closed for an overall, elaborate scrub down as part of the Jubilee Year celebrations. Why not do the Trinity, was the thinking, I can only guess.

My purpose here is not to rehearse the history of the fresco and its various restorations, much less an evaluation of the cleaning and refurbishing of the Brancacci Chapel frescoes. On the other hand, it is worthwhile to underscore the obvious: Masaccio’s Trinity is arguably the single most prestigious painted work executed in the Early Renaissance. Here for the first time we find an effective combination of characteristics are regarded as “modern.” A thorough explication of the new, or if you insist, the revived perspective together with the rendering of the gravitational and monumental human figures are immediately apparent. The spatial complexity of the Trinity continue to amaze and baffle if the most experienced critics. Although Masaccio apparently painted recognizable likenesses in the Sagra (Cloister, SM. del Carmine), a fresco which has not survive, in the Trinity we find for the first time profile portraits on a large scale of the donors. . For good reason, the Trinity is featured in all general histories of art a seminal painting.

The modern history of the Trinity includes having been moved twice, once in the mid-Nineteenth century, and again in the mid-Twentieth, is well documented and beyond the scope of my presentation. Inevitably there has been losses in these moves, especially around the edges of the mural, while others had been incurred during the ‘strappo.’ Additionally ‘normal’ deterioration which may be expected over the life of a painting executed 575 years ago did not spare this fresco.

Whatever needed to be done in the 1990s, it could not have been the result of water or humidity in the wall, the usual enemy of fresco, because it had been separated from the wall by Bianchi 150 years ago. Was there an emergency which dated back to the beginning of the end of the 1980? If that had been the case, the officials, who already floated the idea restore the Trinity back then following the completion of the Brancacci Chapel (1988), they should have intervened much earlier than 1999. If they waited and a bone fide threat to the life of the painting was present, one might form the opinion that a dereliction of some kind surrounded the delay. Presumably, therefore, we can confidently conclude that there was no immediate emergency whatsoever. Consequently there would have been plenty of time for a more patient and less secret approach to the restoration.

My purpose here is not to rehearse the history of the fresco and its various restorations, much less an evaluation of the cleaning and refurbishing of the Brancacci Chapel frescoes. On the other hand, it is worthwhile to underscore the obvious: Masaccio’s Trinity is arguably the single most prestigious painted work executed in the Early Renaissance. Here for the first time we find an effective combination of characteristics are regarded as “modern.” A thorough explication of the new, or if you insist, the revived perspective together with the rendering of the gravitational and monumental human figures are immediately apparent. The spatial complexity of the Trinity continue to amaze and baffle if the most experienced critics. Although Masaccio apparently painted recognizable likenesses in the Sagra (Cloister, SM. del Carmine), a fresco which has not survive, in the Trinity we find for the first time profile portraits on a large scale of the donors. . For good reason, the Trinity is featured in all general histories of art a seminal painting.

I take this opportunity to comment upon what I saw on that hot Thursday morning in August in an effort to better comprehend general conditions surrounding current fresco restoration practice. Besides, I will offer an up-to-date alternative to the embracing actions which have been undertaken far and wide over the recent past and which are promised in the future, unless the culture is prepared to take preventive steps.

Instantly I was impressed by the formation of the scaffolding with its horizontal platforms or levels resting up against the fresco in a configuration obviously created to facilitate the restorative activity but which, at the same time, is highly arbitrary with regard to the picture itself. These zones have no rapport with the picture’s composition nor the location of the figurative imagery within it. To be sure, the system applied is standard, and here lies one of the most damaging aspects of modern restorative procedure. Not only does it fail to offer an overview as work progresses, but even large subdivisions are not visible as comprehensible units. As every beginning art student learns, any changes in one portion of a painting affects the rest. Hence by the very physical structure imposed upon the restoration, an overview must await the removal of the entire scaffolding. Is there any wonder that one of the most common lamentations among critics of restorations these days is the loss of unity of the whole and harmony among the parts. I suggest that this is an inevitable result.

A restorer however skilled and devoted to his craft must find it virtually impossible, in my opinion, to get much right once placed in such an operational straight jacket. The effects of this kind of arbitrary division is staggering. It requires that while working on the lower portion of the body of the Crucified Christ, for example, the upper portion and the head may not even be visible. To make matters worse, this condition holds true during both principle phases of such interventions: (1) the cleaning, and (2) during repairs, repainting, inpainting and other surface adjustments. Parenthetically, I must add that the word repainting is a term that restorers spurn, preferring instead “inpainting,” or some other euphemism. My view remains that if brushes and colors are used and you apply the colors with brushes, that activity is “painting,” and when it replaces previous colors that were once on the surface, that is “repainting.”

Most artists insist that they remain in control of the entire work as they proceed even on large canvasses or walls. This possibility is largely eliminated not only by the system of layering just described, but also because the space allotted to the scaffolding is extremely shallow. That many restorations use this construction does not alter the implicit weakness of the practice. The conditions are unreal ones which virtually force the operator to approach the art object be approached in fragments and details often with the aid of magnifying glasses.

Conversely, the severely constricted working area makes it impossible to get distance when looking at one section or another of the painting. During the cleaning and repainting, there is never an opportunity to revert to the correct viewing distance, which is roughly calculated by artists as double the height. The remarkable application of linear perspective cannot be understood from arms length. In other words, the most distance which can be obtained from the cage is severely inadequate, another indication that the current methodology it flawed.

The question of lighting is yet another factor which adds to the distortion of the visual conditions under which modern restoration unfolds. Symptomatically, when I was there, a staff member kindly offered me a strong lamp, the ones they use during the restoration process, to view up close the surface and what they were doing. I rejected the offer remarking that Masaccio did not have such lamps when he painted the frescoes, so I hardly need them merely to view it. The question goes far beyond this particular intervention. The strong lights used for the cleaning in particular offer a totally unreal view of the object and I suspect leads to all kinds of aberrations (as is the case with the Sistine Ceiling) once “normal” light is applied. The conceptual approach to the restoration task, as it was done in the case of Leonardo’s Last Supper for over 20 years, is to treat the surface, dealing with tiny pitems, minuscule flacks of original paint, treated under strong light and with magnification. Behind this artificial environment is the assumption that the cleaning is somehow “scientific”, and it is enough to work millimeter by millimeter and then miraculously the whole will take care of itself. Well, it never does. Not in the Sistine Chapel, not in the Choir of San Francesco in Arezzo, and not for the Trinity.

None of what has been stated above should be viewed as a specific criticism of the restorers at work at Santa Maria Novella. They are doing what all their colleagues do. What I am suggesting is that the underlying assumptions and the methods of work are inadequate at best. Many of the great cycles that have been recently restored were better left alone, and let us not forget the Correggio’s in Parma. If there was a real emergencies concerning the life of a marvellous work, one might concede that the intervention, even with misguided assumptions, had to be undertaken. Actually I was assured that there was no immediately emergency in the case of the Trinity, nor for Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling and Leonardo’s Last Supper.

More specifically related to the Trinity, (but true of the others to one degree or another), Tintori’s retouching and repainting [sic] done in water color had been removed. Evidently that was an easy task. On the other hand the restorations and repainting by Bianchi, being more permanent in terms of technique. were retained. The choice of keeping one intervention with all its assumptions and removing another with its own set of assumption was not the result of a philosophy. Instead the decisive element was convenience. It was easy to remove Tintori and difficult to remove Bianchi’s work. Hardly an assuring path.

Another disturbing aspect of the Trinity restoration is the application of Barium Hydroxide as a consolidate. The use of this chemical which has a longish history especially in Florence, where its modern application was ‘invented,’ is not used by the Istituto Centrale di Restauro in Rome, the other governmental restoration center. It is not my intention to take sides on the controversy as to whether Barium is a “good” chemical or a bad one or one that on balance should or should not be used.. That Italy’s two governmental restoration institutes differ on its application, at best is puzzling and should alert the public to the experimental character of the product. Are we tranquil about using it one of the world’s most rare pictorial productions? Would it not have been more prudent to apply more traditional materials? The same kind of questions can be raised for the chemical cleaner AB57 used on the Sistine Ceiling, a product which is practically never used anymore, being regarded as to harsh. These questions cannot be answered by simplistic claims of one side or another. They should be the subject of serious debate by the entire field, including experts on Renaissance Painting, artists and member of the culture in general. Until they are resolved, however, we should probably ban their use as we do for unproven new medicines.

Right from the start, the “drastic” modern intervention, done while the church was closed to the public and thus largely unnoticed, remains an experiment. The real problem is that it should never have been undertaken, at all, and certainly not in secret without public discussion. Why not get second and third opinions, as we do before undergoing a serious medical operation on our bodies. From what I have seen in an interim stage, a great deal of repainting (sorry, I have used that terrible word again) will be required to harmonize what is momentarily a disjointed set of images in which the lights have become almost impossible to reconstruction, where the modelling is totally idiosyncratic, where the treatment of the male donor’s face (a member of the Lenzi family?) looks like he had suffered a bout with small pox. Perhaps the current crop of restorers are better than Tintori, perhaps not. The point is that there was little good reason to jump into this dangerous effort.

In order to save the saveable, I suggest that all reintegration be stopped and the work left as it now appears. I made the same point to officials present in August and repeat it now. In order to give the viewer, whether a sophisticated one, or a neophyte, a tangible impression of Masaccio’s art and his probable intentions, I propose that a scale computer generated facsimile be created and placed next to the “original.” In this way we would prevent further tampering with such a basic creation while providing a viable imagine to the public. The facsimile can readily be changed from time to time, as our knowledge of Masaccio, of his working methods, and of the early Renaissance expand. What is wrong with applying this solution immediately to the Trinity, and using it widely as a substitution for drastic interventions? In this way we would save the text for posterity, prove a highly readable view to the public and probably even save money which can be diverted to places where works are rotting away in neglect.

I call upon the Opificio and the Superintendents of Florence, to take up this proposal, which demands a certain degree of courage. They would become true pioneers in the restoration field, and simultaneously would protect our treasures.