Honoring Agnese Parronchi
“On the evening of December 8th, 2004, ArtWatch International presented its annual Frank Mason Prize to Agnese Parronchi, the Italian restorer. She resigned from the project to restore Michelangelo’s David rather than carry out the cleaning in a manner demanded by the authorities at the Accademia, which she considered injurious to the 500-year-old sculpture. Previous winners of the prestigious award include art historian Sir Ernst Gombrich, critic Alexander Eliot, and restorer Leonetto Tintori.
The citation was read by Professor James Beck of Columbia University, Founder and President of ArtWatch:
Agnese Parronchi is a rare example of a conflation of two worlds, that of the creative artist, as a sculptor, and that of a respectful conservator of the art she loves. Trained in Florence, for centuries the territory where art flourished, she graduated from the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, one of Italy’s two national restoration institutes, having specialized in the treatment of sculpture. Over the past twenty years, Agnese Parronchi has been entrusted with some of the finest marble sculpture located in Tuscany — Ancient, Medieval, and Renaissance, and among her accomplishments have been the base of the Perseus by Benvenuto Cellini and a classical group, both in the Loggia dei Lanzi. She is world-renowned as an expert on the work of Michelangelo, employing her understanding of the artist to treat several of his earliest works, including the Madonna of the Stairs and the Battle of the Centaurs, both located in the Casa Buonarroti, significantly in Michelangelo’s house.
The result of her cleaning of the sculpture of the Medici Tombs in San Lorenzo is a triumph of restraint, patience and respect for the intention of the creator and for the intervention of time.
When the Superintendent of Art in Florence assigned her to treat Michelangelo’s David, an awesome project on every level, those who might have wished that the Gigante be left alone were satisfied that there would be no danger to the integrity of the statue posed by Agnese Parronchi. It would be the crowning jewel of her life’s work, which would give her the kind of world recognition she had earned. When the Florentine officials wanted to impose upon her a very vigorous treatment which included the use of solvents, she did the impossible. She resigned, refusing to carrying out a cleaning which she considered too severe.
If there is any meaning to ArtWatch’s mission and the prerequisites of the Frank Mason Prize, it is precisely the preservation of the dignity of art, and Agnese’s actions are exemplary. At great personal sacrifice, she chose to maintain her standards rather than participate in an activity which she believed to be harmful to one of the greatest icons of western culture.