The Art of Restoration

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By Kelli Cheung – Student at Smith College in Florence

Out of its frame and under several spotlights, Leonardo da Vinci’s Adoration of the Magi (1481) was waiting for its revival. When admiring works of art in museums, most people do not recognize this part of a painting’s life – its restoration. Since the late nineteenth century, l’Opificio delle Pietre Dure and Laboratori di Restauro in Florence has been restoring works from tapestries and wooden sculptures, to mosaics and drawings.

Photo courtesy of Opificio delle Pietre Dure
Photo courtesy of Opificio delle Pietre Dure

The experience of walking through the temperature controlled labs provided an insight on art restoration as art and career. Among the works in the lab was Vasari’s Last Supper (1546), still being restored from the Florence flood of 1966. Fifty years ago, the goal of restoration was to make art visually appealing. Today, the focus is on preservation – removing unwanted varnishes and maintaining the originality with minimal intervention. Teams of people from art, technical, and scientific backgrounds examine the works before they are even touched. They take into account the history of the works construction and look at methods of restoration from other institutions.

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