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Florence: 10 year restoration of Raphael's 500 year old masterpiece

Dec 7th, 2008 | By | Category: Property of the Week

10-Year restoration leaves Raphael masterpiece glowing

Ansa: A Raphael masterpiece once smashed into pieces and buried under centuries of grime has been returned to its original luminous splendour after an intensive ten-year restoration project.  The Madonna del Cardellino, or Madonna of the Goldfinch, was created by Raphael in 1505 for the wedding of his wealthy Florentine merchant friend, Lorenzo Nasi.  The oil on wood was splintered into 17 pieces when Nasi’s house collapsed in 1548.

An unknown restorer used long iron nails and blocks of wood to piece the fragments together and the cracks were painted over.  So many layers of paint were added over the years that the original colours were eventually completely obscured.

The fragility of the painting left experts wary about tampering further with the work but the lengthy restoration that has just drawn to a close has been hailed as a triumph.  The painting was the subject of months of microscopic study by experts before any actual work got under way.

The canvas has been reinforced and a brown film of dirt and dust that gave the painting a yellowed appearance has been removed.  Layers of paint were painstakingly stripped away and the finished product glows with the deep reds, blues and golds of the original work.

According to the chief restorer, Patrizia Riitano, the project has also revealed details that were invisible before, including several plants.

The painting shows the Madonna in an outdoor setting with a young St John the Baptist leaning against her leg and handing the Christ child a goldfinch, a symbol of his future crucifixion.

The painting will go on public display for a short period at Florence’s Palazzo Medici Riccardi on November 21, along with three other works from the same period.

The other pieces are a portrait of a pregnant woman by Raphael, completed between 1504 and 1508, a copy of that painting from the same time, and a glazed terracotta sculpture by Girolamo della Robbia reproducing another Raphael work, La Belle Jardiniere.

The Madonna of the Goldfinch will be on show at the Palazzo Medici Riccardi until March 1 before returning to its permanent home at the Uffizi Gallery.

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