News Issue No.14 Autumn 2002
Giottos Santa Maria Novella Crucifix:
Restoration and re-evaluation
Giotto, Crucifix, Santa Maria Novella, Florence
Last year Giottos great crucifix for Santa Maria Novella, Florence, returned to the church for which it was made, after a fourteen-year campaign of extensive technical examination, consolidation and cleaning by the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, Florence. On 11 May 2002 the Courtauld was honoured to have the opportunity to host a day of talks in the Lecture Theatre by Cristina Acidini Luchinat, Soprintendente of the OPD, Marco Ciatti, director of the restoration, and other members of the team. The OPD is one of only two state-funded restoration institutions in Italy. There is a long association between the Courtauld and the OPD at both institutional and personal levels, so it was a great pleasure to welcome back to the Institute old friends, and to make new ones.
The S. Maria Novella Crucifix is one of only a handful of works with an attribution to Giotto that is backed up by convincing documentary evidence. For many years the panel hung high on the wall of the sacristy of S. Maria Novella, obscured by dirt and a certain amount of repainting. Study was only possible with the aid of torch and binoculars. The OPD restoration marked a dramatic change. Scholars were welcomed to the OPD to observe the campaign close up and were rewarded with remarkable views of the gradual revelation of the paint surface in its remarkable detail and refinement. The return of the Crucifix to S. Maria Novella last year was marked by an exemplary publication, lavishly illustrated, in which information and new ideas about all aspects of the restoration were made available. The Courtauld Giotto day marked the publication of this work in English (Giotto: the Santa Maria Novella Crucifix, ed. M. Ciatti and M. Seidel, Edifir, Florence, 2002). The enthusiasm with which this publication, and the day itself, were greeted, may be judged by the speed at which the discounted books sold out (copies are still available at discount through the Courtauld Institute Bookshop). In addition to Dr. Acidini Luchinat, and Dr. Ciatti, talks were given by Mauro Matteini, director of the scientific department, Ciro Castelli, head of restoration of wooden supports, and Paola Bracco, chief restorer of easel paintings. Hero Lotti, British Academy Research Fellow in the Courtauld conservation department, was on hand to summarise and translate during the last two papers. Joanna Cannon and Caroline Villers, co-organisers of the day, gave the introductory and concluding remarks.
In a day of many valuable moments, two images stand out. One is that of the underdrawing beneath Christs head, revealed in an infra-red reflectogram of stunning quality, in which the artists experiments with foreshortening are movingly revealed. The other is the moment when, towards the end of her talk, Paola Bracco showed a slide of the Crucifix on its return to S. Maria Novella, after its long stay in the OPD, with the restoration team standing beneath it. The speaker herself was evidently moved by this image, and the audience broke into spontaneous applause — for the speaker, for the OPD team and their achievements, and for the magnificence of the Crucifix itself.