Time.news – The portrait of Dante by the Tuscan Renaissance painter Andrea del Castagno, kept in the Uffizi Gallery, regains its natural youth thanks to the restoration of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence.
The fresco – one of the best known faces of Alighieri in the history of art – originally presented a serene and calm image of the poet, different from what it appeared before. The progressive deposit of sediments on the pictorial surface and the subsequent interventions and retouches had in fact darkened and weighed down the chromatism of the work, giving it an “oil painting” appearance. The blurring of the colors had also had the effect of aging Dante’s face, which was thus much more gloomy and frowning than its original appearance.
The restoration conducted by the Opificio specialists started with an in-depth research on the fresco and a scientific analysis of the executive technique and the state of conservation using non-invasive diagnostic techniques (in particular using photographic footage in the various wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum, optical scanning investigations with Multi-VIS-NIR instrumentation of the National Institute of Optics of the CNR, micro-invasive investigations for the diagnostics of materials and for the characterization of conservative cases). The result has restored in the work the typical lightness of mural painting, rediscovering a face of Dante bright and animated by an almost youthful freshness, hitherto completely new.
The intervention, supported by Mrs. Linda Balent of the Friends of the Uffizi Galleries, lasted about six months: it took place under the supervision of the director of the murals sector of the Opificio Cecilia Frosinini, and was carried out by the restorers Sara Penoni and Cristiana Todaro.
The portrait of Andrea del Castagno will soon be the protagonist of the great exhibition ‘Dante – The vision of art’, organized in Forlì by the Cassa dei Risparmi Foundation of the Romagna city together with the Galleries, which lend about fifty works, as part of the celebrations for the 700th anniversary of the death of the father of the Divine Comedy.
Not only that: at the end of the exhibition the detached fresco will be exhibited in Castagno d’Andrea, in the Municipality of San Godenzo, the birthplace of the painter Andrea del Castagno himself and Dante’s place par excellence, as it was precisely here that Alighieri, exiled from Florence, he decided to accept the decision of the Florentines against him and not to return to his city (where, in all probability, he would have been executed), thus leaving the lands of his Tuscany forever.
In a suburban villa near Legnaia, today in the immediate outskirts of Florence, Andrea del Castagno (Castagno di San Godenzo, Florence circa 1421 – Florence 1475) had painted between 1447 and 1449 a cycle of frescoes depicting nine illustrious men and women. Among these three leaders (Pippo Spano, Farinata degli Uberti and Niccolò Acciaioli), three wise women (Queen Esther, Queen Tomir and Sibilla Cumana) and finally the triad of poets, Dante with Petrarch and Boccaccio. Furthermore, still on site, Adam and Eve are visible on a wall next to the Madonna and Child, under a canopy.
The presence of Adam and Eve is justified by the fact that, as already in Boccaccio’s De mulieribus claribus, the concept of illustrious men and women ultimately derived precisely from original sin, which forced human beings to earn honor and salvation with work. It was a decoration that had outstanding precedents linked to the celebration of civic virtues through the exploits of exemplary characters, described here in an entirely Florentine declination, that is, excellence in letters as a fundamental element of civil dignity and greatness.
The importance of Andrea del Castagno’s cycle, as well as the very high quality of the pictorial enterprise, is due to the fact that it is the only type that has come down to us commissioned for a private residence: the Villa, known as Carducci Pandolfini, was it belonged to Filippo Carducci, who had held important public offices in Florence including that of Gonfaloniere di Giustizia.
The artist had built a highly illusionistic space: the figures were inserted in a painted architecture, within classical rectangular niches, covered with porphyry and various marbles. The niches were marked by Corinthian pilasters which supported an entablature (partially still existing) surmounted by an attic with cherubs, garlands and coats of arms.
The pilasters, capitals and architrave are decorated with stylized thistles, referring to the name Carducci. The fate cycle of Illustrious Men and Women by Andrea del Castagno was closely linked to the historical events of the Villa Carducci Pandolfini. In fact, probably due to a change in the intended use of the rooms, in an unspecified period the frescoes were covered with whitewashing. Unfortunately, memory of them was lost for a long time, until their rediscovery took place around 1847, coinciding with the re-edition of Vasari’s Lives.
In 1850, when the Villa was owned by Margherita Rinuccini and her husband Giorgio Teodoro Trivulzio, the paintings were detached from the wall support with a tear-off intervention carried out by the Emilian ‘extractor’ Giovanni Rizzoli and destined for sale. Fortunately, in 1852 they were purchased by the Uffizi which, perhaps more than any other place, offer a persistent vision of history as a “celebration of illustrious men” (just think of the portraits of the Gioviana series, the Aulica series and the Iconographic series, up to the famous self-portraits ).
An even more important concept in the moment in which the tormented project of the United Italy awakened the cult for the ‘majors’ and placed the characters of Andrea del Castagno in an ideal dialogue with the statues placed between 1835 and 1856 in the niches of the Vasari loggia, depicting illustrious Tuscans. This link was accentuated from 1966 with the placement of the detached frescoes in the rooms of the former church of San Pier Scheraggio (the place where, in the year 1300, Dante himself acted as city councilor) after a parenthesis in the Bargello and Santa Apollonia , next to the Last Supper by Andrea himself.
“This is perhaps the most famous image of Dante – says the director of the Uffizi Galleries Eike Schmidt – an icon that is linked to Italian culture and spirit. Even more significant is the fact that the restoration was financed by Linda Balent, of the Friends of the Uffizi Galleries, the American branch of the Amici degli Uffizi. Because Dante is in fact also a universal poet, and his work is current everywhere in the world ”.
For the superintendent of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure Marco Ciatti: “The Opificio delle Pietre Dure, in the context of the collaboration with the Uffizi Galleries, reinterpreted the image of Dante by Andrea del Castagno which he represents, together with the other figures of cycle of Villa di Legnaia, an important historical restoration. This is why our research project concerned the current conditions of the work, now restored, but it also involved an in-depth study which is useful for the history of the restoration ”.
Andrea di Bartolo di Bargilla, known as Andrea del Castagno (Castagno, 1421 – Florence, 1457), was one of the undisputed protagonists of Florentine painting of the mid-fifteenth century, together with Beato Angelico, Filippo Lippi, Domenico Veneziano and Paolo Uccello. His style reveals the influence of Masaccio and Donatello, of whom he studied the perspective rendering and the plastic and dramatizing effects of chiaroscuro, with results of exasperated realism, almost expressionist in the features of the characters and in their snappy poses.