Tabernacle Restorations by Friends of Florence

Beyond the Arno, in the Oltrarno, two tabernacles from the 1950s, in dire need of restoration and protection from the elements are today shining anew. Thanks again to the contribution of Friends of Florence, the works of art and their shrines have been rebuilt, repaired and restored in Piazza Torquato Tasso and Via del Campuccio.

Both works of art were originally commissioned by the city of Florence, in an effort to save face for a botched 1920s urbanization project in the Santo Spirito district. As the President of the Tuscan Regional Council, Eugenio Giani disclosed, the urban development luckily did not progress past the demolition of a small section of the medieval wall and an entire city block where Piazza Tasso now stands. Otherwise, he revealed, the neighborhood which is now the Florentines’ favorite would instead be a major thoroughfare. The pendulum mercifully swung from fascist destruction of the past to the “redemption of the alleys” by the newly formed Committee for an Aesthetic Town (1951-1991).

The Madonna and Child with Saints John the Baptist and Saint Bernardino of Siena, in tempera on plaster painted by Piero Bernardini in 1953, can be found on the corner of Piazza Tasso and Via del Campuccio. Piero Bernardini (1891-1974), who called himself a figurinaio—figurine illustrator, is best known for his illustrations of children’s books like Pinocchio, Don Quixote, and Alice in Wonderland for editors worldwide. His aversion towards painting made this his least prolific artistic endeavor; however, five of his paintings can be found in the Pitti’s Modern Art Gallery.

No aspect of the restoration was neglected explains Martina Calmanti, restorer of the Bernardini piece. Specialized anti-humidity masonry materials carefully chosen solvents and tempera paints, air-circulating encasing, all topped off with a copper gutter that just “fits”, were used, as Martina reveals.

About a football field down Via Campuccio, on the Torrigiani private garden side, is the pietra serena tabernacle containing an oil on wood Madonna and Child by Ennio Cocchi, painted in 1955. Best known for his 35 mosaics in the Monumental Cemetery of Antella, Cocchi (1915-1987) is represented alongside Bernardini in the Modern Art Gallery; as well as a self-portrait in the Uffizi collection.

His children, present for the inauguration of the restoration on Thursday, February 1, providentially provided the painting conservator, Chiara Mignani, with sketches and studies of the piece. She explained how the degradation of the oil on composite wood would not have been otherwise recoverable. The nature of this tabernacle involved a team of restorers and specialists, coordinated by Bartolomeo Ciccone. Alberto Dimuccio restored the wood support, Stefano Landi the stone elements and the Torrigiani coat of arms.

The two projects’ approximate 16 thousand euro budget was funded by Friends of Florence – Florence Chapter. It was the non-profit’s fifth and sixth tabernacle restoration. In its near 20-year existence, hundreds of works of art, amounting to over 10 million euro in financing, have been restored. President Simonetta Brandolini d’Adda, gracefully reminded all who attended the inauguration why this particular organization is so special by pausing the orations of artists and politicians, and turning it over to the local priest to bless the newly restored tabernacles. (david shackelford)