A New Life for the Santa Rosa Tabernacle

The Santa Rosa tabernacle after restoration

Conservation work on the tabernacle of Santa Rosa, located near to Porta San Frediano in the Oltrarno district, has recently been completed under the direction of the Fine Arts Department of the Municipality of Florence, and overseen by the Superintendency of Archaeology, Fine Arts and Landscape for the city of Florence.

Built in 1856, the tabernacle – a canopied niche – is situated within the city’s fortification walls, which date back to the 14th century. The fresco, the focus of recent restorations, was transferred to this newly-constructed tabernacle from the nearby chapel of Santa Rosa da Viterbo, which was destroyed in 1743; located in a portico, it was sadly the only piece of art to survive the demolition.

Attributed to Domenico Ghirlandaio, a 16th century Renaissance painter born in Florence, the fresco depicts the weeping Madonna, dressed in a sprawling red robe, cradling Christ’s body in her arms. San Giovanni and Mary Magdalene kneel either side of them, reverently supporting his head and feet; and in the sky above them, three angels bear the cross.

Bartolomeo Ciccone carried out restoration work on the fresco, whilst Stephano Landi supervised the repair of its stone mount. Although restored in 1998, the fresco and mount have since deteriorated, suffering both superficial and more integral issues. Until recently, the piece was protected by a rusting grate and sheet of glass, both of which have now been replaced with a stronger glass pane. Fractures in the mount’s plasterwork were repaired with stucco (a mixture of aggregate and water) and lime plaster. And the fresco itself – after years of accumulated dust and soot – enjoyed a good clean with sponges and demineralised water. Its fine pictorial details were retouched with watercolour.

This project was generously funded by The Friends of Florence, an American association devoted to the upkeep and celebration of Tuscan and Florentine heritage, who have supported numerous restoration projects, including a recent one at San Miniato del Monte, the 11th century basilica above Piazzale Michelangelo. (Sophie Holloway)