Casa Buonarroti’s ‘Artemisia UpClose’ Project

Artemisia Gentileschi’s ‘Allegory of Inclination’ currently under restoration at the Casa Buonarroti

Until April 2023: ARTEMISIA UPCLOSE. Casa Buonarroti, via Ghibellina 70.  Open 10 am – 6:30 pm.  Closed Tuesday. Admission €8.  

An exciting new art restoration project, titled “Artemisia UpClose,” is underway at the Casa Buonarroti (Michelangelo’s house) museum providing art-lovers with a unique vision. During museum hours in the ‘Model Room,’ visitors get the chance to witness Artemisia Gentileschi’s painting Allegory of Inclination be restored live in  front of them. Chief conservator Elizabeth Wicks, is available for questions from the public  on Fridays. To encounter this historic restoration is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and is  included in the €8 museum entrance fee. 

Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1656), is considered one of the most accomplished Baroque artists of the 17th century, and without a doubt one of the most famous Italian female  painters. Known for her skill in depicting natural female figures and use of color to dramatize  dimension, Gentileschi had an international clientele and was producing artwork  professionally by the age of 15. She became the first female member of the prestigious  Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence in 1615 at age 22. Notable work includes  Susanna and the Elders (1610), Judith and Her Maidservant (1625), and Judith Slaying  Holofernes (1621), the latter of which is displayed in Florence’s Uffizi Gallery. 

Most paintings feature women from myths, allegories, and the Bible. Her characters  intentionally avoided stereotypical feminine traits like timidness, sensitivity, and weakness  and instead embody courage, power, and rebelliousness. She has evolved into a feminist art  icon for featuring women as protagonists and in positions equal to those of men, especially in  an era when women had few opportunities to pursue art and little respect. Her achievements  were undermined for centuries, and long overshadowed by the story of Agostino Tassi raping  her as a young woman and her subsequent participation in the trail. She is now no longer  regarded as a simple curiosity but instead one of the most progressive painters of her  generation, with her works and talent now displayed in many international prestigious institutions. 

The painting exhibited at “Artemisia UpClose,” Allegory of Inclination (1616), was  commissioned by Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger (1568-1646) during Gentileschi’s 7- year stay in Florence. He wanted the artwork to glorify the life of his great uncle  Michelangelo as he was converting Casa Buonarroti from a home to a museum. The work depicts Inclination, one of the “eight Personifications,” attributed to Michelangelo – essentially symbolizing his natural disposition to artistic greatness. 

The painting shows a young female in the heavens holding a compass, complete with an  elaborate braided hairstyle and the North star in the corner. Gentileschi intentionally painted  her nude, but in 1684 Michelangelo’s descendant Leonardo Buonarroti commissioned painter  Baldassarre Franceschini to censor her natural body by adding drapery and a veil. The veil  covers her breasts, whereas the drapery covers much of the rest of her body; together, they  cover a significant part of the original. Buonarroti requested this alteration out of  embarrassment and in order to protect his family from criticism, although there are other  theories. 

Restorers are seeking to develop an image of what the original Allegory of Inclination looked  like before the censorship. Because the additional pieces are nearly 350 years old, it is not  possible to remove them without damaging the original painting. Conservators will instead  create a digital replica of Gentileschi’s version using diagnostic imaging techniques, and X rays”. Under head conservator Wicks, specialists include Teobaldo Pasquali for X-rays,  Ottaviano Caruso for diagnostic imaging, Marco Raffaelli of the National Optics Institute for  reflectography, with Massimo Chimenti creating the final digital image. The National Center  for Research of Italy (C.N.R.) will be using state of the art diagnostics to analyze the  painting’s condition and both Artemisia’s original technique and the later additions. 

The painting, which is located on the ceiling of the Galleria in Casa Buonarroti, was  successfully brought down from the ceiling in late September. Wicks states that those  involved were surprised to discover that “its painted surface extends several inches on either  side underneath the architectural frame.” The restoration process has begun, and eventually  the original painting will be placed back in its original frame on the ceiling. 

Upon completion of the restoration and study project, an exhibition from September 2023 to  January 2024 will highlight the project’s process, findings, and the image of the original  painting. Photos and videos of the entire process, by Olga Makarova, are a central feature of  the project. As well as art historical findings, the exhibition is hoping to highlight the  advanced technology used to restore the painting – drawing a parallel to the scientific nod of the compass in the painting itself. As part of the project, the museum will also undergo a refurbishment, including a full re-design of the lighting of the Galleria. 

The original vision of Artemisia Gentileschi of Allegory of Inclination will finally be revealed during both the restoration and the exhibition. (Molly Mulvihill)