Casa Buonarroti’s ‘Artemisia UpClose’ Project
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)