The massive 15-by-12-foot (and that’s just what’s left; 3 feet at the bottom are missing) crucifix that used to hang in the small and dim sacristy of the Ognissanti (All Saints) Church in Florence is finally at the end of its long 5 year restoration. It will be returned to a new place of honor in an LED-lit transept chapel on November 6th, because for the first time in centuries it will be on display as a work by late Medieval master Giotto.
The richly painted crucifix dates to the second decade of the 1300s, but before the restoration began, the painting was attributed to a student or family member of Giotto’s, not to the master himself. Last year, when the restorers from Florence’s famous conservation institute Opificio delle Pietre Dure were finally able to examine it under layers of grime, candle wax and smoke, they encountered familiar brush strokes and materials. Using infrared reflectography analysis, researchers found a preparatory sketch underneath the painting. The pictorial techniques used confirmed the work was done by Giotto.
The large (467×360 cm) cross took so long to be renovated because it was in a “very poor state of repair,” lead restorers Marco Ciatti and Cecilia Frosinini said, and the supporting structure had to be “thoroughly bolstered”.
They pointed out that cutting-edge solvents were used to remove centuries of grime while “extremely delicate attention” was taken with the coloured glass in Christ’s halo, which was “in very bad shape”.
As well as enabling the attribution, the restoration work also “revealed a lot of new information about how the artist worked,” they said.
The Church of Ognissanti had another Giotto made a decade before the crucifix. It’s a type of Madonna and Child known as a “Maestà,” Mary and the Christ child surrounded by angels. It was documented as a Giotto in the 15th century and is now in Florence’s Ufizzi Gallery as the “Ognissanti Madonna,” so it’s not shocking that the church had another one.
The only mystery at this point is how they forgot about it and ended up relegating the unattributed crucifix to such an obscure area.