A life-sized terracotta Madonna and Child by Renaissance sculptor and architect Jacopo Sansovino has been pieced back together by the experts at Florence’s Opificio delle Pietre Dure after centuries of damage and atrocious restorations.
The restoration took 3 years. It started with X-rays and CAT scans taken in Bologna to provided a detailed roadmap of the damage. Following that roadmap, restorers dismantled the statue into 20 pieces the put humpty back together again.
Florence art critics said they did not know exactly when the 1570 work had been broken and who was responsible for a series of botched-up restorations, including inserting nails, screws and stucco to hold it in place. “When we were given the statue, the Madonna weighed 120 kilos [265 pounds] but now that we’ve done away with its wooden support, the nails and screws, it only weighs 50 kilos [110 pounds],” said the head of the Opificio, Isabella Lapi Ballerini.
Critics said previous restorers had also altered the shape and colour of the piece as well as arbitrarily deciding to fix atop a wooden stand, which has now been replaced with a light-weight carbon-fibre support. The work was presented to the media in Florence before its return to the Civic Museum of Vicenza.
That 1570 dating is inaccurate, by the way. Sansovino died in 1570. He made the sculpture as a bas relief for the Villa Garzoni in Ponte Casale, near Padua, a lovely classically-inspired villa Sansovino designed some time after 1527 but before 1550. The sculpture remained there until the early 1900s when it was chiseled off the wall and taken to Florence to be sold at auction. It was around that time, the 20s and 30s, when one of the awful “restorations” took place, probably to keep it stable enough for transportation.
The buyer, Gaetano Marzotto, donated the sculpture to the Civic Museum of Vicenza, the current owners. The Madonna and Child will be on display at the Pietre Dure workshop for 5 days and then it will return to Vicenza.
Jacopo Sansovino is best known as the architect of some of Venice’s most beautiful buildings, foremost among them the Library of Saint Mark’s, the Biblioteca Marciana, the first library to require by law in 1603 that a copy of all books printed in the Republic of Venice be deposited therein.