Fifty years after the flood, the newly restored masterpiece of Giorgio Vasari returns to Santa Croce, with thanks to Opificio delle Pietre Dure and to the contribution of Prada, Getty Foundation and Protezione Civile.
Fifty years after the flood of Florence, reappears the great painting by Giorgio Vasari that only a few can remember to have seen: Last Supper that water and mud engulfed in a room of the Museum of Opera di Santa Croce on November of 1966. This is an extraordinary story of studies, hopes, restoration and technological development; the generosity of patrons and expectations which made the return of a masterpiece to the world possible. That which appeared shrouded in darkness forever, has returned to light and color: Last Supper is a story that looks into the future.
Irene Sanesi, president of Opera di Santa Croce
Last Supper by Giorgio Vasari from Santa Croce was considered almost impossible to recover, and thus remained for 40 years in the deposits of Superintendence. Its restoration represents a victory over a challenge than the OPD faced starting with 2004 and was brought to completion thanks to its manifold nature of operational laboratory, research institute and restoration school. Their multifaceted strategies have helped to build an innovative project which achieved better than expected results, making use of the resources provided by Protezione Civile, Getty Foundation and Prada, along with the customary support of the Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali e del Turismo.
Marco Ciatti, superintendent Opificio delle Pietre Dure
GIORGIO VASARI, LAST SUPPER
This picture was painted in 1546 for the refectory of the Murate, a monastery of cloistered Benedictine nuns in what is now Via Ghibellina. When the religous orders were suppressed in 1808– 10 by the French government which ruled Tuscany at the time following its annexation to France, the Murate was closed and its assets impounded and moved to storage in the city. Last Supper was moved to the convent of San Marco and then transferred to the Castellani Chapel in Santa Croce in 1815, where it remained for over fifty years until it was moved again to the convent's former refectory in the 1880s following the decision to turn the refectory into a museum. When the museum was extended between 1959 and 1962, the picture was hung in the most recent room (currently the first room in the tour) where it was engulfed by water and mud in the flood of 4 November 1966.
Giorgio Vasari's Last Supper, which was engulfed by floodwater and mud in a room in this museum on 4 November 1966, was stored in a Soprintendenza warehouse for decades along with many other works that had suffered flood damage. After fifty years, thanks to new technologies, to the dedication of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure and with the support of Prada, Getty Foundation and the Civil Protection Department, it was miraculously restored and rehung in the refectory. Most of the museum's works of art were moved to a higher level in areas adjacent to the basilica between 2013 and 2014, but a system of counterweights was specially designed and manufactured for this painting with also a contribution from the Fondazione CR Firenze, allowing it to be rapidly raised by mechanical means in the event of a flood warning.
The return of Last Supper to Santa Croce is a virtuous example of art patronage that witnessed the cooperation, over more than ten years, of Prada for the restoration of the painting, of Getty Foundation for the wooden support and initially also of the Protezione Civile for the inspection and analysis of the damaged work.
We were delighted to accept the invitation from the FAI (Fondo Ambiente Italiano, the Italian National Trust) to support, through the work of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure (Workshop of SemiPrecious Stones), the restoration, one might even say the rebirth, of a work as important as Giorgio Vasari’s Last Supper. We are therefore proud to have helped to return this extremely significant work to its original location in the refectory of the Opera di Santa Croce after 50 years, and to make it accessible to the public, who can once again admire it in all its beauty.
Patrizio Bertelli, Chief Executive Officer of the Prada Group
PULLEY SYSTEM FOR RAISING WORKS OF ART ABOVE THE FLOOD DAMAGE RISK LEVEL
The Opera di Santa Croce joined with other museums in signing a protocol in 2011 committing it to preparing emergency plans for the safety of its exhibits. In view of the fact that the warning the Protezione Civile issues is never more than eighteen hours ahead of the event at best and that it is unrealistic to expect to be able to shift all the works of art in such a short space of time, in 2014 the Opera di Santa Croce hung Cimabue's Crucifix and the restored works higher than the flood risk level. The Crucifix, a veritable symbol of the flood in 1966, used to hang in the Refectory but it now hangs in perfect safety in the Sacristy. Ahead of the return of Vasari's Last Supper, the problem arose of where to hang it in safety, and the choice of the Refectory was carefully evaluated. Thanks to the experience built up with the Crucifix using an emergency winch, research was now directed towards a simpler and more reliable system. Having discarded the idea of using electrical equipment in order to avoid any risks in the event of a power cut, time-worn methods were revived based on counterweights with pulleys, endowing the wooden structure containing the painting with a metal chassis having welded telescopic bars whose ends are fixed to the Refectory wall. Two chains connect the work of art to a counterweight on the outside wall; and finally, the whole system of mechanical cogs and gears is fitted both with a safety block to keep the painting in the position in which it is usually displayed and with a braking system. In the event the painting is raised, the braking system makes it possible to gradually reduce the speed of the movement until the painting comes to a halt at a height of roughly six metres. That is over a metre higher than the predictable high-water mark in the event of a flood. A catch then keeps the painting stable in its raised position. A single person can complete the entire operation in the space of two minutes. The design of this lifting system is the product of a joint venture between the University of Florence, Geoapp srl and the Opera di Santa Croce's own Technical Department, it was developed by Sertec sas and it was manufactured with a generous contribution from the Fondazione CR Firenze.
SANTA CROCE AND THE ARNO RIVER
In keeping with the spirit of St. Francis, the convent of Santa Croce was founded in the 13th century in a poor neighbourhood that was lower than the bed of the Arno. It was thus inevitably exposed to the danger of flooding and not a century (occasionally not even a decade) went by without a terrible flood. The most destructive floods were in 1333, 1557, 1844 and 1966, the latter being the most destructive of all. Water mixed with oil and mud reached a height of almost six metres in the museum rooms, and the works of art on display were engulfed and badly damaged. Cimabue's Crucifix is the symbol of the tragedy along with frescoes, panel paintings and canvases. Working with Soprintendenza staff, servicemen, volunteers and students, the friars shovelled away the mud and then helped to lay the panel paintings flat in order to prevent the paint from flaking because they lacked the materials required to fix it. The paintings were then moved elsewhere by whatever means came to hand, pending restoration which sometimes took decades – or even half a century in the case of Vasari's Last Supper.
The Opera di Santa Croce completed the first phase of a scheme for protecting its works of art from the danger of flooding between 2013 and 2014. The scheme began with the delicate transfer of Cimabue's huge Crucifix to the Sacristy and of equally imposing altarpieces to the Medici or Novitiate Chapel.
The old convent refectory was built in the early decades of the 14th century when the Franciscan community in Santa Croce numbered roughly one hundred and fifty friars. Its use as a refectory ceased in the early 19th century and it was turned into a storehouse. In 1900 it was restored for use as an exhibition hall to display works of art from the church and convent. Today it forms the heart of a museum that has gradually grown since the middle of the 20th century, when the works of art it housed at the time were extremely badly damaged, several even beyond repair, in the flood of 1966. The water rose to a height of five metres and the Museo di Santa Croce was identified as the "epicentre of the disaster". Since then, the outstanding job done by the Opificio delle Pietre Dure's restoration laboratories and the Florence Soprintendenze, working in conjunction with the Opera di Santa Croce, has led to the recovery of numerous important works that are now back on public display in and around the monumental complex.
TWO NIGHTS WITH VASARI
On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Flood of Florence,
Opera di Santa Croce celebrates the return of the restored masterpiece by Giorgio Vasari, with two special and free openings:
Friday, November 4th and Saturday, November 5th 2016 from 8pm to midnight
free entry to Cenacolo of Santa Croce