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January 13

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Restoring Ancient Religious Art is a Job for the Angels

By PattyCiv

January 13, 2021


Restoring ancient religious art is a job for the Angels who are professionally schooled artists in their own right. An ancient church in Rome has been closed for nearly four years as these artists work tirelessly to bring life and luster back to the glorious artwork that was created here nearly 500 years ago.

I was invited by Arianna Pavoncello from the Merlini Storti Art Conservation and Restoration Center in Rome, to enter this resplendent little Church during the restoration of its art and the remodeling of its interior. The church had been originally decorated with Renaissance-era frescoes and sculptures.  A once-gorgeous but darkened-over-time fresco clung to the dome over the body of the church. Three golden little Puttis sat in the clouds above, looking down upon the devout. These were the pieces that I would soon get to know first hand.

scaffolding inside ancient church
Patty Civalleri and Rob Pardi climb the scaffolding of this ancient Roman Church to reach the dome which is currently under restoration.

The Climb Up to the Dome

I began to climb the scaffold. 1 level, two levels, then the third.

I had never seen the inside of a church from this high before. A very interesting angle indeed. I climbed to the 4th, 5th, and 6th levels. I was eye-to-eye with the ancient glass windows and the paintings that adorned the walls and stretched to the ceilings. One more level to the 7th. I was now ducking a little to walk underneath the high dome. And wow!! What an experience!!!

ancient art restoration
Artists work tirelessly to restore the dome of this ancient Roman church while Archaeologist Darius Arya and author Patty Civalleri observe.

Art Restoration

A few artists were already there restoring the art on the ceiling of the dome, reviving the bright colors that were laid there some 500 years ago. Interestingly, they used only water, tiny instruments like ear swabs, and small brushes. This is both a job of tedium as well as a labor of love. The restoration artists are the extremely rare few that have been allowed to touch a Raphel and a Caravaggio! An exquisite admiration I will maintain for these connoisseurs of perfection!

An ancient Putti
The back of this ancient wooden angel has withstood centuries of age-related flaws.

Naked Puttis

I walked across the wooden scaffold plank to meet face-to-face with two giant shiny gold angels that look down upon the flock in the pews far below. Looking up from the seats below, one sees the golden luster of these darling-faced little Puttis. But from up here, they are surprisingly large! I walked around them, only to discover that they were not only made from wood, but they were nude in the back where the audience cannot see. By nude, I mean that the wood was not painted.  Just bare, cracked, termite-gnawed, unmaintained wood. As a money-saving technique, only the parts that can be seen from below had been painted with the glistening and expensive gold paint! I suppose I forgot that budgeting is important, whether it was 500 years ago, or today.

It was interesting to me that the restoration artists are all women. Oddly, this is an industry that is clearly dominated by women. The reason is beyond me because it seems that anyone can possess this level of detail and passionate love for these ancient pieces. Perhaps tradition might have something to with it. Back in the ancient days, women were not allowed to be professionally trained artists. So perhaps the talented women went to work in the behind-the-scenes jobs of the arts, restoration being one of them.

After descending the scaffolding, we all met at the ground level for dinner to discuss our experience. The Prosecco flowed freely as we basked in our new-found memories with our new-found Italian friends of artistic perfection.