Florence, Brancacci Chapel restoration continues. Off to the second phase

In Florence, the restoration of the Brancacci Chapel continues as it enters its second phase: innovative solutions will also be tested. In the meantime, the public can continue to visit the construction site and see the frescoes by Masaccio, Masolino and Filippino Lippi up close, four days a week.

In Florence , restoration work continues on the Brancacci Chapel without preventing the public from visiting the chapel. In fact, the second phase of the project developed by the Municipality of Florence, Soprintendenza Archeologia Belle Arti e Paesaggio for the Metropolitan City of Florence and the Provinces of Pistoia and Prato, CNR-Ispc of Florence (National Research Council, Institute of Cultural Heritage Sciences), the Opificio delle Pietre Dure and supported by Friends of Florence and Jay Pritzker Fund has been funded.

What is happening on the site of this fundamental Renaissance site where Masaccio and Masolino worked side by side, and then later Filippino Lippi? After about a year and a half of activity, further diagnostic investigations were necessary, useful to learn about the execution techniques, their materials and the causes of degradation, and to improve the health conditions of the Brancacci Chapel, owned by the Fondo Edifici di Culto del Ministero dell’Interno, which is the subject of a redevelopment agreement with the City of Florence. The second phase of the project has also seen synergistic work between the City Council, the ABAP Superintendency, CNR-Ispc, and the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, in collaboration with the Department of Chemistry of the University of Florence, and with the fundamental support of the Friends of Florence Foundation and the Jay Pritzker Fund, which have just signed a new protocol with the city administration, contained in a resolution approved by the Council at the proposal of Deputy Mayor and Councillor for Culture Alessia Bettini, to finance the operations. The work will last until the end of 2023. In the meantime, visitors will have the opportunity to visit the construction site to see the frescoes up close. The Brancacci Chapel is in fact open to the public four days a week: Fridays, Saturdays, and Mondays, with hours 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays with hours 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. For security reasons, access is by mandatory reservation and no more than 10 people every 30 minutes. There are also guided tours by MUS.E (Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays at 10am, 11am, 12pm, 1:30pm, 2:30pm and 3:30pm, and Sundays at 1:30pm, 2:30pm and 3:30pm). To make reservations: 0552768224, bigliettimusei@comune.fi.it or cappellabrancacci@musefirenze.it. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday it remains closed to the public to allow for diagnostic activities that require public absence.

Thelast restoration of the Brancacci Chapel was in the 1980s. In November 2020, the chapel underwent an initial monitoring that revealed some critical issues from the point of view of conservation and the need to stabilize some potential deterioration phenomena present on the wall paintings by Masolino, Masaccio and Filippino Lippi (such as plaster detachments, localized loss of cohesion, inconsistent surface deposits) in addition to performing a general check on the stability of the entire pictorial cycle. Subsequently, monitoring began on the state of conservation of the chapel by SABAP Florence and CNR-Ispc in collaboration with the Opificio delle Pietre Dure to investigate the causes of degradation. Thanks to the site already assembled in the first phase of work, it has been possible to carry out a new diagnostic campaign by Cnr-Ispc, more in-depth and exhaustive than the one carried out in the 1980s, conducted with the most up-to-date techniques and the best expertise available on the international scene thanks to the collaboration between SABAP, Cnr-Ispc, UNIFI and OPD, which is responsible for the design and implementation of the actual conservation intervention. The techniques used, which were completely non-invasive, allowed for in-depth knowledge of the materials used, the execution techniques, the phenomenologies of alteration or degradation and the causes that produced them, information that is indispensable for proper planning of the intervention. The diagnostic campaign was accompanied by a model for monitoring complex decorative apparatuses. The survey of the state of conservation focused particularly on the analysis of plaster detachments, which represented the most worrisome phenomenon and on which to intervene most urgently. The portions of plaster classified in the most serious level were secured by technicians from the Opificio delle Pietre Dure. A project was then started, again in collaboration with CNR-Ispc, UNIFI, OPD and SABAP, to evaluate the characteristics of the mortar used in the previous intervention, with the aim of stabilizing the plaster detachments.

By virtue of the results and evidence that emerged, this second phase, will allow also to experiment with the application of plaster-compatible mortars that, starting with those used in the intervention carried out in the 1980s and studied in the first tranche of work, have been reformulated, and that can be used in the consolidation of the parts of the frescoes at risk of detachment, such as some portions on the right wall in the scene of the two miracles with St. Peter healing the cripple and Tabitha, both painted by Masolino. In addition, this second phase of work will allow for cleaning tests by experimenting with an innovative gel formulated by CSGI researchers at the Department of Chemistry at the University of Florence, which would make it possible to clean the painted surfaces more easily, without carrying out an actual restoration, even during the maintenance campaigns that the City of Florence will schedule in the years to come.

As part of the project for the enhancement of the Brancacci Chapel, an agreement was also signed between CNR-Ispc and the City of Florence to continue the dissemination and popularization activities, one of the main results of which was the realization of the prototype “Brancacci Point Of View,” a Hybrid Experience“ that gives ”body“ and ”voice" back to the digital, in an empathetic encounter with the Cultural Heritage. BrancacciPOV is a research prototype, based on CNR-Ispc’s Aton open source framework, that allows users in a collaborative way to explore the Brancacci Chapel, exchanging ideas and opinions to discover the stories behind the paintings by Masaccio, Masolino and Filippino Lippi. The prototype thus also extends the monument’s accessibility to those who are unable to move to physically visit it. More details on the first version are available at http://brancaccipov.cnr.it/. The new agreement, will allow the CNR-Ispc to develop a new version of the Brancacci POV application. For this second prototype, Cnr-Ispc plans to develop and expand the narrative of the Carmine complex and the Brancacci Chapel, with the aim of building and strengthening an empathetic and emotional connection with the monument. The hybrid version, which can also be used entirely online, will be able to serve as a support for guided tours inside the monument, at school, or guided, multi-user virtual tours can be created online.

“Important works of conservation restoration and enhancement of a true treasure of Renaissance art continue, and the special opportunity to admire its beauty up close also continues,” Deputy Mayor Alessia Bettini emphasizes. “We thank the City’s Fine Arts Service, restorers, technicians and the Friends of Florence Foundation, once again at the side of the Brancacci as well as so many unique works of art in our city.”

“Expert restorers, diagnosticians, art historians and researchers will continue to work on the Brancacci Chapel at the Carmine,” says Superintendent Antonella Ranaldi. “The research project, initiated by the Soprintendenza and the City of Florence, was made possible thanks to the support of Friends of Florence, which I take this opportunity to thank. The results of the first phase that ended in June encouraged us to continue by renewing our mutual commitments. The second phase of research and investigation begins: an opportunity not to be missed. Going up on the scaffolding of the chapel, allows a close view of the admirable frescoes that marked a fundamental passage in the visual art of the 15th century: face to face with the adored Masaccio, but also face to face with 15th-century Florence, portrayed here, with the work of Masolino and then with the completion of Filippino Lippi. If so much has been written about the Brancacci Chapel, new tools are offered to deepen our knowledge of techniques, color composition, pentimenti and lost elements to the point of monitoring the health of the frescoes. And that is what we expect.”

“Continuing to support the project of conservation restoration and protection of the Brancacci Chapel for Friends of Florence is very important: it is the Foundation’s way of ensuring that the frescoes by Masaccio, Masolino and Filippino Lippi will be enjoyed in the future,” stresses President Simonetta Brandolini d’Adda. “Due to the evidence that emerged during the first phase, the delicacy of these works and their current state of conservation, we felt it was essential to support the continuation of the work and give the project the continuity necessary for their safety and future. I would like to thank on behalf of Friends of Florence the City of Florence, the ABAP Superintendency, the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, the CNR, the Department of Chemistry of the University of Florence, and Jay Priztker Fund, which is supporting us in this project.”

Florence, Brancacci Chapel restoration continues. Off to the second phase
Florence, Brancacci Chapel restoration continues. Off to the second phase

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