Siena, restoration of the Baptistery Font proceeds. Panels disassembled and displayed

In Siena, the delicate and complex restoration of the Baptistery Font is proceeding. The precious Renaissance panels by Donatello, Lorenzo Ghiberti and other artists have been dismantled and have been on public display since yesterday.

In Siena , the restoration of the baptismal font in the Baptistery of San Giovanni continues. It was 2021 when work began on the survey and then restoration of the Renaissance masterpiece. Now, after almost two years of joint work between the Superintendence of Siena Arezzo and Grosseto, the Opera della Metropolitana with all its staff, and the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, the intervention is going through a crucial moment, and is projecting toward the final phase of the restoration hopefully expected between the end of 2023 and the first half of 2024.

Positioned at the center of the Baptistery’s architectural structure, the Baptismal Font is an extraordinary work in marble, bronze, and enamel created between 1417 and 1431 by the leading sculptors of the time such as Giovanni di Turino, Lorenzo Ghiberti, Donatello, and Jacopo della Quercia. The Font consists of a hexagonal basin into which are inserted the six gilded bronze mirrors depicting the life of the Baptist, punctuated by the statues of virtue of which two, Faith and Hope, were made by Donatello. Among the most representative episodes, Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Baptism of Jesus from 1427 takes on particular prominence, an elegant and refined scene characterized by a pictorialism and sense of perspective achieved through flattened relief. The cycle concludes with the famous relief made, also by Donatello in 1427, representing the Banquet of Herod, the most moving scene for the dramatic nature of its subject and formal qualities.

The importance of the Fonte, as a focal point in defining the principles of the Renaissance, the complexity of conservation interventions for the gilded bronze works and marble elements, required very careful investigations and great expertise in defining the restoration program.

Preliminary diagnostic campaigns were carried out with the most advanced instrumentation, and revealed not only the degradation of the bronze and stone surfaces (a predictable degradation, given their centuries-old use) but also a structural criticality that required a methodological variant, as well as new solutions to lower the relative humidity of the Baptistery.

Consequently, a very delicate phase of dismantling the cymas and removing all the metal brackets and other pivots was initiated, in order to introduce technical solutions capable of ensuring the restoration of a static balance, most likely lost during the partial post-war reconstruction.

After being restored by the Opificio, all the gilded bronze works have returned to the Sienese Baptistery and since August 7 they have been visible in the display cases together with the three works by Donatello, including The Banquet of Herod, which were already placed, after the temporary exhibition dedicated to the great Renaissance artist last year at Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, on either side of the sculpture of the Fonte. These are the four Putti, two of which already featured in the aforementioned exhibition, a tile with the capture of St. John the Baptist and one of the Virtues namely Prudence.

The gilded bronze works, before their final relocation in the frieze of the Fonte, will remain for a few more months in the display cases that, just in these days, have been specially modified with a system of natural ventilation given the presence of relative humidity: all this in order not to nullify the work already done by the restorers of the Opificio.

They are on display in the illuminated showcases placed on either side of the Yard in the Baptistery, awaiting the completion of the restoration of the stone elements, also thanks to the daily work of the stone restorers of the Opera della Metropolitana, who work alongside the team of restorers of the Opificio Pietre Dure, the creators of the restoration project, all under the collaboration and supervision of the Superintendence of Siena, in all operations.

“A complex operation,” comments Rector Giovanni Minnucci, “which has seen all the staff of the Opera della Metropolitana di Siena engaged-each according to his or her own skills-fully aware that maintenance, conservation and restoration operations constitute some of the main purposes of the Institution, as required by its statutory provisions.”

Siena, restoration of the Baptistery Font proceeds. Panels disassembled and displayed
Siena, restoration of the Baptistery Font proceeds. Panels disassembled and displayed

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