Remember Bette Was A Donor In Cleaning The “Statue of David”


Mister D: Bathhouse Lisa thought I should do a follow-up to the restoration of the Statue of David which Bette donated to last year. With Bette being in Italy, hopefully she’ll drop by to see the good work she contributed to. Here is the link to the original article where Bette was shown to be a donor, followed by the article on the unveiling: Bette, Among Others, Helps Preserve Florence, Italy’s Heritage

‘David’ wears a birthday glow
Alan Riding
New York Times News Service
May. 30, 2004 12:00 AM

FLORENCE, Italy – As a measure of this city’s nervousness about restoration of its Renaissance masterpieces, Michelangelo’s David was unveiled last Monday, after eight months of cleaning, to proud claims that this 14-foot-high marble statue looked little different.

“An invisible cleaning,” Antonio Paolucci, the superintendent of Florentine art, said reassuringly, “like washing the face of a child.”

For anyone familiar with David, though, this monumental sculpture did look different, definitely cleaner and generally more presentable in preparation for celebrations marking the 500th anniversary of its placement in the Piazza della Signoria in September 1504. Paolucci’s caution, however, evidently reflected a desire not to reawaken the controversy that preceded this $500,000 restoration.

One year ago, Agnese Parronchi, the restorer hired to clean the statue where it now stands in the Galleria dell’Accademia, resigned to protest the so-called wet cleaning method imposed on her by Florentine experts. Her warning of damage to the work soon was echoed by James H. Beck, a Columbia University art historian and president of ArtWatch International, who organized a petition signed by 55 international art historians calling for further study before cleaning.

In July, however, Paolucci gave the go-ahead for the restoration. And in September, a new restorer, Cinzia Parnigoni, began using the approved wet method by applying distilled water through compresses of cellulose pulp on top of Japanese paper. In some sections where wax dating back two centuries had accumulated, Parnigoni also used white spirits to remove the wax.

“I would call the result ‘less gray,’ ” Parnigoni said. “But I hope it is not too white.”

Beck, who visited the Accademia last month to observe the cleaning, said he still felt the restoration unnecessary. “But this is not a drastic cleaning, which was a victory for our side, because if we had not spoken out, they would have cleaned it much more,” he said in a telephone interview from New York. Nonetheless, by using white spirits, the museum had broken its pledge not to employ solvents, Beck said.

Franca Falleti, director of the Accademia, said the white spirits were used only to dissolve wax, and at no point touched the marble. Unlike Paolucci, however, who spoke repeatedly of “invisible cleaning,” Falleti was eager to show, with before and after photographs, that many stains and blotches had been removed. Some, though, were too ingrained to be washed away with distilled water and have been left.

The marks on David recount much of the statue’s life story, starting with an 18-foot-high marble block from Carrara that had been exposed to the elements for 40 years before Michelangelo began transforming it. “It is very-poor-quality marble,” Parnigoni said after working inches from its surface for months. Even Michelangelo had to spend four months polishing the marble before it was presented in public in 1504.

In 1527, while standing in the Piazza della Signoria, the sculpture lost the lower half of its left arm during a riot. The arm’s lower half was reattached with a metal bar and covered with a white mixture of lime and sand. Because this strip has aged and colored in a different way from the rest of the marble, Parnigoni removed the original sealing matter and replaced it with fresh plaster. To her credit, the connecting point is barely visible.

The restoration history of David also has left its marks. In 1810, the statue was covered in wax for protection; in 1843, this wax, along with Michelangelo’s original patina, was removed disastrously with hydrochloric acid. A wiser form of conservation took place in 1873, when the statue was brought indoors to the Accademia. But in 1991, an unbalanced Italian artist smashed a toe on the statue’s left foot with a hammer, and this, too, had to be restored.

Scientists also have carried out detailed studies of the environment in which David now lives. They concluded, for instance, that both the temperature and gaseous pollutants monitored around the statue were at acceptable levels. But they also noted that larger dust particles introduced by about 2 million visitors per year quickly soiled the marble “and threaten to cancel out the results obtained with the newly completed cleaning.”

Parnigoni said that to prevent a dust buildup, she planned to clean the statue with a hand-held vacuum cleaner every six weeks.

Perhaps most alarming, however, is the discovery by Florentine experts that David would not be safe in case of a major earthquake. In documents provided to the press last Monday, the experts are quoted as saying, “Given the importance of the work, we consider it necessary to take even this extreme hypothesis into consideration.” Because Florence lies in an earthquake zone, the hypothesis is not extreme.

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