Fresco Depicting St. Paul

In the niche of the short corridor that unites the Baptistery of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Wallswith the room dedicated to Gregory XVI, there is a beautifully resorted fresco depicting St. Paul. The work is attributed to Antonio di Benedetto degli Aquili, better known as Anonianzzo Romano.

The elegantly coffered vault across from the aforementioned fresco is also decorated with brightly colored frescoes. At the base of the vault and along the perimeter of the niche, there is a grotesque frieze featuring fantastical animals interspersed with small palm trees. This roman ornamentation is decorative and demonstrates a typical the Italian Renaissance (XV-XVI century) pictorial practice.

The vault was most likely painted after the fresco of the saint because of its style and the quality of the frieze connected to it, which is more consistent in painted layers and uses more vibrant colors. The vault also appears to be of a different craftsmanship.

Coffered Vault Frieze

Niche Frieze with St. Paul






State of Conservation

The frescoes were seriously damaged by the separation of painted plaster from the wall structure, and the entire surface was at risk of an imminent fall. The separation also caused grave fractures, concentrated for the most part in the area on the top of the vault and in the center of the niche with the saint.

It was discovered that the frescoes had been restored already, and some parts were previously heavily reconstructed with substantial stucco work and pictorial remakes. In the niche fresco, the layers of colors were in some cases not cohesive.

The green background and the Saint’s yellow vestments showed signs of a significant loss of pigment exacerbated by the separation phenomenon. In the past, the painting had been treated with reviving and consolidating substances, which over time chromatically altered the substances, making them opaque and aesthetically spoiling the representations.

Abrasions and scratches were particularly evident and widely diffused, appearing most evidently on the niche’s green background. Dust and surface deposits covered the decorations extensively.

Stuccoing and Reconstruction

Abrasion on green background

Abrasion on St. Paul’s yellow vestments









Techniques of Execution

The direct incisions and compass marks for the design at the base of the vault.

The paintings, as already said, were done in fresco. The niche with the figure of St. Paul was executed with two coats of plaster, one for the saint for whom the Basilica is named and another for the rest of the green background.

Using a technique of indirect engraving i.e. tracing the contours of the figures and internal details, a cardboard inversion of the wall was created. The saint’s halo and the circular knob of the sword’s hilt were drawn with a compass, and a straight edge was used to draw the edges of the blade. There are no traces of incisions or linear transcription on the face and hands, which means the contours were likely delineated with a carbon dust technique and then covered with color. There are very thin but clearly defined direct etchings present on frieze that decorates the lower register of the niche.

Traces of sixteenth-century painting underneath layers of paint

The vault was painted on three segments of plaster, applied along the corridor. The profiles of the coffers were traced with direct incisions while the central rosettes were made with a carbon dusting technique. Traces of the lines used to determine the general design were also detected impressed in the plaster. The small studs, painted on the white segments of the coffers, were formed with a compass. There are no signs of graphic construction i.e. incisions or traces of dust present on the lower frieze, but this is believed to be due to the thickness of the paint layers obscuring this area.

Stratigraphic tests on the vertical walls revealed the presence of painted decorations similar to those of the vault covered by more modern coloring. During a recent meeting of Museum Direction, it was decided to remove the modern additions and bring the original paintings to light.

Scientific Studies

The Vatican Museum’s Diagnostic Laboratory for Conservation and Restoration completed the following scientific studies prior to the restoration:

  • UV fluorescent imaging
  • Infrared false-color imaging
  • IR reflectography taken with a digital camera
  • Geo/Radar structural detection

The UV fluorescent and Infrared false-color images made it possible to precisely determine the presence of retouches and other substance applied during previous restorations (e.g. fixatives) as well as original finishes applied as lacquers on a dry surface. The IR Reflectography gave clear indications of the foundational designs for the figure of St. Paul, and Geo/Radar Detection determined that there are no dangerous static disruptions, even near the plaster fractures.

Digital Photo

IR Reflectography

Infrared false color Image

UV image







Photo Documentation

The Vatican Museum’s Photographic Archive completed a photographic documentation of the restoration for each of the phases  (before, during, and after). The photos were taken with a digital camera.

Graphic Documentation

The work was graphically documented by hand, recording on paper the relative state of the painting’s conservation and techniques used in previous and current restorations. This information will then be digitized using AUTOCAD 2014.

The Restoration Process

The most urgent problem to confront was the painted plaster detaching from the wall structure. First, the parts in danger were “bandaged” using cotton gauze sheets painted onto the surface with lycraine-diluted Cyclododecane (1:1 ratio). The surfaces not covered by the bandages were protected with a layer of Cyclododecane, diluted in 20-40% Ligroin and applied by brush before the restoration work continued.

The restorers then moved on to filling in the gaps proceeding from the bottom to the top. In the thinner cavities, an acrylic resin diluted in water at various percentages was injected (ACRILEM IC 33) while the larger cavities were filled with a pre-mixed hydraulic mortar fluid (LEDAN SM02). To avoid unsecured plasters from falling during the consolidation, the surface was supported with precautionary props. The work yielded very satisfactory results as the plaster is now restored and firmly anchored to the wall structure.


Cyclododecane Usage: surface protection and sealing of plaster fractures; shoring

After the re-adhesion of the detached plaster, the fresco surface was consolidated and the color degradation was addressed. The latter involved soaking especially deteriorated areas with algae. In some cases, restorers also used Paraloid B72 diluted to 3% in acetone.

Restorers applied a paper pulp compress soaked in an ammonium carbonate saturated solution to clean the frescoed surfaces. A sheet of Japanese papers was placed between the fresco and the layers of solution soaked paper pulp. Each compress was applied for 10 minutes on average so as not to damage the image. The more stubborn dirt was then removed using Ammonia suspended in a gel (Carbopol).


Cleaning of the fresco surface


Before & After cleaning

The gaps and fractures in the stuccowork were filled with a mortar made with lime putty, pozzolan, quartzite and marble powders. The very thin fractures were addressed with a ready-made filler (Modostuc).

The entire image was reintegrated using watercolor. In a few cases, however, a titanium white powder was added to the watercolor to lighten some of the stains on the green background.











The fractures on the disfigured face of St. Paul were filled and reintegrated with watercolor restoring the image to its original integrity.









The assistance of Angela Cerreta (cleaning, grouting and retouching) and Federica Cecchetti (retouching) was integral during the final phases of the restoration. The apprentice Giorgia Donadio also participated in all of the stages of work (consolidation, cleaning, grouting and retouching), while the apprentice Ilaria Liguori helped in the final stages of the retouching.

Standing Tall – The Intricately Inscribed Marble Base

A few weeks ago we mentioned the completion of restorations on a Statue of the Dacian Prince from the Trajan Forum in 113 A.D.  While restorations on the prince are completed, restorers now begin work on the marvelous base with which that sculpture has been associated. Though the prince is spectacular, the base is also stunning and historically intriguing, with an intricate inscription that requires careful cleaning and attention from our restorers. Now, thanks to the support of the Junior Illinois Patrons, this integral project has begun.

On March 18, the Junior Patrons (made up of members under 35 years old) hosted their second annual “Illinois Associates Night Out” which included an unveiling, and engaging discussion about their excitement for the good works ahead involving the marble base.  The base was actually not originally created for the Dacian Prince – it was made in the 5th century and the inscription reads that it once supported a statue of Acilius Glabrio Sibidius who had important government roles in Greece, Campania and west Gallia. However, this base and the Dacian prince have been connected for centuries. 

The pieces are usually housed in the Chiaramonti gallery, however it is important for us to maintain the vision and verisimilitude of this space, crafted by famed Antonio Canova who constructed it in the 19th century. Therefore, prince and base will only come on display when restorations are fully complete on corresponding pieces of similar construction so that the full experience is recreated.

Are you under 35 and want to get involved? Junior membership is designed especially for you and includes the same rewards as full members at a reduced rate. It’s easy to become a patron (particularly a Junior Patron) and the perks are amazing! Click here for more information.

Don’t miss your chance to win with the Patron’s Junior Membership GIVEAWAY – More details here.

{See this striking video for more information on the base and the history of the Chiaramonti on Vimeo}

5th Century Marble Base, Illinois Junior Patrons from Vatican Patrons of the Arts on Vimeo.

If you would like to know more about this project and the others associated with the Chiaramonti go to our Wishbook.

Canadian Patrons Help Restore Pinturicchio’s “Secret” Borgia Apartments

The Borgia Apartments were sealed off by Pope Pius III after the death of Pope Alexander VI, Rodrigo Borgia, (1431-1503) (due to their association with the scandalous Borgia family). For nearly 400 years the sumptuous art within sat in wait.

Then, in 1889, Pope Leo XII reopened the rooms for restoration revealing an overwhelming trove of artistic riches. The apartments were discovered to be filled to the brim with astonishing frescos by the Italian painter Bernardino di Betto, also known as Pinturicchio – who worked on them with a team of apprentices between 1492-1494. Intricate stucco work adorns the walls and vaults while accentuating the paintings, saturated with vivid reds and blues.  The halls are considered a masterpiece in design. Themes of the works adorning the walls are from medieval encyclopedia and celebrate the supposed divinity of the Borgias.

In this short and telling video, Romina Cometti and Marco Pratelli guide us through current restorations and expand on the importance of the particularly impressive pieces in “The Hall of the Liberal Arts”. The frescos in here are mainly allegorical with scenes of anthropomorphized “lunettes” including the idealized embodiments of rhetoric, music, astrology and so on. These important restorations are made possible because of a generous donation by the Canadian Chapter of Patrons.

Because of the distinction of the color palette of these frescos, the stark contrast between those portions that have undergone the careful cleaning process and those that await restoration is striking. Much of the damage came from soot and candle smoke from the time when the apartments were under use, but with careful attention to detail, restorers can return the frescos to their original and glorious  luster. One can almost imagine the gatherings of wealthy patrons mingling in candlelight while the frescos looked on.

An interesting development involves recent restorations of another room in the apartments (The Hall of Mysteries of the Faith) which revealed – under a layer of dirt – what is believed to be the very first European depiction of Native Americans! Painted in 1494, only two years after the voyage of Columbus. The figures appear in the background of Pinturicchio’s spectacular “Resurrection.”

For more on these fascinating artistic treasures and the secrets of the Borgia apartments don’t miss these videos:

Borgia Apartments “Room of the Liberal Arts” Part 1, Canada Chapter from Vatican Patrons of the Arts on Vimeo.

Borgia Apartment Part 2, Canada Chapter from Vatican Patrons of the Arts on Vimeo.

The duty of the Patrons is a sacred one in preserving our artistic history. If you’d like to participate in the restoration of these or similar pieces at the Vatican Museums contact your local chapter of the Patrons Office.

Bernini Angel Update

Bernini Angels UPDATE! Restorations continue on one of the Vatican’s prized possessions. Find out why these beautiful Bernini Angels were scheduled to be burned by clicking here!

Bernini Angel, New York Chapter from Vatican Patrons of the Arts on Vimeo.

For more restoration updates check out our behind-the-scenes videos here. 

Series of 48 Bookcases Under Restoration

Our Art Historian, Romina, illuminates the restorations on 48 amazing bookcases completed by Mario Cretoni in the mid 19th century. These currently live in the Gallery of Urban VIII.  The delicately ornate bookcases feature scenes of Rome and the Vatican from the 1800s. Thank you to our Florida Chapter for helping us restore these Vatican treasures.

See the video here!

Cretoni’s Bookcases, FL Chapter from Vatican Patrons of the Arts on Vimeo.

Restoration of Etruscan Treasures – Thanks to Our Florida Patrons

One of the most fruitful bronze age sites has been the Tomb of Regolini Galassi. Discovered in 1836 in Cerveteri this tomb can still be visited today. Etruscan tombs of this kind often held ceremonial artifacts in gold, bronze, and silver and excavation here unearthed a chariot, silverware, gilded and bronze ware and precious jewels assumed to be the property of the deceased.etruscan treasures 2

Today, several artifacts from this excavation grace the Vatican Museum and thanks to the support of our Florida Patrons (particularly Mr. and Mrs. John Koch) they are being properly cared for and restored. In particular, eleven bronze ribbed paterae (plates), originally placed along the cell walls of the tomb as well as ceremonial vases of oriental origin that were used in entombment rituals of Etruscan royal classes are being cleaned and refurbished for display. In addition, four ceremonial shields have been restored and their parts reconnected/strengthened using “resina epossidica” – a special artificial acrylic resin that allows the reintegration of missing areas without negative reaction to the bronze surface.

This important project restoring some of the most representative Etruscan artifacts extant, shows a true glimpse into history and the lives (and deaths) of people from over 2500 years ago.

Watch this video of Restorer Chiara Omodei Zorin from the Metal and Ceramics Restoration Lab for more information and a behind-the-scenes look!


If this project interests you – consider becoming a Patron 

Check out more restoration videos on our site by clicking here.

Beyond the Candelabras

The Gallery of the Candelabras takes its names from a pair of massive marble candelabra that help divide the hall, which was arranged by Pope Pius VI in the 18th century. It is within this gallery some of the most important decoration in the Museums can be found. The paintings on the wall were completed by Domenico Torti and Ludwig Seitz. This highly trafficked hall of the Museum is currently undergoing a very important restoration that will highlight these paintings and return them to their original splendor.

20150107_093057Through speaking with head restorer, Francesca Persegati, we learned that the restorers are very interested in this project because it’s a chance to study and work on 20th century mural painting. The other fact that makes this project unique, is that the paintings aren’t frescoes, but instead Torti and Seitz used tempera colors. In addition, the restoration team has not only cleaned the walls, but they also had to evaluate the damage of the roof and the work that must be done to fix it and prevent future damage.

The restoration of the Gallery of the Candelabras is not only a grand project, but it marks an occasion for scholars and restorers to study different techniques of modern art. Our thanks go to not only to Persegati and her restoration team, but also to Connie Frankino of the Ohio Chapter for making this restoration possible!

Gallery of the Candelabras Presentation from Vatican Patrons of the Arts on Vimeo.



Texas Chapter Visits Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Vatican Gardens

On the Northwest border of Vatican City lies a proposed section for the Gardens restoration project. Like the the Grotto of Lourdes section, this area is located atop Vatican Hill and is a spectacular vantage point for catching a panoramic view of Rome. It is for this lovely place  that the Texas chapter of Patrons has generously donated so that the section of Gardens can be well preserved.  This past week, when they were in town, members of the Texas Chapter visited the site to see first-hand the impact that their contributions are having on the serene and spiritual place.

One of the most special pieces in this section is a statue that gives the area its  namesake – donated by Mexico to Pope Pius XII in 1939,  depicting moment that the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe was miraculously revealed in Mexico City in the year 1531. In the statue, native Juan Diego stands in surprise as he gazes upon his Tilma (or peasant cloak) upon which the sacred image of the Virgin appeared.  The Franciscan Bishop, Juan de Zumaraga also kneels in surprise before her,  a witness to the miracle of the beautiful, sacred image.

The Vatican grounds represent one of the finest gardens in the world.  Formed on hallowed ground and cultivated with faith and hope, the growth here is sacred and symbolic of greater spiritual meaning. Many popes have prayed surrounded by this shrine of greenery. Pope John XXIII often reflected in the gardens as he prepared to lead the church through the Second Vatican Council. John Paul II often invited young people to pray the rosary with him at the Lourdes shrine atop the Vatican Gardens. Pope Benedict XVI was also known to pray his rosary here.


Although many of the degradation problems of the works were similar, there were different levels of deterioration due to specific factors of corrosion relating to placement (major or minor exposure to sunlight and rainfall), constituent materials, and the presence of previous restorations and/or the reassembly of fragments or parts of the works. Today, thanks to the Texas Chapter these problems are being overcome by restorers. As they were able to witness on their visit – we’ve been able to preserve and restore this majestic statue and the glorious landscape that surrounds it.

The Texas Chapter was able to contribute so much to this effort, but there is still a great need when it comes to our gardens. It’s so important to maintain this holy place and meditative space so that it continues to inspire visitors and holy contemplation. If you are considering donating to one of our projects please think about adopting part of the garden. It is a truly worthy project.

See this link for more information on how to be a part of this effort:



Our Texas Chapter VIisiting the Gardens

Our Texas Chapter VIisiting the Gardens


guadalupe statue

Gardens Entrance


The Vatican Gardens: Restoring the Apollo

You never know where helpful hints will come from in the world of restoration.  When Mr. and Mrs. Hazelwood of Tennessee dropped by to check out the work that’s being performed on the Apollo section of the Vatican Gardens they’ve adopted in honor the memory of their daughter and niece, they were able to talk to the restorers about the new techniques they are using to keep the statuary clear of moss and other biological material that affects the stone masterpieces. The restoration of this section is part of a pilot project that will flower into a strategy of conservation for all the statuary in the gardens.

As one aspect of this, restorers just began testing a new restoration technique adopted from the invention of a farmer in Iowa. And it was a Patron that suggested it! The homeopathic agent, an American product known as “Moss Buster”, is cleaner and less abrasive than the biocides that restorers used in the past to clean the outdoor statues.  Also it is more effective – with the cleaning lasting much longer than ever before. Previously, even with modern chemicals, staining moss would return in just a couple months. The Moss Buster kills what is on the surface and restorers then perform a further removal with a gel product that is spread over the surface. When the gel hardens, they peel it off leaving a clean statuary underneath.   Director of the Vatican Museums Restoration Laboratory for Stone, Guy Devreux, calls Moss Buster  “a huge help in the atmosphere in the gardens.” After the peel, restorers have begun applying essential oil of oregano, a final protective measure that keeps the statue clean and prevents it from yellowing. A chemical peel and essential oil rub-down? Sounds like a nice day at the spa.

Thanks to our patrons, an Iowa farmer, and Moss Buster, our statues are restored to their natural beauty and can be more easily maintained. The Hazelwoods were so glad to hear that their patronage went toward this important innovation in outdoor restoration and so are we! It means that supporting the gardens is even easier and donations go further. Adopting a section of the gardens is a particularly rewarding experience as it connects the natural and man made worlds with the history and spirituality of the Vatican.  It is rewarding to see the continual growth and beauty in that counterbalance. Something truly delightful to share with all our visitors.

This Wednesday, Director of the Vatican Museums, Antonio Paolucci visited the gardens to oversee the progress and talk to restorers and curators.  He was amazed at the results of the restoration and was happily surprised to hear that the Patrons were critical in revealing a new technique. The collaboration of the Patrons in restoration always uncovers surprises!

If you would like to adopt part of the Vatican Gardens see our WISHBOOK 2015 Projects online, here:

Our Patrons from Tennessee, the Hazelwoods, with restorers in front of their adopted "Apollo" Section.

Our Patrons from Tennessee, the Hazelwoods, with restorers in front of their adopted “Apollo” Section.

Detail of Restoration Work

Detail of Restoration Work


Guy Devreaux the Director of the Vatican Museums Restoration Lab for Stone Artifacts and Father Mark Haydu with our IL Patrons during their Chapter Visit

Guy Devreaux the Director of the Vatican Museums Restoration Lab for Stone Artifacts and Father Mark Haydu with our IL Patrons during their Chapter Visit

Restorer with the Apollo Statue

Restorer with the Apollo Statue

Director of the Vatican Museums, Antonio Paolucci, Visiting the Project

Director of the Vatican Museums, Antonio Paolucci, Visiting the Project


Restoration Updates: The Lebete

lebeteThis morning, our office met with Museum Director Antonio Paolucci, Professor Nasselrath, Curator Dr. Maurizio Saniballe, and Head Restorer Flavia Callori di Vignale in the Metal and Ceramics Restoration Lab.  After catching up on usual business matters, the meeting turned its focus towards the Lab’s recent completion of the restoration of the Lebete with Tripod.  The stellar success of the project, particularly its cleaning, is extremely apparent: its surface, which appeared dark brown and grimy, has recovered the rich tonalities of its green patina.  This dramatic transformation is due to the restorers’ careful removal of the various organic residues that were encrusting its surface.  This rare Etruscan bronze, one of the many items of the Museum’s collection of works from the Regolini Galassi Tomb, was restored thanks to the generosity of Anne Marie and Chris Scibelli of the California Chapter.