Statue of Mars – Conservation Project


Before Restoration

The exact origin of this sculpture is unfortunately unknown, but has been a part of quite a number of private collections. At the end of the 700s, antique dealer and painter Gavin Hamilton laid claim to the piece, after which it was part of the Marconi collection from Frascati, and in the 19thcentury became part of the pontifical collections for installation within the Lateran Museum.

Finally, in 1963 it was transferred to the Vatican along with other findings, and some years later was exhibited in the new Gregorian Profane museum.

The body is that of a young man in heroic nudity, dressed only with a cape fastened by a clasp on the right shoulder, partially covering his back. The statuary type of this artifact is notable by comparison with other replicas of the imperial age, inspired by Greek sculpture models of the 5th century BC. However, this one appears to have been adapted in the course of the 2nd century AD.  For honorary statues this was often the case—especially portraits of emperors such as Antonino Pio, Marco Aurelio, and Lucio Vero. In this case, the military character of the iconographic typology is revealed by the armor shaped like a tree trunk, which lies on the support next to the right leg.

Moreover, the head, which also was modified during modern restoration interventions, can be compared to other replicas of the imperial ages. The origin is hypothetically from a bronze statue that depicts the Greek god of war, Ares, and created in Attica between 430 and 420 BC.


After Restoration


  • Chemical cleaning, removal of coherent surface particle deposits using a stone pack of sepiolite (a magnesium mineral), pulp paper and water, interposed by a sheet of Japanese paper treated with a 10% ammonium bicarbonate solution;
  • On the uneven upper vertical surface areas, buffer cleaning was done with the help of Japanese paper, hot water and a 10% ammonium bicarbonate solution;
  • Traces of brown-reddish paint were eliminated using swabs and acetone;
  • Extraction of removeable salt deposits left on the painted surface; this was done using Japanese paper and water;


  • The plaster fig leaf was removed with the aid of water and a chisel; the large plaster grout located at the rear of the stone base was also removed;
  • Pin removal: the oxidized metal pin holding the sword was replaced with one in stainless steel. Bonding was carried out with EPO 121 epoxy inserted in the pivotal area at the base of the handle (only at the top). This area was then liberally filled with Plasticrete mixed with marble powder. The sword was secured by creating light gluing points with EPO 121 on the support of the handle adjacent to the sword;


  • Gaps were filled with stucco composed of lime putty and marble powder and chromatically matched to the color of the marble surface.


Bundu Costume

Although a rather foreign looking ensemble in the western world, the Bundu Costume bears connotations of femininity, fertility, and regard for the common good.  The costume is used in the women’s Bundu or Sande Society in Africa found across groups in Guinea, Siera Leone, and Liberia.  The role of the society is to educate young women to grow in feminine and maternal values, and to mature into roles in adult society as wives, mothers, administrators, and political leaders.  Part of initiation is to teach young girls the secrets of herbal medications and spiritual rights to help people who are ill in body, mind, and soul. The Bundu costume was worn by women during the ceremony. It consists of a striking facemask, or Sowei headpiece, with a collar made from very long organic plant fibers that completely cover the identity of the woman.

The costume features a carved mask, the only kind worn by women south of the Sahara. Although worn by women, they are hand fashioned by men, remarkably with quite elementary tools.  Each is different its details, but all embody the culture’s concept of iconic female beauty, especially from the standpoint of modesty and moral values prized in the society. Masks are carved with an exaggerated forehead, referencing a noble character, and the downwardly cast eyes indicate humility and modesty. Many masks also have slight slashing marks around the cheek area, which speak of how beauty is not manifested in a pristine exterior, but rather how suffering, serving, and integrating into culture are the marks of beauty.

This piece became part of the Vatican Collections after the Order of the Fathers of the Holy Spirit sent it to be displayed in the Museums’ Missionary Exhibition of 1925.  It is a rare gem, containing not only the mask, but all of the original constructive elements of the costume used in the Sande ritual dance.


Restoration & Conservation

When the costume arrived in the hands of the Vatican, there was a great deal for the team at the Polymateric Laboratory to consider.  The first phase of the restoration involved an anoxic disinfestation treatment. Since the mannequin on which the costume was displayed showed problems of stability, it was secured by two metal vertical poles.  A plastic covering was put around the mannequin and the support structure in order to disinfect the piece, a process that lasted 24 days.

Many fibers were stiff and weak. The wired elements had rusted, and the oxidized iron penetrated into the fabric fiber bands were sewn on the jacket using thick twine (2mm in diameter) and, because of their weight, created numerous lacerations on the fabric.  In this phase, the conservators had to perform a series of scientific investigations in collaboration with the Laboratory for Conservation and Restoration Diagnostics that included both x-ray images of the work from a front view, and sampling from various areas to identify plant fiber species and the type of cloth used to construct the jacket and trousers. The restorers could then consolidate the plant fibers with a special substance called jun funori diluted to 1% in a solution of distilled water (60 %) and ethyl alcohol (40 %) using an airbrush spray. Given its critical condition the team decided to temporarily remove the fiber bands from the costume to repair them with greater facility. The whole suit was “vacuumed” with a micro-nozzle dust extractor. Then, a new canvas was dyed to match the original cloth and sewn to reinforce the jacket interiorly.  Finally, the helmet mask had lost its luminosity, and had many abrasions on the surface.  Some of the detailed carved elements on the crown of the mask were missing, evident from the natural light color of the wood that showed through. Pieces of the mask were also repositioned with nails. The helmet also got a good dusting, repair, and plant fibers were re-affixed to it.  Thanks to the dexterity of the restorers’ hands, the Bundu, which embodies connotations of serving others and preserving feminine beauty gives testimony to these core familial values to all who visit the Ethnological Museum.

The Bundu Costume was restored thanks to the Michigan Chapter.



Miracles happen every day. 

Each of the seven days of creation bears within it a multiplicity of miracles. At the center of it all, lies the remarkably complex creation of man himself—the receiver of God’s affectionate love and His most amazing miracle to boot. Though the relationship was sacrificed by the disobedience of Adam and Eve, God continues to unceasingly draw every man to Himself, and the promise of His Covenant with His people can never be severed. God’s covenantal love, or sacred family bond, is inherent within each biblical family.  God reveals to Noah that the covenant reaches beyond the family nucleus and “ is with [Noah] and with all his descendants after” (Genesis 9:9). Though others would not find favor with God and be swept away in the massive flood, Noah’s family mission is steadfast in guarding and communicating love. The beginning of this perpetual covenantal story (which still, of course, continues today) is documented not only in the Bible, but makes its way into various early Christian artworks.  Interest in the figurative and visual arts of early Christianity reached its height in the 16th century, during the Catholic response to the Reformation.Knowledge of early Church and her works became key.

In the 18th century, Pope Benedict XIV (1740-1758) successfully organized a “Christian Museum” in the Vatican, housing those works that give us a glimpse in to the culture and faith of the the first Christian communities in Rome. Established in 1852 under the papacy of Pius IX (1846-1870), the Commission for Sacred Archaeology insured the utmost protection for these rich archaeological pieces of Christian heritage. Two years later, in an effort to save precious pieces that were unearthed, Pius IX transferred the artifacts to the Lateran Palace in a collection he called “Pius.”  In 1963 the collection of Christian patrimony was moved to the Vatican, and became permanent residents of the “Pius Christian Museum.”  Every visitor upon entering the Museums can turn a corner and listen to the testimonies of Christian families and martyrs from the 2nd to 4th centuries, etched in the stone sarcophagi in this collection. This frontal sarcophagus piece is one of many that bears witness to the precious Christian artifacts, as the precious covenantal bond of God with His people is carved into them.  Here, Noah is seen sending out a dove to determine if, after forty days in the ark, the flood waters had subsided. The dove touches the head of another figure, perhaps one of Noah’s sons, who carries a bastion that leads the eye into the next scene.  Three youths, refusing to worship false deities, sing the praises of the one true God after thrown in the fiery furnace by King Nebuchadnezzar.  Lifting up their hands in prayer, they sing of their transgressions and the miracle of still being showered in God’s mercy.  They are unconsumed by the flames.  Noah’s family is spared from the flood. One miracle flows directly into another. 

The images decorate the tombs of the faithful who bore witness to the miracles of God in their own lives and next miracle? It is how the Vatican restorers brought this piece of heritage and faith back to life. The sarcophagus is a relief sculpture piece that had undergone maintenance, restorations and perhaps reworked interventions over time. During the preliminary “autopsy” of the work, certain findings helped determine the present state of intervention and “readability” of the piece. There was evidence of coherent deposits and stains, either from exposure to less than desirable conditions, or from the hand of a previous attempt at fixing the piece. Wax or paints were used to cover damages, and these exhibited deposits resultantly compromised the integrity of the carved surface. Generally the surfaces of sarcophagi often show widespread scratches and exfoliation phenomena. In the case of areas where dirt and deposits are more heavily encrusted, thus hindering the piece’s aesthetic integrity, the restorers have to remove these deposits using diversified laser technology.  Oftentimes, Japanese rice paper will be affixed to the surface with a paste made from natural ingredients, which serves to stabilize the rest of the work while the area that is being tackled undergoes some “bumps and bruises” during the restoration process. 

An indispensable part of the procedure involved cleaning the stone surfaces while maintaining scrupulous attention to individual elements and adherence to the pre-restoration analysis performed with the help of the Diagnostic Survey Laboratory.  Great care was always taken in preserving and analyzing traces of polychrome and coatings, and special uses of material such as agar allowed for controlled, careful cleaning. At first glance, one sees a piece of stone.  A second look allows one to read through the miracles of the Bible on its surface. In these scenes is the promise of God’s never-ending, miraculous love for all His people. And the generosity of some of these people ensures that millions more can appreciate this piece of stone. Miracles do happen every day… especially when you are one of them. 

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.

Filling in the Gaps: Etruscan Vase Restoration with Behind the Scenes Video!

From the 7th to 4th Century B.C. the Etruscans produced volumes of expressive greek pottery making them the largest producer of such work outside of Greece. Amazingly, over 2500 years later we are still able to reconstruct these artistic treasures while preserving their narrative and respecting their age and importance.

In the restoration labs at the Vatican we are currently working on 17 precious Etruscan vases with restorations expected to be finished this May. There are a few intriguing aspects of these particular reconstructions which are being completed by restorer Giulia Barella.

See the video behind the scenes!

  • What is conservative restoration?


Shards of pottery can get lost over the millennia leaving small gaps in the artistic imagery. Instead of trying to guess at possible filler for these lost pieces, Barella has chosen to retain the full integrity of the piece as we understand it. Where there are gaps she uses a monochrome touch up piece that resembles the background of the base. This kind of conservative restoration means that there are no assumptions and viewers have an unblemished and unbiased view of the existing work.  See the video for how this looks!

  • Sometimes earlier restorations can hinder the work today

For example, one vase on display had to be disassembled before it could be restored. Restoration in the 1800s was crude by today’s standards. Therefore, we melted away the animal based glue they used in the 19th century and separated the 30 composite pieces before Ms. Barella was able to  continue with her own work of puzzling the shards back together with more modern and sustainable adhesive.

It is thanks to the Canadian Chapter that we can continue restoration on these amazing pieces. Stay tuned for more information on this demanding and rewarding project that allows a glimpse into artisans work from thousands of years ago.

(And for a glimpse into life inside the Ceramic and Metal Restoration Laboratorysee this video!)


Vatican Museums Director, Antonio Paolucci

Vatican Museums Director, Antonio Paolucci


The Day The Bernini Angel Moved

In it’s own day this complicated beauty would be slated for destruction. Why?

This past week marked a milestone in the completion of a labor of love: the restoration of a Bernini Angel. When crafting bronze sculptures, Bernini would make plaster molds for the smelting process. As models for bronze pieces that framed the altar at St. Peter’s Basilica, these statues were not meant to be preserved and would generally have been burned if not, in this case, for a very famous creator. Molds like these are unique in construction, and  and therefore very difficult to care for. This angel, for example, was in some marked disrepair before the office was able to embark on its efforts to bring it safely back to display in a state or preservation.

The clay exterior hasn’t even been fired, so it is simply dried fragile dirt that makes up the piece. A hollow shell, the statue is more like paper than stone and therefore it is necessary to think of it from the perspective of a document restoration.

This piece is fascinating because it can connect directly to Bernini and how comparable artists worked in the 1600’s. It’s a map to show how they realized sculptures and how models were made. Again, because these were not meant to have a long life, there are very few left in existence. “That’s why they’re in this room of the Pinacoteca,” says restorer Flavia Callori, who runs the ceramics and metals laboratory. “They’re very important… [The Angel is] not only Bernini, but Bernini and his century, Bernini and his techniques. The most important thing is that Bernini worked on these statues, not the bronze ones that were made FROM these casts. So here you find the fingerprints of Bernini, you find his intention.”

Because of the support of our patrons – a glass laboratory workplace was constructed to address the unique needs of these pieces. Sealed in under optimum humidity conditions the Angel had to be approached carefully with great attention paid to the acidity of the materials used on the surface. A further consideration for this workspace was accessibility from the outside. By giving it a transparent walls, onlookers could see how the restoration is progressing, making it a kind of living museum piece. The head of the Vatican Museums, Antonio Paolucci, is very pleased with the new workshop and hopes to use it in the future for large artworks including tapestries and paintings.

Says Ms. Callori, “We had to look in other laboratories where they have materials that are fragile, like paper. [The use of] Cellulose  is totally new. We saw it in the the laboratory of the paper restoration… and thought maybe we could use materials not normally used in clay, or metals.”

When the angel was finally restored, then began the arduous task of moving it. The hollow interior makes it vulnerable to cracking meaning that the process would be  extra labor intensive. An engineer was brought in to create a special base and then the Angel was slowly able to be moved into a new place.

And, just as the Kneeling Angel leaves the floor, another one of the same vintage, has been waiting in the wings to take its place. This next Bernini Angel will get the same loving treatment and be available to see on exhibition soon.

“We could not have done this without the New York Patrons,” said a restorer. Our thanks go out to them – with their support we are given an opportunity to salvage what otherwise would have been lost to history and at the same time to discover crucial information about Bernini and his process.

See the New York Patrons Office HERE.

Kneeling Angel in the glass laboratory workplace before it was transferred to the  Pinacoteca Gallery

Kneeling Angel in the glass laboratory workplace before it was transferred to the Pinacoteca Gallery

Head restorer of the project, Alice Baltera, with Bernini's Kneeling Angel

Head restorer of the project, Alice Baltera, with Bernini’s Kneeling Angel


The Director of the Vatican Museums, Antonio Paolucci,  with the Bernini Angels

The Director of the Vatican Museums, Antonio Paolucci, with the Bernini Angels

The Laboratory

The Glass Laboratory

Vatican Tech to Help Restore Egyptian Artworks

Lasers always make us think of futuristic vistas – a time of self aware robots and a galaxy far far away. However, the lasers that are employed at the Vatican are used to illuminate the past – that is, to restore great works of art. These precise instruments can clear sediment more carefully than any human hand and make sure there is no residual damage to the artwork.

{More on Lasers in Art Conservation:}

Though the Vatican has used lasers in restoration for a while now, new and more modern technologies keep coming to us. The patrons have been instrumental in the acquisition of this kind of tech for use in our work. For example, this past year, the Washington D.C. Chapter secured an ArtLight II laser and it has already been put to use in our important work restoring the Scala Santa at the Chapel of San Lorenzo.

These kinds of cutting-edge systems are coveted by museums around the world and therefore, many other centers of art and culture have requested partnerships with the Vatican for the purpose of using our lasers for their own projects. For example, in mid-October, the Egyptian Museum in Turin will bring masterpieces here to be restored.

(How are they buried? Another collaboration with the Egyptian Museum regarding ancient coffin research: )


Not only does this mean beautifying these important works, but has the added benefit of allowing our patrons access to pieces from far flung places that they might not otherwise be able to visit.

Keep an eye out for more information on what will be available to see from the Egyptian Museum and the process of their restoration. Other viable partnerships with elite institutions mean more access to spectacularly restored artwork from around the world – all brought to you with the power of lasers.

Department of the Vatican Museums, the Diagnostic Laboratory for Conservation and Restoration of the Vatican Museums, restorer Giovanna Prestipino, wood expert Victoria Asensi Amoros, and the Musées de France (C2RMF) are  collaborated with the Department of Egyptian Antiquities of the Louvre Museum in Paris for their Vatican Coffin Research Project

Department of the Vatican Museums, the Diagnostic Laboratory for Conservation and Restoration of the Vatican Museums, restorer Giovanna Prestipino, wood expert Victoria Asensi Amoros, and the Musées de France (C2RMF) are collaborated with the Department of Egyptian Antiquities of the Louvre Museum in Paris for their Vatican Coffin Research Project

Stairway to Heaven: Vatican Backs Effort to Restore Holy Stairs Shrine

SCALA SANTA, ROME — As thousands of pilgrims continue to climb the venerated Holy Stairs below, eight restorers continue to climb the scaffolding above, working diligently on the sanctuary’s beautiful fresco cycles. Thanks to our generous United Kingdom, Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina Patrons, the Vatican Museums’ head fresco restorer, Paolo Violini, and his team are in the process of executing this tremendous effort to save the Holy Stairs—uncovering the masterful 16th century works by painter Paul Brill, preserving the site’s history and enriching the spiritual messages of its frescos.  In a recent National Catholic Reporter article, Fr. Mark reinforces the meaning of the Holy Stairs restoration project, reflecting how “sacred art is invaluable, not just for its material beauty, but also for its power to help transform people’s lives.”

Follow the link below to read the entire article, written by Carol Glatz for the National Catholic Reporter:



The Emperor’s Tapestry

Last Friday, Patrons project manager  and restoration liaison, Romina Cometti, met with conservators, curators, and Museums directors in the Polymateric Laboratory of the Vatican’s Ethnological Museum to discuss the restoration progress of the Embroidered and Painted Silk Tapestry.  Together, they examined the Chinese imperial artifact, taking a closer look at the rich, colorful silk embroidery and gold leaf detailing that depicts the family clan of Emperor Xianfeng (Qing Dynasty).  Observing the object from this exclusive perspective, gathered around the edges of the tapestry as it lay flat upon a table in the restoration lab, brought attention to the unique details woven into its border.

Among the twisting vines of the bordering floral motif, Cometti noticed a curious detail—the figure of a bat, represented several times throughout the tapestry—and inquired about the animal’s purpose within the design.  Father Nicola Mapelli, head curator of the Ethnological collection, explained that the bat is one of the most popular auspicious symbols in Chinese culture:  the Chinese word for “bat”—“fú”— coincidentally holds the same pronunciation as the Chinese word for “good fortune” or “happiness,”  and the animal has a long tradition of being depicted in Chinese art, carrying the symbolism of good fortune as a visual application of the homophone.

Color also plays a role in this sense: bats are often depicted in red, because it is recognized in Chinese culture as the color of joy and also because the word for red bat, “hong fu,” sounds exactly like the word for “boundless good fortune.”  The photograph below shows a detail of one of the bats woven into the fabric of the Embroidered and Painted Silk Tapestry.  Beyond its red face and distinct ears, the bat’s ornate wings are curved in the shape of a ruyi scepter, another good luck emblem, and are depicted in white, which symbolizes longevity.

It is also interesting to know that “Xianfeng,” the reigning title of the Emperor who commissioned this tapestry, means “Universal Prosperity.”  One can imagine this beautiful tapestry hanging on the wall behind his throne, depicting the imperial family surrounded by these auspicious bats, conveying boundless good fortune, longevity, and universal happiness during his rule. Thanks to the generosity of the Michigan Patrons and the hard work of the Polymateric Lab, we know that the tapestry will be restored to beautiful condition and hung up once again to exhibit its rich fabric of cultural symbolism.   In the meantime, the tapestry’s inscription will be studied, and all damaged areas of its precious silk will be properly repaired. Who knows what further exciting details are yet to be uncovered!


michigan project chinese tapestry detail

Article written by Maddie Amos