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.