SFONDRATI COLLECTION: Sfondrati’s Excavation and the Unique Vessels Used to House the Relics

When Cardinal Sfondrati excavated beneath the altar at St. Cecilia in the fall of 1599, included in his discoveries were the body of the Saint as well as relics from other martyrs and popes. The most sacred of these were reconsecrated in the ground under the altar, however many pieces were transferred at the time to repurposed and beautifully adorned silver vessels. These have been painstakingly restored thanks to the support of the Ohio Chapter of Patrons and work by restorer Barbara Pinto Folicaldi.

[Behind-the-scenes with amazing silverwork]

The Collection of Cardinal Sfondrati from Vatican Patrons of the Arts on Vimeo.

[Behind-the-scenes with amazing silverwork]

It is interesting to note that the silver bowls and cups used to house these religious relics were originally “profane” in origin and likely domestic pieces that would have been used at an official banquet. However, they were so treasured, that in the hands of craftsmen in the 1600s these were consecrated and adorned with religious symbology to be made appropriate resting places for the ashes of sanctified relics.

These pieces were then in the custody of St. Cecilia until the early 20th century when they were brought to the Vatican Museums.

{Guido Cornini, Curator of the Decorative Arts Department, gives you more information on the restoration of these beautiful reliquaries now housed in the “Room of the Tributes” in the Vatican Museums….}

See our other restoration videos on our website by clicking here!

The Sacred in the Profane – Mythological Statues in The Gregorian Profane Museum Restored

The Profane Museum, founded by Clement XIII in 1761 was the first gallery in the Vatican dedicated to the display of the ancient “profane” pieces. These included pagan art as well as “domestic” instruments (cameos, ivory, rock crystal and small bronzes). The museum underwent a large overhaul when a new entrance was constructed and many pieces were given a course of restoration at that time thanks to the efforts of the Michigan Chapter.

Mythological Statuettes Part 1, Michigan Chapter from Vatican Patrons of the Arts on Vimeo.

{See the video for more on these wonderful works and how they were retooled in the 18th century!}

Pieces depicted in the video include works from the 2nd to 5th century, many from Roman houses and some amazing artifacts from Pompeii and Herculaneum. In the 1700s several of these pieces, that had been part of a large collection owned by Cardinal Carpegna, were repurposed and adorned with golden appointments by the artist Valadier .The preserved state of these artifacts is amazing! Let restorer Claudia Legga walk you through these meticulously restored pieces. Again, many thanks to the Michigan Chapter for their support in this effort.

Mythological Statuettes, Part 2, Michigan Chapter from Vatican Patrons of the Arts on Vimeo.

{Ms. Legga continues your tour of the “profane” artifacts…}

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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. 

The Curse of Mummy-Mania: Patrons Help Unravel a Mystery Wrapped in an Enigma

Mummy Mania is not exactly a scientific term – but it accurately describes the Egyptian history craze that swept Europe after the discovery of the Rosetta Stone in 1799 (which allowed for the translation of Hieroglyphics). In the rush to supply the Egypt-a-philic art collectors and museums that popped up on the continent, tombs were ransacked and ruins were exploited. Tourists swarmed the pyramids and every visitor to Egypt wanted to come home with a genuine mummy – correspondingly, there was a booming market for forgeries.

Napoleon in Egypt Studying a Mummy, Print by E. Fiorello

Napoleon in Egypt Studying a Mummy, Print by E. Fiorello

Forgeries of mummies are nothing new – researchers say that there were faux mummies even in the time of the Pharaohs and even more when high demand when during the Middle Ages through the Renaissance they were ground up used as a powder for apothecary potions. Often smaller mummies – “mummiettes” (child or animal mummies) made the best fakes, which held, deep underneath ancient bandages, contemporary bird bones or sometimes nothing at all.

Examples of apothecary potions

Examples of apothecary potions

Two of these fake mummies were the objects of study at the most recent Vatican restorers conference held on January 22, 2015. Professor Antonio Paolucci, director of the Vatican Museums, provided an introduction and Alessia Amenta, curator of the Department of Egyptian Antiquities and the Near East followed up with analysis along with Ulderico Santamaria, head of the Laboratory of Diagnostic for the Conservation and Restoration of the Vatican Museums with his colleagues Fabio Morresi and SvevaLongo. In the curious cases of these mummies, the forgeries and techniques used to discover them were just as interesting as if they found the real things.

A Case of "Mummy-Mania" Conference including speakers: Fabio Morresi, Alessia Amenta, Antonio Paolucci, Ulderico Santamaria, and Svevo Longo (from left to right)

A Case of “Mummy-Mania” Conference including speakers: Fabio Morresi, Alessia Amenta, Antonio Paolucci, Ulderico Santamaria, and Svevo Longo (from left to right)

Thanks to the California patrons who supported this project, (particularly Juliann and Michael O’Connor) our labs were able to use X-ray fluorescence and electron microscopes to discover the chemical elements of materials, and infrared and ultraviolet analyses revealed colors and images hidden to the naked eye. Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry identified the presence of organic compounds and the project was topped off with CT-scans to create 3D images of the contents.  These analyses revealed the presence of zinc and tin in the paints and a metal laminate used to create false aging. Then “multiplanar reconstruction” of hundreds of CT-scan images pieced together revealed a 19th century nail that could not have been seen on the initial X-ray. Also, with carbon dating, restorers found that the bones wrapped inside were actually adult bones from the middle ages.

Fig. 3

Fake Mummy Undergoing “TAC” restoration © Musei Vaticani

The way these forgeries were crafted has been at least as much of a mystery as the riddle of true ancient Mummies. The conference on January 22, 2015 not only revealed strides in how to identify fakes, but also sparked discussion on the merit of these forgeries as works of historical record and even pieces of genuine 19th century artistic ingenuity.

“The Mummy Project” is an ongoing one at the Vatican which boasts a truly impressive collection of genuine mummies some of which have had the benefit of restoration due to our generous patrons.

For more on the Mummy Mania conference: http://mv.vatican.va/3_EN/pages/z-Info/MV_Info_Conferenze.html

For more on becoming a Vatican Museums Patron

Photo of Child Mummy Before Restoration © Vatican Museums

Photo of Child Mummy Before Restoration © Vatican Museums

Fake Mummy, Inv. 5783 © Musei Vaticani

Fake Mummy, Inv. 5783, before restoration © Musei Vaticani

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.

Wrapping Up Another Restoration: Vatican Mummy Project

Thanks to the generosity of Cecil and Susan Hawkins of the Canadian Chapter, the Vatican Museums is proud to announce that the conservation of the Mummy of an Unknown Man has been completed. The mummy was in dire need of preservation due to degraded bandages and evidence of infestation. However, due to the hard work of Dr. Alessia Amenta and her team, the mummy has now been preserved for future generations.

Before the work began on the project, the Egyptian department knew that the mummy was a male likely between the ages of 35 and 50. The corpse was completely wrapped in bandages except for his face and two toes. This uncovering was likely due to inappropriate handling during the original excavation in the late 19th century.  This mishandling was perhaps due to thieves trying to steal amulets that the Egyptians would place between the bandages for protection.

This mummy was the second in a series of seven that are yet to be preserved. This ‘Vatican Mummy Project’ will not only ensure the conservation of these artifacts, but it is also leading to new discoveries! During the work on this mummy the team found two platforms located directly between the should blades. These beams, of unknown substance, would have supported the corpse while the doctors performed the embalming process, which is something Egyptians felt was necessary to ensure a safe travel to the afterlife. The restorers were also able to identify twelve bandages, four shrouds, and three different textile types. These discoveries are not only helping to better inform the Vatican Museums, but are enabling a better understanding of these people and their burial rituals throughout the scholarly community.

Next time you visit the Vatican Museums, make sure to stop through the Egyptian Galleries and say hello to one of the mummies on display. Whether you see them before or after they go to the labs for preservation, they are truly one of the most unforgettable parts of the Vatican Museums!



The Mummy before his restoration


The skull uncovered during the restoration process


The bandages after their cleaning