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.

This Dashing Dacian Prince has Been Fully Restored!

With work beginning in 2012, we are happy to say that this colossal statue of a defeated prince has been fully restored and is ready for display. The statue was part of a decorative scheme used to adorn the great Trajan Forum inaugurated by the Emperor in 113 AD. The impressive piece depicts a Dace prince dressed in a long tunic – arms crossed in front of his body in a attitude associated with prisoners. The sculpture is made of pavonazzetto – a white marble extracted from purple veins in the quarries of ancient Phrygia, in the heart of Turkey.  These pavonazzetto sculptures were larger than those in white marble, thus they were possibly placed on the top of the decorated arcade.

How do you restore a prince?

A Deep Wash:

The process of restoration was extensive and took meticulous effort. Primarily, cleaning of surface deposits were accomplished using  compresses of deionized water. This brought out the real sheen of the purple veined marble.

Keeping his integrity – with lasers!:

During the restoration, a light coating applied in ancient times was discovered that probably balanced the stone material’s integration. Restorers Dr. Giandomenico Spinola and Dr. Claudia Valeri decided to respect this and with laser cleaning were able to approximate the original look of the statue.

No such thing as a small surgery:

Parts of the piece had to be dismantled in order to finish the job. A steel pin from the 1800s that held part of the cloak in place was replaced and his nose had to be removed to care for the wax-resin that had anchored it in ancient times.

Finally the fingers:

In the end, the original parts of the fingers were repositioned and adhered with plaster colored to match the statue using watercolors.

Though not yet on display because of finishing touches on the pedestal – prepare to see the Dacian Prince in all his glorious defeat very soon in the halls of the museum.

Before Restoration

Before Restoration


During Restoration

After Restoration

After Restoration







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


Focus on the Augustus of Prima Porta

On the occasion of two-thousandth anniversary of the death of the first emperor of Rome, the marble masterpiece Augustus of Prima Porta returns to the Vatican Museums following its great public success in exhibitions in Rome and Paris.

Found in the villa of Livia in Prima Porta, the statue is a portrait of Augustus as a handsome and young ruler, wearing a decorated cuirass and a tunic, with the figure of Cupid riding a dolphin on his side.

Look closely, though, and you’ll notice something curious: the Emperor has no boots. Art historians debate the significance of this, however, appearing barefoot was an attribute of divinity in art of the ancient world. Though likely based on a bronze statue created during Augustus’ reign, according to many scholars, the Prima Porta must be posthumous, since the Roman Senate deified Augustus a month after his death two thousand years ago in AD 14.

In other words, the Prima Porta Augustus, (named after the villa where it was found, which once belonged to his widow, the Empress Livia), is not simply a portrait of Rome’s first emperor – it is also a vision of a god.

You can admire the statue at the Vatican Museum at the entrance of the Gregorian Profane Museum. Special thanks to the Florida Chapter of patrons who helped us restore this iconic statue as one of their first projects.

If you want to be involved as a patron in your local chapter and participate in important projects like the one that restored the Augustus, contact your local chapter leader.


The Augustus of Prima Porta is based on the Doryphorus, a famous antique statue by Polykleitos portraying the ideal human proportions of an Athenian athlete.

The Augustus of Prima Porta is based on the Doryphorus, a famous antique statue by Polykleitos portraying the ideal human proportions of an Athenian athlete.

Tiberius made a significant addition to his marble copy: on the chest plate, he added scenes depicting the Roman victory over the Parthians.

Tiberius made a significant addition to his marble copy: on the chest plate, he added scenes depicting the Roman victory over the Parthians.


Augustus wanted to portray himself as a perfect leader with flawless features, personifying the power and authority of the emperor.


The Sistine Chapel Twenty Years Later: New Breath, New Light

A two day conference marking the 20thanniversary of the restoration of Michelangelo’s frescos in the Sistine Chapel opened on Thursday October 30th in Rome.


With the new lights and proposed new air conditioning system, the Sistine Chapel is at the forefront of everyone’s mind.  Now 450 years after the death of Michelangelo and 20 after the conclusion of the famous restoration in 1994, the Vatican Museums honor this double anniversary with a symposium.

The long-awaited event, will consist of two days of intense work and studies of the health of Michelangelo’s frescoes and their future conservation. Registration for the conference is closed – but surely we will learn a great deal from the symposium to share with our Patrons.

The conference began at 10 AM  when his Eminence Cardinal Bertello greeted all participants. This was followed by a talk led by Vatican Museums Director Antonio Paolucci.

Friend of the Patrons, Dr. Arnold Nesselrath,  Managing Director for the Science Departments and the Laboratories of the Vatican Museums will also present on “The Reason to Restore” and “How do we Illuminate Michelangelo?: The Philosophy of the Project.”

We’re excited about the coming together of all these innovative minds in the world of restoration as well as the focus on the Sistine Chapel. More images and insights to come… Check out this link to the Vatican Museums website for more information.

Conference on Sistine Chapel Lighting



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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


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

APLAR 5 Conference: Lasers and Art Restoration

Brochure from APLAR event giving details on the technology being used.The APLAR  5 Conference, which occurred September 18-20th, demonstrated  the further  role advanced lasers can play in the world of art restoration. Special thanks to our California, D.C., and Florida Chapters for their help in securing laser technology for the Vatican that is the envy of the museum community.  For more on the conference or to apply for abstracts see their website here.

See the full brochure here.

Glorious Globes: Two 17th Century Painted Globes

Two Globes crafted by G.J. Blaeu (1571-1638) were transferred in the Paper Restoration Lab in 2008 to be painstakingly restored.  One is the globe of the earth while the other shows the 48 constellations as cited by Ptolemy. The two papier-mâché globes are covered in painted incised paper. See the pictures of the process needed to restore them here.

Blaeu was a student of famous astronomer Tycho Brahe, and made the artistry of globes and maps his whole life.  In 1599, he founded a printing press dedicated to the manufacturing of globes,  as well as nautical and scientific instruments. In 1625, he founded the Blaviana Office in Amsterdam, the official map maker for the Indian Company. His most famous work is the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum sive Atlas Novus, published in two volumes in 1635 was reprinted many times until 1655. One interesting facet of the pieces, two globes were continually “updated” with copper as new discoveries were made.

In the Diagnostic Lab, the globes was analyzed through reflectography, photographic documentation with UV fluorescence, analysis of the pigments and stratigraphic analysis.  Restorers studied the components order to define typology and to identify the process and technique with which it was assembled. There are few documents about these globes, so they had to collecting information on other similar globes located in Museums in Bologna and Florence in order to track down the history of these beautiful works of art. Thank you to our California Chapter for helping us to keep preserve treasures like these.

Antonio Paolucci, Director of the Vatican Museums, in the restoration labs with the Blaeu Globes

Antonio Paolucci, Director of the Vatican Museums, in the restoration labs with the Blaeu Globes