Monday, February 19, 2024

Cimabue fresco restored for St. Francis’s 800th anniversary

A 13th century fresco by the Florentine painter Cimabue, featuring one of the earliest depictions of St Francis has been restored to its original glory. 

The year-long project was led by the Spoleto-based Tecnireco restoration firm, with assistance from Umbria’s Archaeology, Fine Art and Landscape Authority. 

Located in the lower church of the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi in Umbria, Italy, Madonna Enthroned with the Child, Four Angels and St Francis—otherwise known as Maestà di Assisi—is thought to have been painted by Cimabue between 1285 and 1288. 

The work depicts the Virgin Mary with baby Jesus enthroned and framed by four angels, with St Francis depicted in the right foreground. Born around 1240, Cimabue was one of Italy’s first proto-Renaissance artists to break with the Graeco-Byzantine style, and the teacher of Giotto, whose frescoes elsewhere in the basilica were restored by Tecnireco between 2019 and 2021.

Maestà di Assisi was last restored in 1973, and has since survived a significant double earthquake in 1997 that destroyed parts of the basilica and numerous frescoes in other parts of the church. 

Led by chief restorer Sergio Fusetti, the restoration project removed previous overpainting and compounds added in the 1970s that darkened the work’s lustrous colors. These were restored to their original appearance using pigments identified through technical analysis, the Art Newspaper reported.

The most recent restorative intervention in the basilica was entirely funded by the Italian luxury car producer Ferrari, amounting to a total of €300,000. This marks the first occasion on which Ferrari, whose previous charitable initiatives spanned health, education, and environmental protection, invested in a cultural restoration project. 

“The world of luxury that Ferrari inhabits has close ties with art and culture, so it felt natural for us to play our part in preserving an Italian masterpiece,” said Ferrari CEO Benedetto Vigna in a statement in 2022.

The unveiling of the restored fresco, accompanied by a press conference that is open to the general public is scheduled for the morning of Friday the 16th of February 2024, in the lower church of the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi.