By MICHAEL GAFFNEY
The paintings were taken from the churches of St. Nicola in Carcere (Nicholas in Prison) and St. Agnese fuori le Mura (St. Agnes outside the Wall), in Rome.
The artworks removed from the plaster walls of St. Nicola date back to A.D. 1120 to A.D. 1130, according to Vatican art experts. The frescoes removed from the walls of St. Agnese date back to A.D. 1280 to A.D. 1300.
Frescoes, paintings created by applying water-soluble pigments to wet plaster, are durable because the paint combines with the plaster as it dries. Such works were common in churches throughout Europe during the Medieval Period.
According to Vatican art experts, the 31 frescoes bound for Lubbock were removed from the church walls and covered with a crude concoction, possibly between the 15th and 16th centuries. They probably were placed in unused rooms in the churches until the mid-1800s, said the Rev. Malcolm Neyland, director of the Vatican Exhibit 2002 Foundation.
"These things originally were in catacombs (burial chambers beneath the churches)," Neyland said. "The frescoes are ancient and they hadn't been cleaned for nearly 1,000 years.
"But somebody must have seen something in them, and decided we needed to hold on to them for some reason. So they made glue from mule and horses hooves and kind of plastered over them. Then they took long, sword-like instruments and cut or pulled the plaster off the wall."
The backs of the excavated frescoes also were coated with glue, and the whole fragment was wrapped in a tough fabric, then "tucked away in an unused room ... for a long time, hundreds of years," Neyland said.
Probably between 1850 and 1860, according to Vatican documents, the frescoes were placed in the Vatican Museums collection.
Exactly where they were stored is a mystery. In fact, much about the frescoes is based on speculation.
The pieces probably were stored in a basement area of the Vatican Museums, Neyland said.
In 1923 attempts to clean them began, he said.
"But the attempt ended in 1924 because they didn't have the technique, the skills or the technology that we have today, so they stopped," Neyland said. "They were packed up and put away again."
Advances in art restoration allowed Vatican Museums restorers to begin cleaning the ancient art works several years ago, Neyland said.
"The Vatican is allowing this exhibit so parties from around the world will have an opportunity to see and study these works," he said. "This kind of art, this style of art, was not supposed to exist in the 11th and 12th centuries.
"Art historians throughout the world will study and research these frescoes for the next 20 or 30 years."