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Restoration of Vatican frescoes a delicate job
By BETH PRATT A-J Religion Editor

Art restorer Fabio Piacentini explains the delicate process of transferring the frescoes from canvas stretched on wood frames to a new space-age material that has the appearance of concrete, the stability of a solid surface and is amazingly lightweight.
A-J Photo/Beth Pratt
ROME — Fabio Piacentini and Marocchini Bruno have a passion for their work.

Piacentini and Bruno are two of the four restorers responsible for the completion of the 31 frescoes for "Traditions and Renewal: Medieval Frescoes from the Vatican Museums," an exhibit which will be at the Museum of Texas Tech from June 2 to Sept. 15.

Fresco painting is done on wet plaster with water soluble paint which binds chemically with the plaster. Once it dries, the color becomes part of the plaster, giving a transparent glow to the artwork.

Piacentini has been a restorer for the Vatican Museums since 1993. After secondary school, he attended Rome University.

The great pleasure, he said, is to put restoration theory to work "and see what you have done."

A restorer must "know well works of art and art history. You are in daily contact with ancient materials and history," Piacentini said.

Cleaning without damaging the art is a delicate process made easier as technology provides new chemical tools with which to work.

Bruno is a contract restorer, hired for this project. He has worked on various restoration projects.

Preserving an unequalled heritage of art in the palaces and churches of Italy as well as in the rest of Europe will keep restorers busy for a long time.

Daylight pours into the Vatican Museum's restoration studio from windows and skylights so that the restorers may match colors perfectly in areas such as borders that are repainted where the design is repetitious and may be discerned.

But no guess-work is done. If a part of the painting is missing, the restorers do not add what they have not seen, Piacentini said.

Thus, the credibility of the art is carefully preserved.

Frescoes from St. Nicola in Carcere ( St. Nicolas in Prison Church) are thought to have been painted between 1120 and 1130. The art was removed from the original location about 1850 and stored, possibly in the catacomb area of the church. No one really knows.

"You can go to prison for removing frescoes from a wall now," Bruno noted.

In 1930, the frescoes were placed in the Vatican Museums, where they were restored and attached to canvas stretched on a wood frame.

Today's restorers use space-age material — a strong, but light-weight foam board for the backing and acrylic glue for mounting the art. The stability of the materials is far superior to the old canvas mounts, the restorers said.

A member of the restoration team accompanied the frescoes to do any repair that might be needed after the long journey from Rome to Lubbock.

Beth Pratt can be contacted at 766-8724 or bpratt@lubbockonline.com

The exhibit has ended
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