The restoration of Michelangelo's Pietà
A technical note by the restorer Paola Rosa
Begun in 2019, the restoration of the 'Bandini' Pietà was a great opportunity to discover and study this work. It was, moreover, an act of respect and technical rigor aimed at the work's aesthetic and conservative recovery, thanks to the collaboration, passion and energy of an important group of professionals.
The four figures representing the Deposition of Christ are carved from a block weighing about 2700 kg and corresponding to one cubic meter of Seravezza marble. This sculpture is a map of its own complex history showing all the surface scars that across time have compromised its original appearance: fractures, cracks, reworkings, scratches, grooves and a variety of deposits. All these are indelible traces of the traumatic events that have marked this work of art since its creation.
The sculptural group, already described by Vasari as a block of hard and faulty marble, which, due to its impurities (pyrites), made sparks with every blow of the chisel, has several micro-cracks, which our cleaning brought clearly to light. These micro-cracks, which the artist may have encountered as he worked, probably influenced his decision to not continue carving this masterpiece and finally to abandon it.
The marble’s amber tint, caused by the natural aging of waxes applied in the last century to erase the lifeless surface effects and glare of gypsum residues resulting from a cast made in 1882, complicated the cleaning process. The criterion we adopted led to the careful and balanced removal of surface deposits and to the gradual lightening of chromatic alterations that interfered with the pictorial character of the surfaces, which Michelangelo’s masterful use of his tools had achieved. The restoration sought to recover the clear and uninterrupted legibility of all the surfaces, and to re-propose Michelangelo’s original idea of the Pietà as a work carved “ex uno lapide”—from a single block.
Paola Rosa, Restorer