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5 November 2016
50 years after flood, damaged Renaissance painting restored
16th-century painting by Renaissance artist Giorgio Vasari that was
badly damaged in a 1966 flood in Florence was unveiled to the public
Friday after years of painstaking restoration.
Vasari created "The Last Supper" for a convent of cloistered nuns. Because the nuns eschewed contact with men, and because the work was large — 6.6 meters by 2.6 meters (21 ½ feet by 8 1/2 feet) — Vasari painted it in his studio on five wood panels that could be easily transported and recomposed in the convent.
The work depicts the scene from the Bible in which Jesus Christ shares his final meal with his apostles. It was among thousands of works of art and rare books that were damaged and covered in mud when the Arno River broke its banks, flooding homes, churches, shops and libraries and killing about 100 people.
At the time, a corps of global volunteers dubbed the "angels of the mud" descended upon Florence, the historical heart of the Italian Renaissance, to rescue artworks, although thousands of pieces were still lost.
"The Last Supper," which was unveiled in the Basilica of Santa Croce as part of a commemorative ceremony on the 50th anniversary of the disaster, had been initially deemed too badly damaged to be restored and was left in storage for four decades.
In 2006, the Italian arts restoration agency known as OPD found that restoration technologies had advanced enough that it was possible to try to save Vasari's work. After two years of study, they began restoring with a team of up to 13 experts.
"In the beginning, everyone said it was impossible to restore," said Marco Ciatti, the head of the OPD. "It was a long battle but we made it."
A contemporary of Michelangelo, Vasari was a painter, architect and writer famous for a history he penned of the great Renaissance artists of Italy.
To guard against future damage, the painting has been attached to a mechanism that raises it higher on the wall in case of another flood.