Italian art: New discoveries about Vasari

Feb 16, 2019 842

One of the most interesting discoveries of the year could be the one announced at the Opera di Santa Croce in Florence following the restoration of Christ meeting Veronica on the Way to Calvary, an altarpiece made by Giorgio Vasari in 1572. The restoration of Michelangelo's altarpiece and monumental tomb are being restored, due to the damage caused to the lower part of the painting by the flood caused by the Arno in 1966. The art required conservative intervention to free it from a darkening patina. The discovery revealed the two portraits of Michelangelo and Rosso Fiorentino which, according to the restorer Sally J. Cornelison, professor at Syracuse University, are hidden behind the features of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea.

It is a high quality work with a rich history of documents to which, with the restoration, a new page is added. New unexpected details are available, such as the face of Michelangelo and Rosso Fiorentino, as well as a bright balance of the whole, evidence that would confirm the fact that the painting was part of the entire project of the altar next to the tomb of Buonarroti.

Giorgio Vasari is commonly associated with Tuscany and Rome where he carried out many papal commissions, but two very important trips took him out of this direction: the trip to Venice in 1541 and the one to Naples in 1544. In the lagoon city Vasari was the guest of Pietro Aretino, his countryman who helped him obtain a prestigious commission, namely the decoration of the ceiling in the palace of Giovanni Corner. The iconography was that of the triumph of the Virtues with Charity surrounded by Faith, Justice, Hope and Patience in the center, accompanied by other figures on whose identity Vasari himself remains vague. Each panel, however, presented a similar approach: in the center, the personification of Virtue flanked by two figures, one of which was an example of that Virtue, the other expressed an opposite concept. The ceiling was dismantled and the parts that made it up dispersed: over time, some panels were found, thus giving the possibility to reconstruct, even if only virtually, the entire iconographic program, thanks also to the precision with which Vasari described the nine panels.

While four boards remain substantially a unitary core despite the numerous changes of ownership, the other five will have a different fate. Among the plates dispersed and then recovered, there is the one with the representation of Judas, preserved at the Museum of Medieval and Modern Art in Arezzo. The panel, which shows signs of cuts, was approached by Luisa Caporossi to the panel of Hope and the stylistic analysis clearly showed Vasari’s style and sign. From an iconographic point of view, the panel with Judas's suicide is a unique one: Vasari painted it in an unconventional way, depicting a man with powerful muscles in a yellow tunic hanging from the branch of a tree with a noose around his neck while he is about to commit suicide: Judas depicts despair, the antithesis to Hope. By now, the complete reconstruction of the ceiling lacks the boards of a cherub and at least the left part of the Faith, which shows a clear cut at the height of the ropes that holds the personification in his hand. The finish line is near.

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