The Last Supper – pictured before the flood
Santa Croce (currently removed), under restoration in L’Opificio delle Pietre Dure, Florence
Photo from http://www.bigthink.com
Giorgio Vasari is not often considered as great as the great Renaissance artists he immortalized in The Lives of the Artists, but he is the reason why we know so much about them today as well as one of the more prolific artists of his time. Vasari was commissioned by Cosimo I to design the Uffizi, which brought all thirteen state administrative authorities under one roof, expressed Tuscany’s new political unity and showcased the Medici’s bureaucratic power. The upper floor now houses the art museum, for which the word “Uffizi” is now best known. Vasari also designed Franceso I de’ Medici’s Studiolo. He also designed many festivals for the Medici court, which were noted for their iconographic complexity and Vasari’s ability to marshal together and manage the forces needed to produce floats and costumes speedily. (Hartt, 676-677)
Vasari’s other famous works include the ceilings of the Uffizi and the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore, and the Corrodoio Vasariano, commissioned by Cosimo, which connects the Palazzo Pitti with the Uffizi, serving as safe route between home and work for the Medici and featuring a private gallery. His Last Supper, which had the misfortune of hanging in Santa Croce during the flood, had not been considered one of his important works. The damage to The Last Supper was in some ways worse than to that of its neighbor, Cimabue’s Crucifx. While Cimabue carefully selected the best poplar and used canvas, Vasari used tangential cuts of wood from the sides of logs with only a thin layer of gesso before applying the paint.
Starting in 1967, CRIA (Committee to Rescue Italian Art) had to start trimming its overwhelming adoption list of damaged works. One of the first not to make to cut was listed as “tavola, c. 1546. Santa Croce: L’Ultima Cenacolo di Giorgio Vasari.” The painting was ravaged, the money needed to save it was too great at the time for its value. After several years, it was placed in a storage room of the Superintendency. It would remain in storage for decades.
An expose written by Marco Ferri in November 2003 detailing the status of The Last Supper and 36,000 mud-encrusted books from the Biblioteca Nazionale would help push the painting into restoration.
Restoration has now been underway for several years. Modern technology allowed restorers to laser-scan the five panels millimeter by millimeter to access the damage, something that could not have been done forty years ago. The restorers at the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, leaning over the individual panels like dentists, carefully remove shroud of velinatura (protective coating), Japanese paper, and Kleenex placed there by the mud angels in 1966. The Last Supper by Giorgio Vasari, who made sure we knew the lives of the artists, is finally on its way. (Clark, 310)
• Clark, R. (2008). Dark water: art, disaster, and redemption in Florence. New York: Anchor Books.
• Hartt, F, & Wilkins, D.G. (2009). History of Italian Renaissance art: painting, sculpture, architecture. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.