Anna Mieli - presentazione

Florence Restores 2012: The virtual exhibition



The fortieth anniversary of the founding of the Superintendent’s Cabinet of the Restoration Projects of the Galleries of was held in Florence at the Fortezza da Basso between March 18th and July 4th 1972 was celebrated with a major exhibition conceived and realized by Umberto Baldini, the successor of Ugo Procacci as the Cabinet’s director and the Superintendent of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure and the Restoration Laboratories of the Superintendence of the Galleries .

This year marks a two-fold anniversary: The eightieth of the founding of the Cabinet of Restoration and the fortieth of the exhibition that Baldini himself described as "the most extensive review ever carried out in a specific field" – a valid expression yet today, without any risk of neither contradictions nor denials. The number of both the original works exposed and their photographic representations most of which were printed on original size panels amounted to four hundred – without counting the illustrative panels the exact quantity of which was impossible to specify.

Florence Restores was impressed in memory of its many visitors as the exhibition of the flood, and though many rooms were dedicated to it, indeed it was much more complex in terms of its themes – among those dealt with in major detail were the damage to the artistic heritage caused by unqualified amateurs, the damage to the artistic heritage caused during the Second World War, the use of scientific methods in restoration, restoration techniques of removable paintings and wall paintings (with substantial references to the detachment of the frescoes) and the restoration of a wide variety of objects which, at that time, was still assigned to the category of minor arts in recognition of the multifarious specializations of the Florentine Laboratory. The exhibition was also intended as a tribute to the great master Ugo Procacci, the founder and first director of the Cabinet of Restorations who was repeatedly mentioned in the “Guide” and to whom the exhibition’s final room was dedicated. Since Baldini’s intention was to realize a "political manifesto" in favor of a proper management of the restoration projects in Italy through the exhibition Florence Restores, in the introduction (pp. 3-13 of the “Guide”) he had chosen to write, among other things, the following: " (…) nowadays we are face to face with the risk of watching artworks be ironically ruined by hurried and unorthodox interventions because it has been decided that a certain financial resource has to be spent within that period or otherwise, it will be lost. However, who really has something to lose in this case is, unfortunately, the conservation of those very artworks." Yet in another passage, he said "(…) It is important to underline that both those who operate on artworks and those who guide and direct the operations should have a qualified and specific technical knowledge, ... which unfortunately is not provided - except for very rare and sporadic occasions - neither at the undergraduate level, ...nor at the simple high school level... Not only should the undergrowth of restoration should be banned, but also a professional consciousness intertwined with a consciousness of responsibility at every single level should be formed..."

making of

The idea of ​​a virtual exhibition in memory of this important event in 1972, was born as a consequence of an institutional action aimed at the conservation and enhancement of the photographic material of the Restoration and Photographic Archives of the OPD, making it accessible to an audience as wide as possible. It is an impressive collection of about 350 large-dimension photographs both in black&white and color version which document the layout of the single rooms of the exhibition, and more than 1000 slides and negatives relating to the works and illustrative panels exposed in them.

Previously, the photographs of the rooms had been stored in A3 format ring binders, placed in pairs in plastic sheets, sealed with some very sturdy tape, which over the years had deteriorated and glued the edges of the photographs to those of the plastic sheets that contained them. The photographs were removed with great prudence and care, so as not to cause further damage, and transferred into envelopes suitable for long-term storage . Even the negatives were partly in poor condition since also their edges were often framed with the black tape, perhaps to facilitate their reproduction; while the slides, protected by some solid framework, were in good condition. All the material has been digitalized without any exceptions and placed in envelopes and containers suitable for long-term storage. Following the complete list of the artworks in exhibition catalogue divided into the rooms in which they were exposed, it was possible to come up with the inventory of the material by creating a database that merged all the identificatory data of the works: city; specific localization; inventory number; subject, author, or era; Cabinet of Restoration number; room number; catalogue number; and whether the work exposed was the original or a reproduction panel. Afterwards, all data were controlled and standardized.

For the standardization the following online research tools were implemented:

• Inventories and the digital catalogue of Florentine Museums;

• The digital catalogue of the Photo Library of the Zeri Foundation;

• The Union List of Artist Names Online at the Getty Research Institute, especially for the standardization of the names of the artists;

• the web, in order to identify the current location of the artworks, which were previously conserved in deposits and over the years, have been transferred into museums or sent back to their original location; or the artworks which were previously conserved in churches situated in the various towns and villages of Tuscany and over the years have been transferred to small museums founded within the territory.

The identificatory data of the works included in the database were used for brief descriptions accompanying the images and at times enriched with historical and critical notes .

After having guaranteed the artworks’ security and updated the relative data, the second step was to conceive a virtual exhibition that could give a sufficiently clear idea of the original, despite the impassable limitations due to the incompleteness of the photographic documentation. Since not all of the walls of the exhibition rooms were photographed, quite a careful reconstruction of the location of the works was required, and it was often necessary to also reconstruct the rooms through a collage of the photocopies of the images of the walls.

Though the overwhelming amount of images we had come across had made us presume that the exhibition material was complete, we soon realized that the documentation was lacking some very crucial parts. Many details of the artworks had been photographed and used for the illustrative panels accompanying the exposition of these works, almost all the images depicting the entire works were missing. A quick check in the folders of the historical brought us to realize that most of the images used for the exhibition were precisely those that had been archived with the restoration reports themselves. We had found the most remarkable part of the "treasure" which was indeed "hidden" between our hands, right there within the archives.

Each room can be singularly explored; however, taking into consideration its sheer size (61 rooms) and the complexity of the topics, we aimed at making the "visit" to the virtual exhibition easier and more understandable by dividing the “rooms” into thematic groups accompanied by the introductions taken from the original text of the Guide to the Exhibition.

The rooms dedicated to the flood have been highlighted with red dots, in order to provide a further help in orientation for the "visitor". The exhibition is enriched by films from the archives of RAI (Italy’s national public broadcasting company) and the newspaper articles of the time, as well as an extensive photographic documentation of the various stages of the preparation of the premises.

The online exhibition is accessible to the public 24 hours a day and totally free of charge and you can access it either through the official site of the Opificio or at the following web address:

(introduction by Anna Mieli)