Location: The Ravenna Museum of Art
Organiser: MAR – The Ravenna Museum of Art
Patrons: The Region of Emilia-Romagna and the Province of Ravenna
Period: 16 February – 15 June 2014
Curators: Claudio Spadoni and Luca Ciancabilla
Organisers: The Municipality of Ravenna – Department for Culture, MAR Ravenna, the Superintendency for Historical and Artistic Heritage of Bologna, in collaboration with the Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities and Tourism
Official Sponsor: The Cassa di Risparmio di Ravenna Foundation
Admission: Full price: €9; discount price: €7
Academy and University students and teachers: €4
The Ravenna Museum of Art (MAR) is continuing its research into unexplored subjects of great interest with the ambitious exhibition project entitled The Charm of the Fresco, scheduled between 16 February and 15 June 2014, which has been made possible thanks to the essential support of the Cassa di Risparmio di Ravenna Foundation.
Bringing together a careful selection of 110 works, this exhibition, curated by Claudio Spadoni and Luca Ciancabilla, is divided into six sections organised according to their historical chronological order: from the first sixteenth and seventeenth century ‘massello’ frescoes to eighteenth century transfers, including from Pompeii and Herculaneum, to nineteenth century ‘strappo’ frescoes, right up to sinopie detached during the 1970s.
Over half a century ago, Roberto Longhi, following the success of the first “Exhibition of detached frescoes” which took place at Belvedere Fort in Florence (1957), felt the need very early on to arrange an exhibition that could retrace the centuries-old history and success of detaching mural paintings. It was also a history of the tastes, collections, restoration and preservation of this fundamental part of ancient Italian painting heritage.
The first detachment procedures date back to the times of Vitruvius and Pliny, which were based on a technique that involved the removal of the works along with all the background plaster and wall. The so-called “massello” (or cut stone) made it easier to transport otherwise immovable paintings back from conquered lands to Rome. It was forgotten about for centuries until the Renaissance when it found new success in northern and central Italy, helping to preserve parts of frescoes for the future that would otherwise have been lost forever. By using this technique between the 16th and 18th centuries, the following works were moved: The Crying Mary Magdalene by Ercole de Roberti belonging to the National Art Gallery of Bologna, The Group of Angels by Melozzo da Forli belonging to the Vatican Museum and The Madonna of the Hands by Pinturicchio, all of which are on display at this exhibition.
However, it involved a difficult and expensive modus operandi and from the second quarter of the Age of Enlightenment it was joined, and gradually replaced, by the more innovative and practical ‘strappo’ technique. This procedure used a special glue to pull the fresco away and transfer it onto a canvas. It was a real revolution in the field of restoration and conservation, but also for collections of Italian mural heritage. In Herculaneum and Pompeii, which had just been rediscovered, the most beautiful mural paintings from antiquity were being transferred onto new supports and sent to the Museum of Portici, while the revolution of the ‘strappo’ technique was spreading across the rest of Italy. Nothing would ever be the same again. From that moment on and throughout the 19th century, a significant number of masterpieces of Italian painting were pulled away using the ‘strappo’ and ‘stacco’ techniques from the vaults of churches and chapels, or from the walls of public and private palaces, where they had remained for centuries. They were then transferred to more secure locations, noble and regal collections or galleries throughout Italy and Europe. In fact, even though collectors often claimed these pieces were needed for conservation, they actually just wanted them for their own collections.
Andrea del Castagno, Bramante, Bernardino Luini, Garofalo, Girolamo Romanino, Correggio, Moretto, Giulio Romano, Nicolò dell'Abate, Pellegrino Tibaldi, Veronese, Ludovico and Annibale Carracci, Guido Reni, Domenichino and Guercino: all these great masters of Italian art, from the mid-eighteenth century to the late nineteenth century, were subject to the work of extractors, including: Antonio Contri, Giacomo and Pellegrino Succi, Antonio Boccolari, Filippo Balbi, Stefano Barezzi, Giovanni Rizzoli, Giovanni Secco Suardo and Giuseppe Steffanoni. These people, just like the illustrious artists mentioned above, as well as some of the most beautiful paintings from Herculaneum and Pompeii, will be the star attractions of this MAR exhibition.
However, this extraction procedure experienced its greatest period of success during the last century, when from the Second World War onwards an impressive number of frescoes were treated with the ‘strappo’ and ‘stacco’ techniques and detached. The damage caused to some of Italy’s most famous paintings by wartime bombings, as well as the conviction that the only path to take to avoid similar irreparable damage in the future such as that to Mantegna in Padua, Tiepolo in Vicenza, Buffalmacco and Benozzo Gozzoli in Pisa, ensured that from the 1950s the most important ‘strappo’ and ‘stacco’ campaign was launched that Italy had ever witnessed. If worst fears are confirmed and another war breaks out, the essential part of Italian painting heritage could then be saved by storing it in air raid shelters, as was done from 1940 onwards with the canvasses and panels from the greatest museums in the country.
So began the so-called “season of the stacco” and the “search for sinopie”, the preparatory drawings which the fourteenth and fifteenth century masters left for tracing underneath the plaster. If in the nineteenth century it was private collectors who encouraged the transfer of frescoes, now it was art historians and museums for national restoration that were demanding the wider use of extraction techniques so everyone could easily enjoy these many masterpieces.
The Florence floods did the rest, showing the whole world how fragile the conditions are for the survival of the most extraordinary Italian frescoes. Consequently, works by Giotto, Buffalmacco, Altichiero, Vitale da Bologna, Pisanello, Signorelli, Pontormo and Tiepolo were separated forever from the walls which had guarded them for centuries, finding new homes in some of Italy’s most important museums, and now for this exhibition, in the halls of MAR in Ravenna.
The two-volume catalogue, published by Silvana, contains essays by different specialists, technical data on all the works on display as well as bio-bibliographical information.