Restoring the Pazzi Chapel loggia

Interview with Marco Pancani, Daniela Chiesi and Giuseppe De Micheli

Editorial Staff
September 10, 2015

cfpThroughout the Crazy for Pazzi campaign to restore the loggia of the Pazzi Chapel, The Florentine’s readers have been hungry to learn more about the technical side of the restoration. For answers, we turned to Marco Pancani, technical manager and safety officer at Opera di Santa Croce (OSC), and to Daniela Chiesi, the architect at the head of the group commissioned to carry out the task. Also joining us is Giuseppe De Micheli, director of OSC.

The Florentine: In what state was the loggia of the Pazzi Chapel before your group began work on it earlier this year?

Marco Pancani: The state of conservation of the loggia of the chapel was alarming. The architectural decoration in a work like the Pazzi Chapel is essential to the organic reading of the structure as a whole, but the various elements in different materials were losing their surface detail.

TF: Has anyone ever restored the Pazzi Chapel before?

MP: Yes, there have been previous interventions that involved the entire structure and others that touched upon the loggia, which was the object of this restoration. Even back in 1586 and 1615, the Pazzi family itself paid for restoration of the tettoia (overhang). A larger restoration was done on the roof of the chapel in 1886 through a donation from Marchesa Eleonora Torrigiani Pazzi. The loggia received a cleaning back in 1898, during which brushes and water were used to remove the layer of dirt that covered the maiolica and terracotta decorations. The entire Pazzi Chapel underwent restoration in 1984, though unquestionably it requires more work now to ensure its proper conservation.

TF: What kind of analysis was done before starting the work?

Daniela Chiesi: We have been constantly monitoring and studying the entire Pazzi Chapel and its materials, construction and state of repair. In order to find out exactly what materials were present and which phenomena were attacking the structure, we used a petrographic optical microscope with additional infrared spectrometry, on which we based our conservation project. The restoration is based on the principles of reversibility and compatibility.

TF: What were the main methods used to clean the surfaces?

DC: We began our approach with just demineralized water and ammonium carbonate soaks, but these did not yield appreciable results. We then moved on to nebulized water and a pressure cleaner, which worked very well to remove most of the grit and lighten the colour of the stone. We did test laser cleaning, though it proved not to be the right instrument in this case. When it comes down to it, much of the cleaning was done with cotton swabs and toothbrushes! After cleaning, we moved on to consolidation, which makes the work area look like a hospital—with injections and drips for the precise and slow insertion of substances like epoxy resin to fill cracks deeply, so parts don’t fall off in the future. In the glazed maiolica dome, in addition to a lot of manual cleaning, we used water-based paints to integrate colour anywhere it was missing.

TF: What are the most interesting things you found during this process?

MP: This restoration was the most complete that has been carried out, but since we’d done a lot of preliminary work, we didn’t make any major discoveries. But the cleaning and restoration of the beautiful colored dome may be one of the most rewarding parts because the nature of maiolica allows for excellent preservation of colour that, once clean, probably looks a lot like it did 500 years ago.

Carrying out the first in-depth restoration of this part of the loggia permitted us to get a close look at how Luca della Robbia—the master of maiolica— addressed a large and complex structure like this. The decorative variety he used here is equal only to his technical prowess in holding up something this heavy. Only during the restoration were we able to confirm the materials used for this part of the dome. The huge, central Pazzi coat of arms is placed within a painted maiolica shell that is made to look like pre- cious porphyry, and we discovered that the shield is actually in sculpted, painted stone, and the dolphins and crosses that decorate it are covered in gold leaf. The entire system is attached to the dome with large nails that are not visible from below.

DC: Getting a very close look at the maiolica itself did reveal a few secrets. We found that the figure of Saint Andrew once had golden rays emanating from behind him. And imagine this: we found the fingerprints of the fifteenth- century workers who made the yellow maiolica flowers in the dome!

Perhaps the most fascinating discovery was made by Paolo Ciurli, the specialist in wood restoration who worked on the huge original door to the chapel. If you look at the large, heavy door and how it fits perfectly, almost hermetically, in its stone frame, you might wonder how anyone could ever install or remove it. The fifteenth-century designer, Giuliano da Maiano, thought of this, too, and developed an innovative and hidden release mechanism on the hinges that was revealed for the first time during the restoration. It is very unusual for this period.

TF: What’s next for the Pazzi Chapel?

Giuseppe De Micheli: We’re thrilled that the loggiato has gotten its due attention. The façade of the building is one part that certainly attracts notice, like the cover of a book. Next we ought to turn our attention to the whole chapel. It is a larger project, of course.

 

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#CrazyforPazzi The final report

THE NUMBERS!

CROWDFUNDING

33 days on Kickstarter

859 backers

30 countries

$102,426 raised 780 #CrazyforPazzi photos on Instagram

8 videos on YouTube

 

RESTORATION

7 specialized restorers

4 interns

1 architect

1 geometra

146 working days

2747 cups of espresso

 

MATERIALS

1000 q-tips

900 latex gloves

60 soft brushes

20 natural sponges

300 razor blades

25,000 litres demineralized water

200 kilos marble dust and river sand

25 kilos pigments

125 litres solvents

200 kilos stucco

45 litres epoxy resin

150 syringes with needles, tubes and drip

 

DECORATIONS

1 dome

110 sqm restored surfaces

6 Pazzi coats of arms

4 missing yellow flowers

4 fingerprints from the 15th century

 

 

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