Gaddi Legend of the True Cross restored

Touch ups to fresco at Santa Croce

Editorial Staff
April 21, 2011

Following a lengthy restoration, one of Florence's greatest masterworks can now be seen up close. Closed for five years, Agnolo Gaddi's most illustrious fresco, Legend of the True Cross, which decorates Santa Croce's Cappella Maggiore is now open, and visitors are invited to climb up scaffolding to see the minute details and many faces that populate the fresco.


The main chapel in Santa Croce, the largest Franciscan church in existence, was the last chapel in the basilica to be decorated. Assistant to Giotto, Taddeo Gaddi's son Agnolo, who was also a student of Giotto, created the massive fresco-800 square metres; 30 metres high-in the 1380s. The Alberti family and the Franciscans chose Agnolo because he was considered an artistic heir of Giotto.


Because of its large size, it was difficult to see the details until scaffolding was erected for the restoration. Aside from the figures illustrating the story, the fresco features a number of images that have nothing to do with the history and traditional iconography of the legend: dogs, ducks, birds and insects, as well as different species of flowers and trees and a number of portraits.


The artist inserted small portraits throughout the huge fresco, including a self-portrait, a portrait of his father, Taddeo, and even a portrait of Giotto.


‘The fresco is like a big treasure hunt: Agnolo included in the painting everyone who was important in his life, almost like an homage to them and the time in which he lived. We still do not know who all the people he included in the fresco were, but the less famous figures were likely family members, friends, assistants, maybe even his next-door neighbours,' said Cecilia Frosinini, director of wall painting restoration at Florence's Opificio delle Pietre Dure, in an interview with TF.


Why would Gaddi include so many of his contemporaries in the fresco? ‘He probably just wanted to have fun with the fresco, since it was such a long commission; the great artists of Western culture were also people and they wanted to have fun as much as the next person,' Frosinini suggested.          


Restorers from the Opificio were further surprised when they found the portraits of two people from the twentieth-century: Amedeo Benini, the lead restorer of the 1947 effort, and one of his assistants, whose identity is unknown. ‘We also wanted to include our portraits in the fresco, like Benini and his team did, but we were too many,' quipped Frosinini.  


The illustrious work is a sign of cultural change not only since the 1380s but also the 1940s: ‘From what we know about Agnolo and his workshop, the vast majority of his assistants and pupils were men. What stands out from this restoration is that the vast majority of the restorers who worked on the fresco were women,' Frosinini added.


Another sign of change: the restoration process was completely digitalized by the Culturanuova firm from Arezzo. Those who cannot make it to Florence to see this incredible work in person can go to to view digital scenes of the fresco before, during and after the restoration. The software used to digitally document the work, Modus Operandi, allows users to zoom in on details of the restoration that cannot usually be seen by the public. ‘In a museum you see the final result; here, you can appreciate the work that was done in every phase,' said Frosinini. 


The scaffolding erected for the restoration will stay in place for another year or so, and small groups of visitors will be allowed to view the splendid work close up. Guided visits on the nine-level scaffolding, last for about 40 minutes. For more information and reservations, see


‘We hope we can keep the scaffolding open to the public for at least a year,' Frosinini concluded, ‘It is a unique opportunity for visitors to look at details like these up close, and also because this is an artistic period very rich in particular decorative arts.'


The restoration of Agnolo Gaddi's fresco cycle is one of the most important projects in Italy. It was financed in part by Japanese businessman and patron of the arts, Tetsuya Kuroda, who donated almost 1.2 million euro; an equivalent sum was provided by the Opera di Santa Croce. MiBAC also provided 285,000 euro in funding, in addition to the labour costs of restorers from the Opificio delle Pietre Dure. 




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