Those who have always wanted to visit an art conservation studio will now have their chance to view a Florence atelier from afar. On November 13, art lovers around the world are invited to tune into the online series ‘Restoration Conversations’ for an interview titled ‘Art rescue in progress’, with Florence-based conservator Elizabeth Wicks.
On location, live from her studio near piazza Santa Croce, Elizabeth will discuss the art of healing two large-scale ovals by 18th-century painter Violante Ferroni: Saint John of God Heals Plague Victims and Saint John of God Feeds the Poor. The first is already finished and awaiting a springtime return to its home in borgo Ognissanti’s ancient hospital of San Giovanni di Dio. The twin painting will have just emerged from the consolidation phase, during which paintings are “vacuum packed” and treated with mild heat and pressure, in an effort to re-adhere raised and flaking paint to the canvas, before being strip lined and pulled onto a new stretcher.
“I am excited that people will be able to see the works close up before they are returned to their niches. The two paintings are surprisingly different, in terms of technique and style,” says Wicks. “Their brushwork is dissimilar, as is the paint’s thickness and her shadowing and choice of colors. It is likely the artist meant for them to be contrasting, because one is a night scene with primarily female figures and the other takes place in the daytime with mostly male characters. We get to see her whole creative range in the studio and can make comparisons, just a few feet apart.”
Ferroni produced art during a time of great change in Florence. In 1749, the city still felt like a Medici orphan and was beginning to see the first real signs of Black Death recovery. How did Ferroni manage to secure acceptance to Florence’s prestigious Accademia delle Arti del Disegno at just 16 years old? Is it possible she left a coded message in the painting itself, as per the conservators’ findings? How do these paintings fit into Florence’s network of ancient hospitals and represent the age-old tradition of art as an agent of healing? The 1700s was hailed as the ‘Century of Women’ by writers of the era, as international women artists and intellectuals began engaging in grand-tour travel and founding a dynamic salon culture throughout the Italian peninsula—where does Violante Ferroni fit in? And what do her paintings say about art restoration in Florence in the 21st century?
“Ferroni is a forgotten artist, who was well-known by her contemporaries,” Wicks concludes. “Her works speak volumes, but they also bring up questions about the artist and her time. The bottom line for this event is that viewing a painting at eye-level is not the same as craning your neck to see it. In the studio, you are one step from the artist—she is only arm’s length away. That’s the beauty of conservation. That’s the thrill of a studio visit… and the same goes for me, even after 35 years as a conservator.”
Tune into art!
To join this art-filled conversation revealing the secrets of one of Florence’s most fascinating professions, tune in online, with Advancing Women Artists and The Florentine on Friday, November 13 at 6.30pm in Italy; 12.30pm EST; 9.30am PST; 5.30pm in the UK. Access directly through TF’s Facebook and YouTube channels.
For more on The Art of Healing and its sponsors, visit www.advancingwomenartists.org.