Newly discovered Plautilla Nelli painting to be restored

Newly discovered Plautilla Nelli painting to be restored

Artemisia Gold and Istituto Lorenzo de’ Medici will revive the small panel painting.

Wed 06 Mar 2024 6:17 PM

In the year that celebrates the 500th anniversary of the birth of Florence’s first recognized female artist, Plautilla Nelli (1524-88), a newly discovered “Nelli” painting is about to be researched and restored by two organizations: Artemisia Gold and Istituto Lorenzo de’ Medici.

The project continues the legacy left by Jane Fortune and Advancing Women Artists, which closed after Fortune’s death in 2018 and the unveiling of Nelli’s masterpiece Last Supper at the Museum of Santa Maria Novella in 2019. Jane Adams, formerly head of partnership relations for AWA, who embraced Fortune’s mission and love for Nelli, went on to create the cultural association Caravaggio & Contemporary with conservator and art historian Roberta Lapucci. Adams has now established the Artemisia Gold non-profit, which strives to rediscover, research and restore works by female artists and return them to public view through education, exhibitions, lectures and publications.  

In this special 500th birthday year, the project serendipitously crossed paths with Carla Guarducci, president and CEO of the Lorenzo de’ Medici Institute (LdM). She embraced the legacy of Plautilla and her creative spirit, welcoming the small panel painting as a research project for the school’s Restoration Department and beyond. Supervised by Roberta Lapucci, who oversees the Restoration Department at the LdM Institute, three degree-seeking Marist-LdM students—Aashika Jain, Rylie Severino and William Johnson—will conduct the diagnostic campaign and restoration of this painting as part of their final assessment in the Advanced Project for Painting Conservation course. Trisha Dalke, a former LdM student in Art Conservation, who is attending a Master’s degree in Technical Art History at the University of Amsterdam, will be contributing to the scientific and chemical diagnostics.

Leading Nelli scholar Professor Catherine Turrill from California State University, Sacramento, recently gave a lecture to the students about Nelli’s panel paintings and her life at the Convent of Santa Caterina di Cafaggio. She remarked that an increasing number of the nun-artist’s small paintings were resurfacing “like ravioli in boiling water” in auctions and private collections. 

Madonna and Child with Saint Dominique and Sant Agnese, Plautilla Nelli (or Bottega). Ph. William Johnson

The self-proclaimed heir to Fra Bartolomeo, Nelli inherited his preparatory drawings and wooden mannequins. Largely self-taught in an age when female artists were not permitted formal training and under the strict regime of Dominican monk Savonarola, she was able to set up her own bottega, where she produced large-scale works for the convent and taught the sisters how to paint. A thriving business that maintained the convent, they painted smaller works in large numbers to be sold for private devotion, as stated by Giorgio Vasari in Lives of the Artists (1568): “There are so many of her works in the Churches and in the houses of gentlemen throughout Florence, it would be tedious to attempt to speak of them all.” 

Nelli’s story is sparking collaboration across various LdM departments as they explore combining disciplines such as Jewelry Design, Art History, Fine Arts, Gender Studies and Communication for a multidisciplinary project. This ongoing effort, complemented by Dr. Turrill’s valuable contribution, is expected to result in a new publication for LdM Press post-restoration.

During 2024, many events will be held throughout Florence at San Marco, Santa Maria Novella and Palazzo Vecchio, to name a few, to celebrate Nelli in style and reveal the hidden side of Florence’s forgotten heritage. 

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