The Restoration of Pieta in Rome due to Vandalism

Yanto Yulianto By Yanto Yulianto, 31st Jan 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/2hya7s4l/
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Art>Sculpture

It was Sunday morning, on May 21, 1972, in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. As always, a group of worshippers and tourists gathered before the first chapel, looking admiringly at Michelangelo’s famous statue called Pieta. For nearly 500 years this marble statue of Mary the Madonna holding the dead Christ has been an object of worship and an admirable work of art.

PIETA IN ROME, MARBLE STATUE

The Pieta, a marble statue (1498-1499) which is placed in St. Peter’s Basilica of Vatican City and become the mostly visited in the entire basilica after Peter’s Tomb was carved by Michelangelo Buonarroti when the artist was 24 years old. The statue was made ​​for the cardinal's funeral monument, but was moved to current location, the first chapel on the right as one enters the basilica. Perhaps the Pieta is the most famous masterpiece of religious topic around the world because the expression of Michelangelo gives a lasting impression on everyone. Due to Pieta, Michelangelo has presented a highly spiritual and view of human suffering. Here, many Christians remind the value of their redemption and pray in silence. The words deal with the "Salve Regina" or "Sub tuum presidium" or another prayer.

VANDALISM

It was Sunday morning, on May 21, 1972, in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. As always, a group of worshippers and tourists gathered before the first chapel, looking admiringly at Michelangelo’s famous statue called Pieta. For nearly 500 years this marble statue of Mary the Madonna holding the dead Christ has been an object of worship and an admirable work of art.

Suddenly a man carrying a hammer jumped over the rail and struck 15 blows on the statue before a guard was able to seize him. Police later announced that the attacker was a madman named Laszlo Toth, a 34-year-old Australian citizen, the son of Hungarian immigrants and a woman-hater who declared that “God had ordered him to kill the Madonna.”

In the chapel where the Pieta stood, the sight was terrible. The Madonna’s left arm was damaged at the elbow and wrist, and the fingers of one of her hands were broken into pieces; the tip of her nose had been smashed off, her veil and left cheek were broken in several places and one eye-lid was damaged. Some 50 large marble fragments lay on the floor, plus 150 smaller ones and countless even smaller pieces.

When the news spread throughout the world, the reaction was surprising. The Vatican received sympathy, advice and even money not only from Christians but also from Jews and Moslems alike. Rome was like a city which had suffered a terrible natural disaster. “Perfect restoration will be impossible,” the daily “Il Tempo” sighed.

But the Director of the Vatican’s Museums, Dr. Deoclecio Redig de Campos, knew better. Carefully, he set up a team of seven scientists and restorers under the supervision of Dr. Vittorio Federici, director of the Scientific Research Laboratory of the Vatican’s Museums.

Immediately after Toth had been arrested, the team began to gather up all the marble fragments they could collect. From May to October 1972, the restorers worked in the laboratory. The first days were spent in selecting and grouping the fragments which had been found, about 200 in number. For instance, one narrow section of the veil, less than eight inches long was in 13 pieces.

One day, after all the existing pieces had been identified, an envelope arrived from the United States containing a very small marble fragment. An American tourist had picked up the piece immediately after the attack and now, reading the news about the restoration attempt, had realized the true value of his souvenir. Later, a young hospital worker in Rome brought in another piece. Still there remained missing fragments: two gaps in the left nostril, several in the shoulder, and a piece of the left eyelid.

To replace them, the team was forced to reproduce artificial pieces that had to be exactly identical with the original marble in every characteristic. It was difficult task. For example, when the artificial pieces were photographed under a special ultraviolet light, the substance showed up a white color while the original material appeared blue. Such a small difference could not be tolerated by art experts, so they had to search for some chemical substance which could help to fulfill the requirements. For this they got valuable help from a dentist who was an expert in making false teeth.

For more than four months, the team worked long hours in the laboratory. As one of the experts commented later, “We felt just as though we were at the bedside of a human being who was very ill, and whom we loved very dearly.” After all the experiments and analyses had been finished, it was time to start work on the actual statue. On 7 October the restoration team set up their workshop in the Pieta chapel, equipped with all the necessary materials and tools, including microscopes and dentist’s drills, till the place looked like an operation room.

One of the most important efforts in their work was the restoration of the damaged eyelid, for it had to be able to show the Madonna’s motherly and loving expression as the original eyelid did. The new eyelid was fixed on 13 November and of this one of the team members said, “When the real moment came, we were all holding our breath.”

Finally, the statue was washed with water mixed with a certain chemical substance, and the Pieta was again perfect.

The opening ceremony for Michelangelo’s restored statue was held on 25 March 1973 and the Pieta was once again open to the public. It is tragic irony that we now have to look at the peaceful face of the Virgin Mary through a bullet-proof glass screen, for we are now living in “the age of violence”. Yet it is also an age where a few peaceful men, working with limitless devotion and the wonderful techniques of modern science, could restore one of the most admirable beauties of the world.

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author avatar Ginger Anderson
7th Nov 2017 (#)

No complaint! I have looked for an article "They Gave Her Back Her Face". I feel some parts of this article were used. Is there a possibility that a copy of that article is available? I would love to have a copy. It told of the love by the men who put her back together. Broke my heart, but this article helped me get through it. Thank you for any reply.

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