Uffizi Gallery, for the first time a 16th-century canvas restored with essential oils

For the first time in the world, a 16th-century canvas has been restored using a blend of essential oils. This is thanks to a collaboration between the Uffizi Gallery and the Gemelli Polyclinic. The painting is the “Silence” by Jacopo Zucchi.

For the first time in the world Sixteenth-century canvas is restored using essential oils of plant origin. That is with totally materials green, one might say. The work in question is the Be silent out of Jacobo Zucchi (Florence, around 1542 – Rome, around 1596), preserved in the Uffizi in the Terrazzo della Carte Geografiche, and the intervention is the result of a collaboration between the Florence Museum and the Gemelli Polyclinic From Rome. The enterprise was carried out in the laboratories ofOpificio delle Pietre Dure from Florence, who collaborated with the technicians of the microbiology laboratory of the Polyclinic A. Gemelli IRCCS: it is up to the Microbes of the Catholic University – Fondazione Policlinico Agostino Gemelli IRCCS to develop the mixture of bitter orange hydrolate and cinnamon bark essential oil allowed the restoration of the painting, the part is a cycle of nine paintings that adorns the wooden ceiling of the terrazzo recently reopened to the public. Of the nine paintings that came from the Palazzo Firenze in Rome and were transported to Florence in 1588 at the behest of Ferdinand I, only “Il Silenzio” was subjected to this particular green technique at one stage of its restoration. And the results of this study were published in the Journal of Fungi, a renowned international scientific journal

The idea stems from an observation: many of the chemicals used for the restorations are potentially hazardous to artworks and human health. For this reason, studies have been carried out for several years to identify alternative restorative techniques that are effective but at the same time less aggressive. From this point of view, research focused on some essential oils and hydrosols, products of natural origin known for their powerful antibacterial and antifungal effects, is valuable.

“That Be silent‘ the microbiologist explains Maura DiVito, researcher in microbiology and clinical microbiology at the Catholic University, Rome campus, “showed colonization by fungal biodeteriogens on the back of the canvas. with dr Debora Minotti, restorer, Dr. Daphne De Luca, restorer and lecturer at the University of Urbino and Professor Francesca Bugli, my colleague, we have been researching the use of essential oils and hydrosols in restorations for years. Having already completed all the in vitro experiments and verified the effectiveness of these substances on some old painted canvases, we asked the Uffizi Management for the appropriate authorizations to use this “treatment” on the “Silence”, a 1572 by Jacopo Zucchi painted canvas. Protégé of Giorgio Vasari. The “green” restoration proposal was positively received, so we started a tandem work between Rome and Florence”.

In order to type the pathogens at a diagnostic level, the Gemelli microbiologists asked the technical direction of the restoration (entrusted to the Opificio delle Pietre Dure) to take samples from both the back and the front of the canvas in a non-invasive way. Therefore, the samples were collected by the doctor Deborah Minotti (who graduated from the Florentine Restoration Institute and often works with him), swab on the populated part and only on the reverse side use the Fungi-Tape, a special “Scotch” gently dabbed on the artworks to collect contaminating microorganisms . These samples were then sent to Rome to the Agostino Gemelli IRCCS University Policlinic Foundation microbiological laboratory led by Professor Maurizio Sanguinetti, Professor of Microbiology at the Catholic University, Rome campus, where they were cultivated and typed. “This allowed us,” explains Professor Sanguinetti, “to isolate the two strains of fungi that colonized the work and to test them in vitro with our essential oils and hydrosols to verify their effectiveness. The contaminating fungi were sensitive to the blend of our formulation characterized by Bitter Orange Hydrolate (Citrus aurantium var. amara) and a very small amount of Cinnamon Bark (Cinnamomun zeylanicum) essential oil.

At this point everything was ready for the operation. In order to treat the important patient, a special “chamber” was prepared to house the painting during treatment. After the mixture was sprayed on the back of the canvas and a sheet of absorbent paper soaked with the same mixture was placed on top, the painting was placed in the “chamber”, of a kind large envelope by Melinex (a monosiliconized polyester film used in some stages of restoration). The cloth prepared in this way was placed on a heating and suction table for the first few hours; then it was left all night in the closed environment of the “room” with the table turned off. The purpose of the heating was to allow the fungi to enter the reproductive phase, which is their Achilles’ heel, and to make the treatment more effective by neutralizing the biodeteriogens. The next day everything was removed and the canvas dried.

dr Di Vito was in constant visual and audio contact (via Whatsapp) with Dr. Minotti, shared and identified with the sensitive points of the new microbiological treatment the best application method. At the end of the restoration, the swabs were then repeated to be sent to Rome to repeat the cultures and check that the fungi were still present. No fungal growth occurred on the cultures. “This concluded an interesting team effort,” adds Professor Sanguinetti. “The ‘green mission’ was successful and silence returned to the ceiling of the Hall of Geographical Maps. It was a pioneering approach to the restoration of ancient works using essential oils and hydrosols. This study may pave the way for future new applications on the many works of art in human heritage that are both effective for work and safe for operators.

“The Uffizi,” concludes the museum director Eike Schmidt“They pride themselves on working on the most avant-garde fronts of scientific research.”

Image: Jacopo Zucchi, Be silent (1572; oil on canvas, 135 x 151 cm; Florence, Uffizi, Terrazzo delle Carte Geografiche). Before and after the restoration

Uffizi Gallery, for the first time a 16th-century canvas restored with essential oils

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