Renaissance Art Rescued in Chianti Classico
A 15th-century Last Supper painted by Renaissance master Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449-1494) returned to public view in Tuscany on December 17, 2015 for the first time in a decade due to the collaboration of Friends of Florence and an Italian winemaking family, and Italian cultural authorities and conservation experts.
Restoration of the 540-year-old Ghirlandaio fresco and lunettes by Bernardo Rosselli (1450-1526) in the dining hall of the 11th-century Badia a Passignano (Abbey of Passignano) was completed with contributions from the U.S.-based Friends of Florence foundation, together with the help of its board member, Marchese Piero Antinori, and his historic 26th-generation family business.
For longtime Florence resident Simonetta Brandolini d’Adda, an American who founded Friends of Florence in 1998, the restoration has special significance. “This is our first project outside the city. The success of our work to preserve endangered cultural treasures results from a combination of volunteer initiative and cooperation across public and private sectors. In conserving the beautiful Ghirlandaio and Rosselli frescoes, we aligned our vision with the regional Soprintendenza Belle Arti e Paesaggio (Office of Fine Arts and Landscape) to preserve artworks that might have remained lost or invisible to the public. While conservation and cleaning of the frescoes began more than ten years ago, completion of this complex project was made possible by the contribution of more than EUR 200,000 by Friends of Florence, which includes a generous donation from Marchesi Antinori.”
Painted in 1476, the massive (34 feet wide and 11 feet high) Last Supper in the Badia’s refectory was the first of three by Ghirlandaio, who was a contemporary of Botticelli and taught Michelangelo. With detailed portraits of the apostles and realistic depictions of architectural features and the meal itself—loaves of bread, carafes of wine—the fresco continues the Florentine tradition of visually extending refectory walls with Last Supper scenes so that monks may reflect while dining as if with Jesus in the same room.
Conservators conducted diagnostic exams, removed over-painting, and integrated damaged sections of the fresco. They also restored two lunettes painted in 1474 by Rosselli depicting biblical events: The Expulsion from Paradise and Cain Killing Abel. Additional stone work and work on the vaulting and ceiling of the refectory was completed, restoring the space to its original 15th-century design. The conservation team included architect Giorgelio Pappagallo, art historian Claudio Paolini, fresco expert Sabino Giovannoni, Nicolino Messuti of ISTEMI, and the Cellini group.
Located amid the wooded hills and vineyards of the village of Passignano, 18 miles south of Florence, the Badia a Passignano was established by monks of the Vallombrosian Order, a branch of Benedictines who specialize in grape growing and forestry. It became known for classical and musical texts, promotion of scientific research—Galileo taught there—and cultivation of grape vines.
Today, the Antinori family owns the surrounding vineyards. They produce Badia a Passignano Chianti Classico Gran Selezione in the monastery’s ancient cellars. Just downhill from the abbey, they created the Michelin-starred restaurant Osteria di Passignano, which offers wine cellar tours and cooking classes. “Our family has been making wine for more than six centuries,” said Marchese Piero Antinori, 25th-generation patriarch who leads the winery along with his three daughters Albiera, Allegra and Alessia, part of the 26th generation. “We feel very close to this area. It is the homeland of our family and we have some of our wineries here. We welcomed the opportunity to contribute to this worthy initiative of Friends of Florence, and are delighted to see the restoration project completed at last.”