THE MIRACLE OF A SNOW PAINTING ON CANVAS AT THE END OF CINQUECENTO INBUCINE


T
Arched canvas cm . 272 x 200




The painting comes from the Pieve of St. Apollinare and Ercolano in Bucine near Arezzo. 
It depicts the miracle that took place on the Esquilino Hill in Rome in 365 AD.


Mathis Gothart Grünewald "Establishment of the Santa
Maria Maggiore in Rome",
 1517-19, Städtische
Museen, Freiburg im Breisgau 
Photo The Yorck Project:
10000 Meisterwerke der Malerei 2002 Public domain
Jacopo Zucchi, The Miracle of the Snowing" 1580
Vatican Museum, Rome




According to legend , hence the founding of the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, a noble Roman aristocrat named Giovanni and his wife , troubled by their inability to conceive children, donated their possessions to the Church . Soon after, during the night of August 4, a Madonna appeared to Giovanni and to Pope Liberio requesting that they built a church on a place that would e made know to them by a miracle. The next morning Giovanni and Pope  stood on the Esquilino Hill in Rome, where it was snowing in the middle of summer. As a consequence, the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore was built there.


Sassetta, Stefano di Giovanni "Foundation of the church
of Santa Maria Maggiore" one of the seven scenes from
the predella of the "Madonna ofthe Snow" Altarpiece,
c-1430-32, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Masolino "Foundation of Santa Maria
Maggiore", National Museum and Gallery of
Capodimonte, Napoli, central panel of the
dismantled "Pala Colonna", Masolino
Masaccio, first third of 15th century

In the fourteenth century, when the mendicant orders – religious orders demanding a vow of poverty and depending directly on charity for their livelihood – rose up in Florence and Arrezo, their chapels were dedicated to the Madonna della Nevi. The archives of the Episcopal Curia of Arezzo indicate that the Pieve St. Apollinare dedicated to the Madonna delle Nevi was begun in 1468. However, the execution of the painting must have taken place sometime between 1592, when the altar was still without decoration, and 1606, when the painting was described on the left wall of the church.







In the painting on the left, Pope Liberio with the Cardinals are under a canopy reviewing the plans for the Basilica presented by two architects.  



 





On the right, Giovanni, surrounded by people with halberds and insignias, points in wonder at the prodigy. In the center, minor characters prepare for the construction of the church in the snowy landscape.


 



Above, the Madonna in an almond of light between cherubs, blesses the scene below. 
On the left below in the foreground a figure difficult to read , which is probably the personification of the Tiber indicating that the scene takes place in Rome.
Lucia Bencistà,an Art Historiac and the Scientific Director of the Office of Ecclesiastical Heritage Inventory of the Fiesole Diocese, completed a stylistic and iconographic analysis of the painting before and after restoration. She dates the painting from the last decade of the sixteenth century , in the style of Florentine, Counter-Reformed painters such as Vasari's followers, particurarly the school of Santi di Tito and the so-called painters of the Studiolo of Francesco I in the Palazzo Vecchio, with their renewed interest for scenes of the devotional tradition and of everyday life.

Bernardino Poccetti, "The Miracle of Our Lady of the
Snow" fresco, 1589-90, Canigiani Chapel, Santa Trinita,
Florence. Photo by Sailko Wikimedia Commons.

Bencista has compared this work with a fresco representing the same subject by Poccetti (Barbatelli Bernardino, Florence, 1548-1612) created for the Chapel Canigiani in the Santa Felicita Church in Florence in 1589. Given the similarities between the two, Bencista thinks that the artist who painted the Miracle of Santa Maria della Neve on the Esquilino had seen the fresco by Poccetti and may have been one of the fresco painters that collaborated with Poccetti for the lunettes of the Chiostro Grande of Santa Maria Novella in the mid-80’s of the sixteenth century. These include Ludovico Buti, Alessandro del Barbiere, Giovanni Maria Butteri or Cosimo Gamberucci.


Ludovico Buti, "St. Dominic carrying a image of Madonna" fresco Grand Cloister
of Santa Maria Novella, Florence Photo by Sailko Wikimedia commons
Luovico Fei called Il Barbiere, "St. Dominic resuscitates the nephew of
Cardinal Orsini" fresco Grand Cloisterof Santa Maria Novella, Florence
Photo by Sailko Wikimedia commons
Giovanni Maria Butteri, "Preaching of St. Vincenzo Ferrer" fresco Grand Cloister
of Santa Maria Novella, Florence Photo by Sailko Wikimedia commons
Cosimo Gamberucci, "Flagellation of St. Dominic" fresco Grand Cloister of Santa
Maria Novella, Florence Photo by Sailko Wikimedia commons


The painting before the restoration
Detail of the color: it's evident that the preparation is absent
Detail of the canvas with little residues of color
old patches on the back of the canvas that closed the candle burns were removed


The Miracle of Santa Maria della Neve was in a bad state of conservation due to a combination of the environment in which it had been preserved and/or problems with the original execution and technique. Immediately apparent was paint loss resulting from paint having been applied directly on the canvas without a gesso/glue preparation. The original canvas, stretched and nailed on a poplar wood stretcher with a beveled outer perimeter, consisted of large, woven herringbone pieces, with horizontal warps and vertical wefts.

The texture of the canvas was evident between the layers of color. As a consequence, the paint film was fragile and there was much loss of paint.


The deformation of the original stretcher corrected by means of small wedge-shaped inserts on the vertical bars

The perimeter strips mounted to the original canvas will allow for the tension of the canvas to the stretcher

During the restoration, while ensuring the preservation of the materials, we were careful not to modify their essential characteristics. 
We began by making the original stretcher frame solid. 
Having consolidated the canvas, we re-stretched it with the aid of perimeter canvas strips.


cleaning tests
on the right the burning of candles repaired with a canvas
similar to the original connecting wire to wire with adhesive



on the right the painting after the cleaning





We performed a differentiated cleaning where paint layers were preserved and where the polychrome had been lost. Effects after the analysis with magnifying glasses we realized that it felt a sort of imprint of the painted parts now lost, due to small particles of pigments residues that imbued the fibers of canvas. We then used in these parts a cleaning controlled so as not to have any further losses.

after the cleaning
Detail of stucco application



At this point we had to decide how to treat the large gaps in paint that made the scene almost unreadable in many parts. We decided to retouch in a differentiated manner. Where it was possible, we applied stucco. We accomplished the in painting where necessary with pigments in the appropriate resin. Finally, we did a “rejoining” of the surviving parts to re-establish as best we could the original aesthetic reading and iconography of the painting.


before and during the in painting


retouching

details after the cleaning and after the inpainting and retouche 


the painting before and after restoration
The restoration was conducted by Studio Sinopia of Stefania Bracci in collaboration with Studio Artemisia Restauro of Claudia Tulifero

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