Restoration Laboratories of the Vatican Museums

International “Lorenzo il Magnifico” Award for Culture 2003

The IV edition of the Florence Biennale featured a special exhibit of the Restoration Laboratories of the Vatican Museum, who also received the prestigious International Award “Lorenzo il Magnifico” for their commitment to the preservation of a priceless artistic heritage. The Biennale aimed to put the public directly in contact with this tireless daily practice, which, like many research areas, can reach highpoints of refined professionalism while still maintaining a certain indispensible eclecticism.

The roots of the Restoration Laboratories lie in the centuries-old tradition of the Vatican Collections. These Laboratories are unique entities of vital importance for the conservation and study of a cultural heritage that is as huge as it is varied. In addition to being museum institutions, the Laboratories also participate in the safeguard of the cultural assets of the Holy See as a technical-scientific entity.

In addition to exhibits documenting vast restoration projects, the visitor to the Biennale was also given the chance to come directly into contact with the individual Laboratories.

Each one has its own area of specialization and focuses on the conservation of those elements (paintings, mosaics, ceramics, metalwork, textiles, paper, wood, Lithium-based materials). These Laboratories illustrate not only the current conditions of these elements, but also highlight their historical significance. They represent not only the history of the institutions to whom they belong, but also an interesting and usually unknown chapter in the history of art restoration.

This exhibit was extremely varied, featuring works from different periods and cultural areas, and made in different styles and with different subject matters. This material was presented under a new light and offered an experience that is usually not available to a regular museum visitor. It was an extraordinary opportunity to cross the boundary that usually halts the curiosity of “non authorized personnel”. The exhibit presented an overview of some of the most important restoration projects from the past years (the Sistine Chapel and Raffaello’s Rooms are only the most famous ones, but many will also recall the stunning restoration of Michelangelo’s Pietà) and it also included an overview of the methods of inquiry and the restoration procedures used for both recurring cases as well as more unique ones.