Giorgio Vasari’s The Last Supper back together
In 1966, Giorgio Vasari’s The Last Supper was significantly damaged in one of the worst floods in Florence’s history. Immersed completely in water for almost 12 hours, it was left in such wreck that many experts believed that it was beyond repair.
However, it has just been revealed by the Getty Foundation, which has been sponsoring restoration efforts, that all five wooden panels that make up the 2.5 metres by 6.5 metres painting have finally been merged together.
This has raised hopes that by the 50th anniversary of the devastating flood, the epic work will be returned to its original state. Many lives were lost when the Arno river burst its banks, which also resulted in what is believed to be one of the most significant cultural disasters of modern times.
“The intense water saturation made the wood soften and expand, which in turn stressed and lifted the painted surface, forcing dramatic cracks and breaks, and causing the gesso preparation layer to lose adhesion,” the Getty Foundation explained in an official blog.
“Wooden cross pieces on the back of the artwork that had kept the multipanel painting structurally sound also failed, which literally left the five panels that comprised the structure in separate pieces.”
Technology has thankfully evolved at a significant pace since then, and a partnership between the Opificio delle Pietre Dure e Laboratori di Restauro (OPD) in Florence and the Getty Foundation in Los Angeles has been exemplified by the shrewd, forward-thinking commitment to new methodology in restoring the painting.
“The Opificio delle Pietre Dure e Laboratori di Restauro has a long history in the conservation of panel paintings, as well as a long relationship with the Getty,” said Marco Ciatti, superintendent of the OPD, which is one of the world’s preeminent restoration organisations.
“The Vasari painting was the last major work damaged in the Florence flood to undergo treatment, and the conservation challenges were so complex that we only recently had the technology to begin treatment. When you consider the condition of the panels when treatment started, the current state of the Last Supper—visible again as a single, monumental artwork—is truly miraculous.”
Deborah Marrow, director of the Getty Foundation, described the efforts of the OPD as being extraordinary and beyond expectations. Additionally, through attempting to bring this painting back to life, new insight and knowledge has been gained into conservation and restoration.
Now that the Last Supper is one whole again, the next stage of redevelopment will be on the painted surface, which is expected to take around two years to complete.
One of the challenges has been identifying experts equipped with the skills needed to restore paintings from this era that have been developed on wooden panels. Only a handful of people are known to possess such nous.
Cadogan Tate has extensive experience in shipping fine art all over the world.