Unrestorable Renaissance Painting Proves Them Wrong

Giorgio Vasari's 'The Last Supper' is restored 50 years after flood
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 4, 2016 6:39 PM CDT
Renaissance Work Returned to Glory 50 Years After Flood
A moment of the presentation of Giorgio Vasari's "The Last Supper", after years of painstaking restoration, as it is returned to the Santa Croce Basilica in Florence, Friday, Nov. 4, 2016.   (Maurizio Degl' Innocenti/ANSA via AP)

(Newser) – Renaissance artist Giorgio Vasari's The Last Supper was so badly damaged by floodwaters a half-century ago that it was considered beyond repair. Today, however, it is once again on display in all its glory, the Art Newspaper reports. The 96-square-foot painting, commissioned by a cloister of Italian nuns in 1546, was submerged underwater for 12 hours when the Arno River in Florence flooded in 1966. According to the AP, the flood killed 100 or so people and damaged thousands of pieces of Renaissance art—despite the best efforts of a group of art-rescuing volunteers called the "angels of the mud." On Friday, in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the flood, a newly restored The Last Supper was unveiled to the public.

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The Last Supper was initially believed to be beyond restoration and was put in storage for 40 years. But by 2008, technology had improved enough to give new hope for Vasari's work. A team of up to 13 experts worked years on The Last Supper in order to get it ready for Friday's event at the Basilica of Santa Croce. "It was a long battle, but we made it," the head of an Italian arts restoration agency says. The Florentine calls it "an evolutionary step in the field of restoration as well as the culmination of reflections on the safety of artworks and preventive decision-making"—meaning The Last Supper is now attached to a mechanism that will raise it higher on the wall if the Arno decides to breach its banks again in the future. (Another restoration may change our notion of what Shakespeare looked like.)

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