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Novel Technique Restores Michelangelo's Gleam

Team in Italy unleashes microbes to eat away grime on marble
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted May 31, 2021 9:00 AM CDT

(Newser) – Sometimes, art restorations do not go well. Not well at all. But in Florence, Italy, a team of historians, art restorers, and, crucially, scientists appears to have pulled off the feat in impressive fashion, writes Jason Horowitz in the New York Times. The restoration involved marble statues carved by none other than Michelangelo at the famed Medici Chapel. Centuries of visitors—and one not-so-sanitary burial in particular within the tomb—had done a number on the pieces, and the team came up with a novel solution. They sent in microbes to eat away the grime, oils, and other particulars. “It was top secret,” art restorer Daniela Manna says of the project, which got underway before the pandemic and continued throughout. The results will be officially unveiled next month.

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The story details how the team first figured out the exact organic particles that had collected on the marble, then selected a bacteria—Serratia ficaria SH7—particularly suited for the job. One of the interesting, if gory, details is that some of the discoloration in the chapel apparently resulted from the hasty burial of Alessandro Medici, a ruler of Florence who was assassinated in 1537 and whose body did what bodies do when not properly disposed of. "SH7 ate Allesandro" is how Manna puts it. "Could this serve as a model for other institutions?" wonders Tobias Carroll at InsideHook. "It’s a fascinating look at the place where art, science and preservation converge." (Humidity from human breath might be harming The Scream.)

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