Honors Capstone Project
Date of Submission
Gary Radke, Professor of Art History
Sascha Scott, Professor of Art History
Art and Music Histories
Arts and Science
Capstone Prize Winner
Won Capstone Funding
Contemporary Art | History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology | Other History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology
On November 4, 1966 floodwaters submerged Cimabue’s late thirteenth-century Santa Croce Crucifix in Florence and stripped off nearly half of its original paint. Soon regarded as a key symbol of the flood’s catastrophic effects on the city’s rich artistic legacy, the crucifix was carefully conserved, but no attempts were made to hide the extensive scars left by the disaster. Instead, lead conservators Umberto Baldini and Ornella Casazza adopted an abstract approach to filling the work’s loss that claimed to honor the flood while providing a seamless viewing experience for the contemporary audience. This thesis shows that their theory and practice did not fully align.
In four chapters I both examine and confront the challenges presented by the Santa Croce Crucifix and its conservation. I work chronologically, beginning with an analysis of the crucifix within its thirteenth-century context before moving to a discussion of its devastation in the flood of 1966. I then summarize the ten-year process required to restore the work to its current appearance, detailing the theories and techniques employed by Baldini and Casazza. Finally, I reflect on the conservators’ method through my personal experience in front of the work at its location in the basilica of Santa Croce and the creation of my own panel painting that suggests a new approach to its restoration. I lead the reader through my experience as I restored a replica of a detail of the work, outlining my goals, technique, and the challenges that I faced along the way. I ultimately present an approach that builds upon but challenges the technique of Baldini and Casazza. While my new restoration does not attempt to erase the memory of the flood, it succeeds in redefining the contours and forms of the original composition that are now lost in the color abstraction.
In conducting my research, I have discovered an overwhelming gap in the scholarly record regarding the innovative and, in some respects, problematic approach applied to the Santa Croce Crucifix. My alternative restoration breaks this silence and encourages new dialogues in the field. In the end, this project draws a connection between the disciplines of art history and conservation, proving that comprehensive and honest evaluation of the past is essential for preserving a work of art for the future.
Messina, Isaac, "A New Approach to the Restoration of Cimabue’s Santa Croce Crucifix" (2014). Syracuse University Honors Program Capstone Projects. 747.
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