Santa Croce has taken huge steps in working to preserve and restore the paintings that call the Basilica their home. Due to the floods that have terrorized the church, which is dangerously close to the Arno and at Florence’s lowest ground level, the incredible, religious works of art have been at constant threat and many of them sometimes irrevocably damaged.
Most recently, Santa Croce has done expansive restoring of the pieces that have undergone water damage in the last devastating flood of the Arno, on November 4th 1966. To showcase these new-and-improved works, the Basilica is inaugurating a new exhibition area where Cimabue’s Crucifix, along with many other works will hang. The event is also significant, because of the date it is being inaugurated on. On this upcoming May 3, at 10 am, the Basilica of Santa Croce will welcome these paintings to their new exhibition space, 3 meters above where they used to reside (in the Cenacolo and the Museum of the Opera di Santa Croce), on the same day the first stone was laid to originally build the magnificent Basilica of Santa Croce in 1294.
Cimabue’s Crucifix was one of the paintings largely damaged by flood that has been carefully restored paying great attention to detail, a process that took ten years, and required a total dismantling. When the Crucifix was damaged nearly 60% of the paint was lost, posing a significant problem to its restorers: should the missing areas, called lacune, be repainted?
The solution was decided upon – the missing areas would be filled in with the crisscross lines, using a bit of each color present in Cimabue’s work. That way the missing areas would not be so abrupt to the viewers’ eye and take the viewers attention away from the delicate Byzantine style of Cimabue that survived.
The Crucifix, moved to its new ‘home’ in the Sacristy in November 2013, is now hung from a very high wall, opposite the fresco of the Crucifixion by Taddeo Gaddi. It is hung in a unique way highlighting the intentional mix of museum and religious values. It will not be bolt upright but freer scaling, adding to the dimensions of the sculpture-like painting.
Cimabue is known for being well adept in both his technical knowledge and his move towards more humanistic interpretations of religious figures and saints. His work is a combination of what’s known as the Byzantine style and a new more natural approach to bodies. For someone, like me, and most visitors to Santa Croce, without a serious art history background, this means the painting is a mix of the traditional guilding (applying the layer of the gold leaf) and the wooden structure, with a Jesus who is clearly in pain (the most natural side to Cimabue’s work), unlike older interpretations. This, for me, is the most interesting part of the work, besides the enormity of its size. The Jesus on the this Crucifix is clearly in anguish shown noticeably by the position of his body and the details in his face – closed eyes, tilted head, open mouth. This interpretation of Christ looks lifeless, defeated, which is opposite from the earlier Christos Triumphant version – where he looks impeccably calm after such horrific acts were done to him.
I personally tend to appreciate works of art more when they have more of this humanistic quality because I feel as though I can relate better to them. If you had seen the destroying damages to this wooden, momentous piece, you would be pleasantly shocked to see it now. In all its 448 cm x 390 cm glory, this Crucifix hangs properly in its new home, and will be joined by other monumental works by Nardo di Cione, Lorenzo Monaco, Bronzino, Salviati and Allori, on display starting May 3rd 2014, at the Basilica of Santa Croce.
Blogger Caroline Koller is Communications and Rhetoric major at Syracuse University in NY, currently doing her study abroad semester at Syracuse University in Florence.
photo: Opera di Santa Croce