Artemisia Update

Until April 2023, the art-loving public can view the restoration in-progress of Artemisia Gentileschi’s Allegory of Inclination, at Casa Buonarroti Museum in Florence – the home of Michelangelo

Artemisia’s compass-bearing allegorical figure (1616) has the North Star as guide, tributes the glories of Michelangelo, gives a nod to Galileo, and bears a striking resemblance to Artemisia herself. During its conservation, sponsored by Calliope Arts and Christian Levett, the canvas has been removed from its ceiling heights, and placed in the museum’s Model Room for once-in-a-lifetime close encounter. The public is invited to experience ‘Artemisia UpClose’ and discover the avant-garde restoration science whose under-the-surface mysteries are yet to be revealed. The project, which also foresees select refurbishment of the museum and a future exhibition focused on restoration findings, will keep Artemisia in the spotlight – literally and figuratively – until January 2024. ‘Meet Artemisia’ on weekdays, in the home-museum where she worked while five months pregnant, receiving a salary three times that of her male counterparts, and earning the esteem of her patron, now shared by posterity.

“We wanted Artemisia’s painting to be restored inside the museum on public view, to enable visitors to rediscover it, step by step, and at the same time, experience its precious Gallery, commissioned by Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger, great nephew of Michelangelo the Great, and Artemisia’s first protector and early admirer,” says Casa Buonarroti Museum Director Alessandro Cecchi.

The project ‘Artemisia UpClose’, developed with Casa Buonarroti Museum and Foundation, is supported by Calliope Arts – a not-for-profit organisation based in Florence and London that promotes public knowledge and appreciation of art, literature and social history from a female perspective – and British art collector Christian Levett, founder of the Mougins Museum of Classical Art in France and the Levett Collection home-gallery in Florence, featuring artworks by major female Abstract Expressionists. “We are grateful to the promoters and supporters of the project ‘Artemisia UpClose’ which enables us to restore and learn more about a painting of high artistic value, from both an artistic and symbolic perspective,” says Casa Buonarroti Foundation President Cristina Acidini. The Inclination represents Michelangelo’s irresistible vocation for the arts, and it was the first painting produced for the gallery ceiling, authored by the hand of great woman artist the very same year she became the first professional woman painter to gain admission to the Accademia del Disegno.”

Digital restoration science ‘sees through’ censorship

Reflectography and other techniques to create an image of the original

“Through working photographs, diagnostic imaging and analysis, we will be able to determine the exact technique Artemisia used, correctly map the work’s condition, and monitor our treatment plan for the painting,” says the project’s conservator Elizabeth Wicks, who heads the team of restoration scientists, under the supervision of Casa Buonarroti Director Alessandro Cecchi and Jennifer Celani, official for the Archaeological Superintendence for the Fine Arts and Landscape for the metropolitan city of Florence. The impasto-heavy drapery and veil, added by Tuscan artist Baldassare Franceschini, Il Volteranno, some 70 years Artemisia authored the originally nude picture, represented Leonardo Buonarroti’s attempt to protect the “decorum” of his wife and children. As a sidebar, censorship was not uncommon for artists of Artemisia’s time. Michelangelo himself, several generations earlier, had 39 of his nudes censored with bits of painted cloth, in his Sistine Chapel Last Judgment, by other artist, also from Volterra. “Due to the historic nature of the repaints, it is not possible to remove them from the surface,” Wicks explains, “but the scope of our diagnostics will facilitate the creation of a virtual image of the original that lies beneath the surface of the painting, as we see it today.