by Maria Giuliana Videtta

The frescoes of
Piero della Francesca at Arezzo
The completion of the first part of the restoration

Between March 31st and May 4th, the public has been allowed access to the scaffolding in front of the restored cycle of frescoes by Piero della Francesca on the left wall of the Basilica of San Francesco at Arezzo. Visitors have thus been able to admire one of the most beautiful moments in the history of western art from a close distance, and from the same view that only the artist, his assistants and probably the purchasers would have seen at the time of its completion. It has also helped people to understand the many difficulties that the group of scholars and restorers of the Arezzo Board of Artistic Assets and the Florentine Opificio delle Pietre Dure have come across and brilliantly resolved in over ten years of work.

The "Glorification of the Cross",
detail of group from
"The legend of the True Cross"
(State property. Photo by Alessandro Benci)
These results would never have been attained had it not been for the financial help of the Banca Popolare dell' Etruria e Lazio (which up until now has spent almost 5 billion lire), together with other support from the Ministry of Cultural Assets; in Italy this form of collaboration between public and private sectors is being used more and more as regards the protection of the country's artistic patrimony. This cycle of frescoes, which Piero della Francesca painted between 1452 and 1466, was to suffer all sorts of damage over the centuries: earthquakes, fires, then it was disfigured by the troups of Napoleon, alterations were carried out on the structure of the external walls of the Church, followed by infiltration of water which led to large quantities of cement being applied to the walls and beneath the plaster during restoration at the beginning of the century; this caused a process of sulphatization (the transformation of the plaster on the walls), and further damage from the application of synthetic resins in an attempt to stop it.

The "Finding of the True Cross",
detail of the view of the city
after the restoration of
"The Story of the True Cross"
(State property. Photo by Alessandro Benci)
As the Head of the Arezzo Board of Artistic Assets, Anna Maria Maetzke, declared at the conclusion of the first stage of the work, this fresco represents an "anthology of all the damage that can happen to a painting". Piero della Francesca took the twelve episodes painted on the walls of the main chapel of the basilica in Arezzo from "The story of the True Cross", written by Jacopo da Varagine in the 13th century, in order to describe to the devout but illiterate churchgoers of his time about the vicissitudes suffered by the Holy Cross over the centuries. Above all, however, he chose it so that, through his painting, he could describe a vision of the world based on humanistic ideals which award equal dignity to nature, man and architecture. The frescoes at Arezzo are composed in a harmonious and rational order over the painted surface; they are constructed with a masterly use of perspective, while a clear and serene light is used to give added brilliance to the colour and depth of the solid forms and spatial unity to the composition.

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