The Last Supper masterpiece restored 47 years after Florence flood

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 December, 2013, 1:45am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 December, 2013, 1:45am


The last casualty of the devastating Florence flood of 1966 has been reassembled, raising hopes of a full restoration before the 50th anniversary of one of the greatest cultural disasters of modern times.

Giorgio Vasari's The Last Sup per, painted on five wooden panels and measuring about 2.5 metres by 6.5 metres, was one of the most seriously damaged works to survive the flood.

Dozens of people died and millions of pieces of antiquity and works of art were lost forever when the Arno burst its banks, raging through Florence in the worst flood since the Middle Ages. In the decades since, new methods of restoration have been developed to help salvage damaged masterpieces.

Vasari's The Last Supper was completely immersed in water for about 12 hours and the lower portion of the painting was under water for even longer. To help them dry, the waterlogged panels were separated. A paper treatment was applied to the paint itself to stop it from flaking off and being lost permanently.

The work remained in pieces for decades, with restoration experts unable to put it back together. But this week the Los Angeles-based Getty Foundation, which sponsored the reassembly of the painting, announced: "For the first time in 47 years, the five wooden panels that make up the storied painting are joined together again to make the artwork whole".

The operation, which began more than three years ago, was carried out at the Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence and co-ordinated by its deputy director of painting conservation, Cecilia Frosinini. "We can now say that the painting has been saved," she said.

Though best known as the author of the first great work of art history - Lives of the Most Excellent Italian Painters, Sculptors, and Architects - Vasari was a noted artist in his own right. The nuns of the Murate convent in Florence commissioned him to paint a Last Supper in 1546.

In the 19th century, the painting was moved to the Basilica of Santa Croce, which is where it was on display when the Arno burst its banks and the city was submerged by floodwater.

The Getty Foundation said the final conservation of the painted surface was expected to take at least two years.

Frosinini said: "Our dream is to have the painting fully restored in time for the 50th anniversary of the flood in 2016."