Vatican Restorations Scrub Nuance From Narrative
By Staff News & Analysis - October 01, 2012

The "World's Worst Restoration" and the Death of Authenticity … When news broke of the 81 years old painter Cecilia Gimenez's disastrous restoration of a painting of Christ in her local church, the world fell about laughing. The distressed restorer has taken to her bed as people queue to see the now infamous monkey-faced Christ and, wishing to preserve the hilarity, over 5,000 wags have signed a petition to block attempts to "return the painting to its pre-restoration glory" – as if such an outcome might credibly be in prospect. With one honourable exception commentators failed to grasp that while this debacle is an extreme case it is not an aberration within modern art restoration practices. To the contrary, adulterations of major works of art are commonplace, seemingly systemic products of a booming, insufficiently monitored international art conservation nexus. In our previous post, it was shown both how a steamboat painted by Turner sank without trace. – Artwatch

Dominant Social Theme: If we conserve them, they will be better.

Free-Market Analysis: Why would the Vatican consciously ruin the paintings under its care?

Our answer to this is a cynical one that has to do with the Vatican's apparent complicity in what is evidently and obviously a one-world government.

Part of the Vatican power base is seemingly supportive of the larger power elite we regularly track, and has been for centuries. The Vatican's modern, active engagement can surely be dated from when Pope John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council (also called Vatican II).

The big change was to convert the Latin mass to the vernacular. This resulted in a wholesale confusion over the Holy Word that some argue has had the result of devaluing the mystery and grandeur that lies at the heart of this great religion.

The substitution of the word "happy" for "blessing" is symptomatic of larger questionable decisions undertaken by the Church in its supposed quest for modernity and relevance. They recently changed it back.

Another symptom of the Church's struggle to adapt to the modern era is its lagging ability to create great edifices. The days when whole villages and even cities were mobilized to construct great granite cathedrals are long gone.

So, too, are the days when the Church provided great artistic assignments to geniuses of the day such as Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci.

Instead of creating more masterpieces, the Catholic Church seems intent on devaluing them.

This is a little-noticed trend but it is one that fits into our larger theory about how power-elite dominant social themes extend throughout society.

We've noted, along with others, how the state and related entities have devalued representative art. Modern art, in fact, is part and parcel of the larger "directed history" that elites seem to practice in their inevitable journey to a world state.

We commented on this phenomenon previously in an article entitled "Demise of the Politically Correct?" We wrote: "Money power, like a gigantic vacuum cleaner, has sucked the political context out of art and made most forms of commentary decorative rather than confrontational (in a good sense)."

The point of this, apparently, is to deprive people of a vocabulary that can celebrate exceptional achievements. One is more likely to erect a sculpture of a giant soup can today than that of a "great man."

And so we wonder if this urge to denigrate representative art is not in some sense (consciously or not) behind what can only be described as the wholesale denigration of many of the world's greatest visual treasures.

Certainly the Vatican is not the only offender but it is one of the most prominent. The "restorations" that are taking place are truly tragic. Here's some more from the article:

While Brillo pads were skipped at the Sistine Chapel, bucket loads of oven-cleaner-like substances were repeatedly brushed onto and washed from Michelangelo's Ceiling frescoes to the artistically injurious consequences.

The Vatican's restorers' own account of their experimental fresco cleaning method read as follows: "…Removal of retouchings and repaintings with a mixed gelatinous solvent, consisting of ammonium bicarbonate, sodium bicarbonate, Desogen (a surfactant and anti-fungal agent), carboxymethylcellulose (a thixotropic agent), dissolved in distilled water. Mixture acts on contact. The times of application, rigorously measured, were:

"First application: 3 minutes, followed by removal, washing with water. Left to dry for 24 hours. "Second application: 3 minutes, followed by removal, washing and leaving to dry as before. If necessary, and locally only, small applications, followed by plentiful final washing. "In the case of salt efflorescences consisting of calcium carbonate, there was added to the solvent mixture a saturated solution of dimethylformamide…

"Final treatment: the thorough, complete and overall application of a solution of Paraloid B72 diluted to 3% in organic solvent, removed from the surface of the pictorial skin by the combined action almost simultaneously of organic solvent and distilled water, which coagulates the surface acrylic resin dissolved by the solvent."

A quick rinse with Flash might have been kinder.

We first became aware of what was going on when reading articles about this restoration. At the time, tests apparently showed that the so-called cleaning was removing shade and shadow. In other words, the cleaning didn't just scrub grime but also a whole layer of artistic modulation.

A look at today's Sistine Chapel reveals what to our inexpert eyes is a kind of Disneyfication of Michelangelo's great paintings. They glow like bright pastels, bereft of the subtle modeling that previously could be discerned beneath the grime. One only needs to look at "before" and "after" photos to fully appreciate the damage that has been done.

It is tempting to see all this as a metaphor for a modern age that was determined to strip away the complexity of the past. In its place has been substituted a broad, brightly colored narrative that is attractive on the surface but devoid of nuance.

For the past several centuries, anyway, the elites have been busily scrubbing away at history and substituting their own version of reality. We are apparently to believe that human beings emerged from caves 5,000 years ago and that man's journey has been a steady ascension ever since.

After Thoughts

It is only thanks to what we call the Internet Reformation that we are gradually discovering the complex fullness of our past. It would be nice if there were a way to apply a similar palliative to paintings now being "restored" by the Vatican and other agencies. Unfortunately, there is not.

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