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31 May 2011

Monday 30th May 2011; Firenze (Florence) and Pisa

Week 8 of 12 
Module 5: Conservation Interventions and Treatments; Criteria for Selection and Implementation 
The Study Tour: Florence (Firenze)

Yesterday we began our study tour of Northern Italy driving from Rome to Firenze (Florence). The afternoon was ours to spend as we chose and the group mostly divided between the Uffizi Gallery and the Bargello National Museum. A few of us also managed to fit in a climb up the bell tower that's part of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (a.k.a. the Duomo).

View of the Duomo, Firenze, from the tower.

This morning we first headed to the Opificio delle Pietre Dure where we visited the museum and then the restoration laboratory. In the museum we were talked through the history of the Opus Sectile technique where by precious or semi-precious stones are precisely cut to create an image. The photographs below show a pair that were present in the museum of the initial painting and below it the opus sectile that was created using the painting as a guide- as you can see it is quite incredible how much detail these artists were able to achieve. The museum holds a fantastic collection of the precious and semi-precious stones from around the world displayed in glass cabinets and examples of 19th Century work benches where the pieces of stone were able to be finely carved.

A painting the was produced as a means for creating an opus sectile. This scene illustrates stone masons.

An example of one of the opus sectile which has been prepared based on the painting above.

Display showing work benches for preparing the tesselae.

In the laboratory we were shown some of the current stone conservation projects being undertaken including restoration of stone sculptures and mosaics. We also saw some new mosaic and opus sectile work which was being created by restoration students. What was fantastic to see was that the same workbenches and techniques that we'd observed just 30 minutes before in the museum were still being used in the workshop today (see photo below).

The restoration laboratory where the 19th Century workbenches and techniques are still being used today for finely carving stone.

We then had a brief visit to the Museo dell'Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore where Peter Rockwell (who's accompanying us for the first part of the study tour) showed us an incomplete sculpture 'Pieta' by Michelangelo and other select pieces. The sculpture was originally created to go on Michelangelo's own tomb but he took a dislike to it before it was completed and it was never finished. Peter thinks that one of the major factors that would have made Michelangelo dislike this sculpture is the disproportionately small Mary Magdalene figure on the left-hand side of the group (see photograph below). Another sculpture (dated 1334-36) that Peter picked out to show us was by a sculptor called Andrea Pisano and depicts a stone mason at work illustrating the many different tools that were used at that period and most of which are still in use today (see photograph below). One tool that Peter pointed out is no longer used in Italy is the round-headed hammer; in Scotland we call this a 'mell' and it is in common use today made from metal, wood or fibreglass.

Michelangelo's Pieta.

Peter Rockwell with a stone carving by Andrea Pisano depicting a stone mason dated 1334-36.

We then continued our travels and moved on to Pisa where we received a presentation regarding the conservation work carried out on the 'leaning tower' in the last decade and then explored the World Heritage Site including climbing the tower.  Climbing the tower gives you a very strange sensation, something like sea-sickness; the staircase winds clockwise around the inside of the building within two walls, and although you are constantly going 'up' the stairs, the angle as you walk towards the overhang is low and as you walk away from it is high. 

The Leaning Tower of Pisa. 

Tomorrow we continue on to Carrara to visit the famous white marble quarries in the Apuan Alps, which were just visible from the top of the tower.

View from the tower; the mountains containing the Carrara white marble quarries (just visible in the distance at the top of the mountains in the left-hand side of the picture).

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