Discovering the fascinating world of restoration with Isidoro and Matteo Bacchiocca
Crossing the threshold of a restoration laboratory is a truly significant sensory experience. First of all, we are overwhelmed by an intoxicating scent – pungent, yet bizarrely pleasant, where solvents blend with pigments of various kinds…
And then, just a moment to collect ourselves and we notice that we are surrounded by figures veiled by the passage of centuries, who have found shelter here while waiting to recover their ancient splendour.
Inside the shop, a glance in any direction suffices to tell us that we are standing in a place suspended in time. Here, to use the words of old Charles (Baudelaire), all is “order and beauty, luxury, peace and pleasure”.
Works of art and paintings from every era are enough to cause confusion, dizziness, rapid heartbeat. The beginning of Florence syndrome, even if we are in Urbino.
Isidoro Bacchiocca and his son Matteo greet us cordially, rousing us from our brief stupor.
Concealing our surprise at such a sudden change of status, we try and concentrate on the reason for our visit, formulating a few disjointed ideas.
Luckily, young Matteo helps us out of our predicament, beginning in medias res by speaking of the importance of precision in the restoration of works of art.
Precision is the thread of Ariadne that will lead us through this blog, discovering the many extraordinary characters that have made this modus operandi into their way of life.
So here we are at their company for the restoration and conservation of cultural heritage, Restauro e Conservatione Beni Culturali Bacchiocca di Urbino, the first stage of our virtual – of a sort – journey.
There is an important link between this laboratory and Paradisi – the recent restoration of the painting by Perugino “Madonna with Child and Saints John the Baptist, Ludovico, Francis, Peter, Paul and James the Greater”, preserved in the church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Senigallia and last year the centrepiece of the exhibition “La Grazia e la luce: La pala di Senigallia del Perugino. Armonia e discordanze nella pittura marchigiana di fine Quattrocento” (Grace and Light: The Altarpiece of Senigallia by Perugino. Harmony and Dissonance in Painting from the Marche Region at the end of the 15th Century). The operation wasstrongly wished for, supported and financed by the Accademia della Tacchinella, a group of enlightened local entrepreneurs that counts Sandro Paradisi himself amongst its members.
But let’s return to the theme of precision, which is the main reason we asked to meet with these master restorers.
Matteo and Isidoro, alternating a perfectly harmonious succession of comments, answer our questions by outlining the picture of an activity where precision obviously has the main role, though it must always go hand in hand with accuracy.
The difference between precision and accuracy would appear very subtle. How do you establish where one ends and the other begins?
Matteo: Rather than a difference between the two concepts, perhaps we should speak about their complementarity. Let’s use archery as a metaphor: every arrow can be compared to an operation (scientific and chemical analysis, disinfestation, cleaning, consolidation, etc…).
It’s not enough for each arrow to hit the mark with precision – the bull’s eyes must be arranged in a minimal dispersion pattern, just like the individual stages of the restoration process must strive for the same goal (accuracy). Precision is not perfection (which doesn’t exist). It’s method, forma mentis, a global vision of things.
Looking at one of the many timeworn paintings that dominate the walls of the lab as they await restoration, the obvious question is: where does the job begin? How does one approach a work of art in order to understand what kind of intervention is necessary?
Isidoro: Every problem must be broken down before we begin to work. In the organizing phase, we come up with a vision of the intervention in its entirety, trying to foresee – in good time – what might happen (far-sightedness).
Matteo: The first and foremost objective, when you begin a restoration process, is the preservation of the work because, unlike what happens with other jobs, you are in the presence of a unique, unrepeatable item.
Given the work’s uniqueness, how do you ascertain the type and entity of an intervention to avoid the risk of compromising or damaging it?
Isidoro: Manual interaction with the work of art takes place on its lacunae (the parts to be restored) in particular, with interventions – which can be recognisable or camouflaged – as targeted as possible.
You reach the limit with an investigation (which destroys a small section) aimed at objective and precise data; all available technology is used in order to obtain maximum precision in the analyses.
Then you perform tests for subsequent approximations, such as the Feller test to find the right solvent to clean a polychrome work.
Matteo: Complete respect of topic and history is always important. This means, amongst other things, an in-depth knowledge of the work method, including techniques and materials.
You tend to use reversible pigmentations (which have to be removable).
Finally, you use the utmost precision in removing matter (if you should have to remove damaged parts or previous restorations) before restoring the work’s chromatic and harmonic unity.
The task of explaining such precise and accurate techniques and operations to a layman (especially one still recovering from Stendhal syndrome) is certainly an ungrateful one, and we realize that, with our rough synopsis, we are guilty of trivializing what Isidoro and Matteo have tried to clarify – with great merit – during this brief interview.
We’ve realised one thing, however – that restorers are the true witnesses of the precision of a work of art, because nobody – whether an art critic or an art expert – is able to perceive and penetrate every detail of a work, even the most hidden, in such depth as they do.
All this being said, we take our leave of the lovely Bacchioccas and from you as well – the readers of our blog, who have had the patience and courtesy to read these lines to the end – in the hopes of sharing a new stage of this journey into the universe of precision as soon as possible.