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Three Major 15th Century Florentine Restoration Projects Supported by Friends of Florence Reopen to the Public

Three Florentine Restoration Projects Supported by Friends of Florence Reopen to the Public:
Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes in Palazzo Vecchio, Brancacci Chapel in the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine, and Oratory of St. Sebastian, Church of the Santissima Annunziata

Florence, Italy…Three major projects restored thanks to support from Friends of Florence Foundation are now on public view: Donatello’s monumental bronze sculpture Judith and Holofernes (1457-1464) in the Palazzo Vecchio; the sublime series of frescoes and ornamentation featured in the Brancacci Chapel in the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine; and the intricately decorated Oratory of St. Sebastian in the Church of the Santissima Annunziata.

The three projects yielded numerous insights into and discoveries about the works themselves, the techniques of the artists who created them, previous interventions, and the histories of the sites. Importantly, each restoration was conducted using state-of-the-art processes under the meticulous supervision of Florence’s famed conservators.

Friends of Florence President Simonetta Brandolini d’Adda said, “Each of these projects represent important chapters in Florentine history. Donatello’s masterwork depicts the Biblical heroine Judith vanquishing an Assyrian general. The complex effort within the Brancacci Chapel required a scaffolding system to address the double-tiered wall frescos and allowed visitors a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the paintings in close proximity. The multi-dimensional Oratory in the church of the Santissima Annunziata has been returned to its former glory after sustaining extensive damage during the flood of 1966. We are profoundly grateful to our donors who gave so generously to restore and safeguard these works.”

Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes

Commissioned by Piero de’ Medici, the sculptural group once occupied the place where Michelangelo’s David later stood. It was intended to convey a story of the triumph of courage over tyranny and a call to defend the Florentine Republic. When the Medici family was exiled in 1495, the work was reinterpreted as a vibrant symbol of civic freedom. The restoration team included Palazzo Vecchio Curator Dr. Serena Pini, art historian Dr. Lia Brunori in her capacity as Supervisor, and restorer Nicola Salvioli.

The last restoration was conducted in the 1980s, with limited maintenance work occurring in 2004. Using laser technology following an in-depth diagnostic campaign, the current efforts improved legibility while revealing new insights into Donatello’s practice and the way the bronze was assembled. Removing dust, grime, and corrosive damage recovered traces of gilded surfaces originally applied by the artist. Applying gold leaf was common in Florentine sculpture of the period and a recurrent feature of Donatello’s work.

The stone base was also subjected to thorough maintenance involving removal of layers of dust that had built up on the surfaces and replacing the plinth cladding of the metal support on which the sculpture now rests in the Palazzo Vecchio’s Hall of Lilies. Friends of Florence gratefully acknowledged the donors: Catharin Dalpino, Anna and Paul Friedman, Lauren and Phil Hughes, Judith and Arthur Rubin, and Loralee West.

Brancacci Chapel, Church of Santa Maria del Carmine

Following a thorough diagnostic investigation begun in 2020, the extraordinary cycle of wall paintings by Masolino, Masaccio, and Filippino Lippi have been restored in the Brancacci Chapel. Supported by the Jay Pritzker Foundation and by Friends of Florence, the project involved the Servizio Belle Arti del Comune di Firenze, the Soprintendenza Archeologia Belle Arti e Paesaggio per la Città Metropolitana di Firenze e le province di Pistoia e Prato, the Istituto di Scienze del Patrimonio Culturale del Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche CNR, and the Opificio delle Pietre Dure.

Vital new information arose during scientific investigations and the restoration process of the 15th century frescoes. Findings will be presented at a conference to be held in spring 2025 and shared with the conservation community.

Oratory of St. Sebastian, in the church of the Santissima Annunziata

Founded on a site established in 1082, and later reconfigured as a chapel by Antonio Pucci in 1460, the Oratory of St. Sebastian has been completely restored thanks to donations from Idanna and Giannozzo Pucci and their many friends around the world through Friends of Florence. The project ensures that the site can continue to be of service to residents and visitors, officiated by the fathers of the Servite Order.

The restoration addressed impacts of the devastating floods in 1966 when the Arno breached its banks and was directed by Studio Bracciali and performed under the supervision of the Soprintendenza ABAP di Firenze.
Daniela Dini oversaw the stonework, frescoes, and dome while Stefano and Marco Scarpelli were responsible for the paintings and the copy of Piero del Pollaiolo’s Martyrdom of St. Sebastian, restoring the chapel’s art historical unity. The original painting was sold to the National Gallery in London in 1854 by Robert Pucci.

About Friends of Florence

Friends of Florence is a non-profit foundation supported by individuals from around the world who are dedicated to preserving and enhancing the rich cultural heritage of Florence and Tuscany and conserving irreplaceable artistic and cultural treasures. Friends of Florence identifies significant projects spanning centuries in need of restoration, secures funding, and works in collaboration with local authorities to complete projects.

Since its founding in 1998, the Foundation has raised and donated $10 million for conservation projects in the region. Friends of Florence works directly with Florence’s famed conservation laboratories to ensure restoration is done at the highest level, has the approval of the City of Florence and the Italian Ministry of Art, and is completed on time and on budget.

Through its work, Friends of Florence creates opportunities for the study and appreciation of paintings, sculptures, architectural elements, places of worship, and collections at the Uffizi Gallery, the Accademia, the Baptistry, the Piazza della Signoria, the Museum of San Marco, and dozens of other museums, churches, and public sites.

A model of high-impact, low-overhead philanthropy, Friends of Florence is the primary source of funding for the city’s conservators, a respected partner with museums and cultural authorities in Italy and the U.S., and a publisher/producer of publications, multimedia offerings, seminars, lectures, and cultural travel opportunities.

Oratory of St. Sebastian, 15th century. Church of the Santissima Annunziata, Florence, Italy. Photo courtesy of Friends of Florence