Carolyn Riccardelli and Wendy Walker
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has among its extensive collection of Renaissance-period glazed terracotta sculpture two masterpieces by Andrea della Robbia that have recently undergone major conservation treatment. The Saint Michael the Archangel lunette, which sustained extensive damage after a tragic fall in 2008, returned to The Met’s galleries in 2015 after years of meticulous reconstruction, filling, and inpainting of losses. While daunting, the treatment of the damaged lunette was relatively straightforward, and culminated in the creation of an elegant mounting system designed to secure each of the sculpture’s original 12 interlocking sections independently. More recently, a large tondo with a central representation of the cardinal virtue Prudence was treated in preparation for the exhibition Della Robbia: Sculpting with Color in Renaissance Florence, returning the piece to public view after being kept in storage for more than a generation. The massive Prudence, made of 15 molded and modeled sections comprising a central tondo surrounded by a colorful garland, was found to be structurally unstable in its 150-year-old mount as well as having many aesthetic issues due to previous restoration campaigns. Conservators disassembled the sections with the goal of remounting this large work in preparation for travel. Following disassembly, surfaces were cleaned, revealing a previously unknown numbering system. This discovery led to a dramatically different arrangement of the tondo’s garland. To prepare Prudence for travel, an innovative mounting system was created using an aluminum honeycomb backing panel combined with carbon fiber clips.