Barbara J. Mangum
The Lamentation Over the Dead Christ by Giovanni della Robbia and studio now housed in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston was created about 1515, in the early stage of the artist’s career. The history of the piece is unknown until it appears in the correspondence of Isabella Stewart Gardner, who acquired it from a Reverend Nevin in Rome in the late 1800s. The piece was disassembled, packed and sent to Boston, where it was installed into the museum’s building fabric sometime between 1899-1902.
In August of 1999, the piece was selected for conservation treatment based on the discoloration and confusion surrounding previous restorations and the overall dirty appearance of the sculpture. As the work of cleaning, refining fills and inpainting proceeded, investigations were carried out exploring the method of manufacture of the piece and attempting to establish the history of restoration(s). The removal of a layer of calcium oxalate covering the surface of the piece revealed the beauty of the highly colored, reflective and sophisticated glazes as well as the selective use of black detail to enhance specific shadows.
This presentation will discuss not only the method of restoration and relevant technical information within the larger oeuvre of the della Robbia family, but also how the conservator was changed by the intimate process of the restoration and came to appreciate the skill of the artist and his medium in new ways. Ongoing investigations into the history and creation of the piece will be highlighted.