Resurrecting della Robbia’s Resurrection: Challenges in the conservation of a monumental Renaissance relief

Sara Levin, Nick Pedemonti, and Lisa Bruno


The Resurrection (ca. 1520–1524) by Giovanni della Robbia, underwent its first full-scale treatment since being acquired by the Brooklyn Museum in 1899. Examination, disassembly, cleaning, reassembly, inpainting, and remounting of all 46 sections of the relief was completed in just 10 months for inclusion in the August 2016 show Della Robbia: Sculpting with Color in Renaissance Florence at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The large scale and time constraints of the project required the expertise of all 12 of the museum’s objects conservators. Protocols were developed for documentation and treatment to maintain consistency while remaining flexible when unique challenges arose. This article discusses the treatment approach, how and why some 19th century restoration materials were removed and some left in place, as well as the new mounting system that was implemented. X-ray radiography helped define the extent of previous structural repairs. Nineteenth century terracotta restorations and original ceramic were distinguished with thermoluminescence dating. Original repairs, construction and glazing techniques, as well as traces of polychromy and gilding were documented and studied with x-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, scanning electron microscopy/energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy, Fourier transform infrared reflectometry, and Raman microspectroscopy. Analysis showed similarities in glaze composition with other examples of the della Robbia workshop. Multiband imaging revealed unique characteristics of glazed details on the Christ figure and donor portrait.

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2017 | Chicago | Volume 24