The gap between ethics and aesthetics in Italian restoration: Experiences in the laboratories of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence – della Robbia sculpture case studies

Laura Speranza and Shirin Afra


The question of the gap (the loss of materials and colors) is perhaps the most debated argument in the philosophy of restoration to this day. Although the numerous theories on filling the gap were sometimes contradictory, all are still current and applicable. How do we deal with the gap in Europe and especially in Italy? How much of it do we fill? Does the restoration have to be recognizable, should it hide the pictorial retouch, or should it stand out? Is there a common criterion that is applicable to all types of support? In other words, does ethics or aesthetics prevail? This article examines some exemplary cases of restoration of polychrome sculptures, including della Robbia works, at the restoration laboratories of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence. We analyze the discussion around the reconstruction of the gap in modeled works, including the use of three-dimensional scanning technique, and the pictorial retouching of the color gap. We also address what we call the “dual gap,” that is, the presence of both the modeling gap and pictorial gap, which opens the way for a new philosophical debate between ethics and aesthetics of restoration.

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2017 | Chicago | Volume 24