Damage, Destruction and Restoration

From the very beginning, the pictorial decoration of the Camposanto was subject to damage and loss: the open construction of the galleries exposed the frescoes to wind, humidity, salinity, heat and cold, which led to a steady deterioration of the pictures. Perhaps due to their position and their particular technique, some parts such as the Job cycle in the southwest and the Gozzoli frescoes in the northern gallery suffered more than others. Yet this continuous damage from the weather was eclipsed by the impact of one single event, when the Camposanto was hit by artillery fire on July 27, 1944: during intense combat between German troops north of the Arno and Allied forces attacking from the south, an artillery shell hit the roof of the cemetery and set its wooden framework alight. Since the city was without a water supply in those days, there was no possibility of extinguishing the fire that gradually destroyed the roof. The heat of the flames and the molten lead running down the walls destroyed large parts of the murals. Luckily, when the American troops entered Pisa on the first days of September, the Monuments unit of the US Army (MFAA) quickly took care of the construction of a provisional roof and gathered Italian specialists to collect hundreds of fresco fragments that covered the floor of the galleries. In the post-war era, the Camposanto would become one of the most impressive monuments of restoration and conservation: between 1947 and 1955, all murals in the cemetery were detached from the walls and transferred onto a new support of Eternit. In a second step, the same procedure was repeated for the underlying preparatory drawings (sinopie). Since 1960, the restored Buffalmacco paintings from the south gallery can be seen in a separate hall attached to the Camposanto. And since 1979, some of the sinopie have been exhibited in the new Museo delle Sinopie. Yet the problems with the preservation of the murals had not ended, since the technique employed for the transfer onto Eternit panels caused further damage. Therefore, in 1997 it was decided that another strappo, and another transfer to a new support should take place, together with a comprehensive restoration. Subsequently, the panels were relocated onto the walls of the Camposanto. In 2018, this long story of restoration and re-restoration came to an end – enabling the public to see the paintings in their architectural framework for the first time since 1944.

 

Bibliography

Piero Sanpaolesi, Introduzione, in Mario Bucci, Licia Bertolini (eds.), Camposanto monumentale di Pisa. Affreschi e sinopie (Pisa: Opera della Primaziale, 1960), pp. 12-20.
Clara Baracchini, Il restauro infinito, in Clara Baracchini, Enrico Castelnuovo (eds.), Il Camposanto di Pisa (Torino: Einaudi, 1996), pp. 201-12.
Giuseppe Bentivoglio, Gianluigi Colalucci, Carlo Giantomassi, A Technical and Operational Turn: The New Restoration, in Maria Laura Testi Cristiani, The Human Comedy in the Triumph of Death by Buffalmacco in the Camposanto of Pisa(Pisa: Società Storica Pisana, 2017), pp. 250-5.
Cathleen Sara Hoeniger, The Camposanto of Pisa in the Wake of World War Two. Loss and Discovery, in Holly Flora, Sarah S. Wilkins (eds.), Art and Experience in Trecento Italy (Turnhout: Brepols, 2018), pp. 313-328.

 

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