Relazione sul restauro dell’affresco della Cappella di Carbonana

In occasione dello straordinario recupero del Castello di Carbonana, la parete di fondo della Cappella privata, dedicata alla Natività della Vergine Maria, è stata oggetto di un intervento di restauro conservativo ed estetico, che, condotto nel 2013, ha permesso il recupero dell’originale impianto decorativo, sia da un punto di vista figurativo che architettonico.

The extraordinary restoration project of Carbonana Castle also included, already in 2013, the recovery of the original decoration of the altar wall in the private chapel dedicated to the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The preservative and esthetic approach to restoring the painting focused on both the figurative and the architectural elements.

A careful study of the documentation stemming from a historical-critical research which the new owners of the castle entrusted to important scholars of the regions of Umbria and the Marches, as well as the credible findings of a previous work of recovery and restoration laid the scientific foundations and gave the necessary orientation to the latest and final restoration project in the chapel (2018).  In particular, among the various studies conducted, that of the fresco of the chapel by Silvia Fabietti has allowed us to identify the cultural and chronological parameters which date the fresco to the first decades of the 16th century.

The Cooperativa Beni Culturali, (Coo.Be.C.) of Spoleto, already involved in many interior decorative works at the castle during the restoration project, kept a dynamic and constructive relationship with the owners whose own expertise and conscientiousness were a source of dynamism. This rapport was a constant esthetic and historical reference point which guided our work. Even the new gardens, now become an integral part of the entire complex, contributed in orienting the esthetic choices related to the chapel.

Getting into the specifics of the restoration project of the chapel’s fresco, the main dissonance in the overall perception of the work stemmed from the isolation of the central figure relative to the actual architectural context. The latter, though largely lost, was nonetheless distinguishable thanks to the quantity and quality of the preparatory techniques, a veritable and proper standards manual: numerous pieces of sinopia, direct and indirect incisions, traces of pouncing, etc.

Moreover, the surface levels and the painting of the plaster, with its gaps and contrasting tones of colour, hindered a coherent and correct reading of the whole and of the extraordinary pieces of sinopia. The initial phase of the works focused on reviewing the conservation phases (fixing and consolidating), verifying the context, by way of micro tests using a scalpel and/or a solvent, the possible pieces of colouring relative to the remaining representation as evidenced by preceding photographs and documents found. The result of this research, in addition to confirming the conservation of the entire red draping behind the Virgin Mary, allowed the saving of the fresco’s correct stylistic features.

Thanks to the abundant information provided by the critical examination of the execution techniques and of the colours present in the actual fresco, and excluding “interpretative”interventions , it was possible to recover the elegant architectural context of the entire fresco, notwithstanding the lacuna. Once finished the esthetical operation centered on preparatory plastering of the sinopia (achieved by an illusory blending of level and colour of the gaps present), and the surfaces were integrated and/or repaired (to support the exposed painting) using imitative techniques restoring the painting to the esthetic dignity which the entire work commanded.

Archival sources document that “(…) On the feast day of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the castle chapel would be opened to the local population living within that part of Gubbio county, for the celebration of mass, paid for by the counts of Carbonana.” No doubt that on such occasions, the crowded, small space must have appeared larger and more welcoming thanks to the trompe-l’oeil effect of the Corinthian colonnade on the altar wall. In spite of the major and irreversible losses of the original material, the restoration works of this fresco brought about a rebirth of its evocative character, a fitting response to the owners’desire to see restored a centuries-old tradition.

Rolando Ramaccini
Cooperativa Beni Culturali (Spoleto)
March 2018

(Translated from the Italian)