Through the generosity of Patrons Michael and Allyson Kinney, the California Patrons sponsored the restoration of a special 14th century statute of Madonna and Child. For many years this polychrome statue of the Enthroned Madonna with the Christ Child has been displayed in St. Peter’s Basilica for the Holy Father’s celebration of Christmas Mass. The tradition continued this past Christmas with a different statue gracing the papal alter for Midnight Mass.
The statue, standing 165 centimeters high, is made of painted wood. Dating from the 1300s, it is attributed to an unknown Lombard carver called the “Master of the Pinacoteca di Como.” Lombardia sat at a crossroads of many cultures. The statue reflects both the influence of Campionese artists in its structure and the Alpine influences in the composed smiling expressions of the figures’ faces.
Seven centuries have taken their toll. The Madonna’s crown and scepter have been lost and the Child is missing two fingers held up in blessing. Much of the original color has disappeared from the surface of the once sumptuous red and gold dress embellished with floral designs. Varnishes and glues have darkened the overall surface of the carving. Xylophage insects have attacked the piece and caused extensive damage, particularly on the left side and the base. Fortunately, the internal structure remained intact.
Two experts tacked the restoration. Angela Cerreta focused on reintegration of the colors and Massimo Alesi concentrated on the wooden supports. First, the statue underwent anoxic treatment in which the statue was placed in a sealed plastic envelope and nitrogen replaced the air. This killed the insects. The surface was cleaned and the structural supports strengthened. Then the restorers reaffixed the flaking color with syringes filled with hot glue. Various insect holes were filled with a mixture of glue and sawdust. Rather than repaint, a light shading appropriate to the surrounding colors was applied. The restorers completed the work recently so hopefully the Madonna and Child will resume their place in St. Peter’s for future Christmas celebrations.