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Restored Christ at the Column is back on display in room 24 at Pinacoteca di Brera

by Andrea Carli

Restoration on Christ at the Column by Donato Bramante, one of the masterpieces of the Renaissance displayed at Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan, has been completed a few days ago. Now visitors can, once again, admire the famous painting. From June 1st, 2017, the art work has been put back on display in its original location, in room 24 of the Pinacoteca, where it’s also possible to see the Spouse of the Virgin of Raffaello and the Madonna and Child of Piero della Francesca.

Christ at the Column, an oil on a panel of cm 93 x 62 was painted around 1489-1490. In the painting Christ is leaning against a column with water and mountains in the background. And he seems to have a rope tied around his neck.

Formerly kept in Chiaravalle Abbey, the painting was removed in 1915 in order to preserve it from the risk of damages, considering the bad conservation conditions that already caused the lift of the painted layer.

The fragile painting had already been subject to this kind of lift several times before; after the arrival at the Pinacoteca it was restored by Oreste Silvestri (1923) and Mauro Pellicioli, who defined it an “incurable” in 1927, after having executed repeated securing operations with “pen and hardship.”

Since then the preservation status has been monitored with special care, with other recurrent but limited interventions in the ’70s and ’80s.

A new restoration of the painting had already been contemplated as some old retouchings and the surface varnish were altered and dim.

Furthermore, due to humidity problems, at the beginning of January 2017 the lifting of the painted layer abruptly intensified in several surface points.

The restoration has been accomplished by the “transparent Laboratory” of the Pinacoteca.

Starting January 8, 2017 art conservators stabilized the pictorial surface, then proceeded to clean the earlier interventions, integrating the painted surface and applying a protective varnish.

The restoration work has been documented by photographs, ultraviolet shooting (UVF) and infrared (IRR, 950 and 1700 nm), making it possible to better understand Bramante’s techniques. “Christ’s shoulders present a particular bent, and so does his left arm -- said Paola Borghese, one of the restorers --. But above all, the painting had and has shades of color of absolute mastery, unreachable. Only in the works of the greatest artists, and I mean Raffaello, Piero della Francesca, Leonardo, you can see this level of perfection in the rendering of nuances.”

The restoration is now completed and the painting has been located in a clima frame to protect it from humidity alterations.

Bramante trained in Urbino, a center of mathematical studies where the use of perspective had been developed as a form of controlled organization of painted space. Moving to Milan, he took this research further, seeking visual and illusionistic effects that were intended to stir the emotions of the observer: Christ at the Column can be considered a manifesto of this innovative language, which allowed Lombard artistic culture to adopt unprecedented solutions in the Renaissance mold.