Leonetto Tintori, sculptor, painter, and internationally eminent wall paintings conservator, died in July 2000 at his home in Vainella, near Prato, Italy. He was 92 years old.
Leonetto was part of a generation of men and women whose lives and careers are inextricably linked to the development of what is now called conservation science. The son of a farmer, he entered the restoration field as an imbianchino, or wall repairer and painter. He had trained as an artist in his hometown of Prato, but his knowledge of restoration and conservation was earned on the job. Under the guidance of a well-known Florentine painter, Ardengo Soffici, whose house he was decorating, Leonetto started working as a conservator, repairing some 19th-century wall paintings discovered under the whitewash.
He went on to work on the most important cycles of wall paintings in Italy. By the mid-1930s, Leonetto was part of Ugo Procacci's restoration group in Florence, working on wall paintings by Giotto, Simone Martini, Masaccio, Piero della Francesca, and many others. At the end of World War II, he achieved renown for his part in saving the wall paintings in the Cimitero Monumentale in Pisa. By the 1950s he had his own conservation team, which for 30 years studied original techniques and materials, collaborated with scientists, and introduced new materials for treating paintings. In the aftermath of the 1966 flood in Florence, the group successfully introduced new measures for the emergency stabilization and consolidation of wall paintings and paintings on wood.
In each conservation project, Leonetto saw the need to understand the original painting technique—not only to further his knowledge and appreciation of the artistic achievement but as a requirement for the proper identification of the conservation methods and materials compatible with those used by the artist. When he could not find adequate answers for complex conservation problems, he sought expertise from other professions, and he was one of the first conservators to collaborate with scientists. He was also a pioneer in insisting upon documentation, establishing a tradition of detailed reports with systematic use of photographs. Leonetto was among the first in the field to publish reports on his work, collaborating on these articles with other professionals. Conservators, scientists, and art historians from abroad came to study and exchange ideas with him.
The quality of his conservation work is only a part of his legacy, for Leonetto was also a natural teacher, a great colleague, a tireless student, and a genuine innovator. In his later years, Leonetto and his wife Elena turned their house into an international school and laboratory for the study of the ancient art of painting a fresco. A visit to the house was a journey to a place wholly devoted to art, art making, and an understanding of traditional techniques and materials. A stroll in the garden brought encounters with sculptures large and small that waited like old friends along the path. The walls of the house and studios were used as panels where students practiced all aspects and variations of wall painting techniques, from mixing and laying on the lime plaster to applying the paint made with mineral pigments dispersed in water.
In this small corner of paradise, Leonetto—after a busy career as a wall paintings conservator—continued to study, experiment, write, and make his own art until his death.
Leonetto Tintori's main desire was to truly understand how great artists created their works. He believed that it was only through scientific analysis and testing that this could be achieved. His efforts have influenced countless conservators and artists. His experience and intellect—and his passion for learning and experimenting—will be sorely missed.