Chief Scientist, Science
Coming from the small Italian town of Carmognola, where his family had lived for many generations, Giacomo Chiari studied chemistry at the nearby University of Turin, and he was the first in his family to graduate from college. He was subsequently invited to join the university's faculty of sciences, ultimately achieving the rank of full professor in applied mineralogy.
While his main work was, initially, research into crystallography, early on he became interested in scientific issues related to cultural heritage conservation. Beginning in 1968, he was part of a team that included Giorgio Torraca (then with ICCROM) that spent several years analyzing the problems of ancient earthen architecture in Iraq and developing treatment measures. In 1975 he was hired by UNESCO to propose a treatment for a 2,800-year-old decorated frieze in Peru, an assignment that led to additional UNESCO work. That same year he married his wife, Gretchen, an American teaching English in Italy, and they went on to have two children (currently, both are pursuing graduate degrees—Eleanor in anthropology, and Raimondo in international studies.)
By the early 1980s, Giacomo's professional life was divided between crystallography research and conservation work—including participating as a teacher in the ICCROM courses on earthen architecture. In 1988, after receiving a major grant from Italy's Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche for a model project focused on cultural heritage, he was able to devote himself full-time to conservation-related activities, which included extensive study of Maya blue (identifying the pigment's compounds and its geographic distribution) and working with Torraca on the analysis of ancient mortars and the development of mortars for repair. He continued his work in earthen architecture—teaching, consulting, and researching (focusing on treatments for decorated surfaces)—iand consulted on a variety of projects in northern Italy and Rome, including analysis of Michelangelo's Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel.
Giacomo spent the summer of 2001 as a GCI Conservation Scholar in residence, and for the first time in his professional career, he found himself working in a scientific environment devoted to conservation. It was immensely fulfilling, and he responded positively when given the opportunity to apply for the GCI chief scientist post. In January 2003 he joined the Institute's staff, where he has been grateful to have the opportunity to creatively connect colleagues within and outside the GCI in ways that can advance conservation expertise and methods. He is also pleased to be able to drive his forest-green Vespa to work.