After nearly 50 years of separation, the five wooden panels that make up Giorgio Vasari's monumental Last Supper painting (more than 8 by 21 feet) have been reassembled following an international conservation effort at the Opificio delle Pietre Dure (OPD) in Florence supported by the Getty Foundation. As part of the Panel Paintings Initiative, the Foundation provided a major training grant to the OPD to treat Vasari's multi-panel painting, one of the most severely damaged artworks to survive the disastrous Florence Flood of 1966. Since the artwork was submerged in water for over 12 hours, it required immediate separation of the individual panels to hasten drying. Conservators also applied an emergency paper treatment to the surface to prevent paint from simply peeling away from its sodden wooden support. Due to the enormous complexity of these conservation challenges, it was only recently that experts developed the technology to repair and rejoin the painting.
Since the Getty grant project began in 2010, seven conservators have benefited from side-by-side training with leading OPD experts and participated in all phases of this complex structural treatment. Together the team developed a conservation solution based on the support system originally devised by Vasari himself, which has stabilized the painting while also allowing the wooden panels to move naturally with standard temperature and humidity fluctuations. The team was also able to recover an unanticipated amount of the original painted surface, revealing the artist's hand in surprising detail.
Now that the individual panels have been rejoined with a secure and lasting support, the people of Florence are considerably closer to seeing the last major flood-damaged artwork that remained untreated returned to public viewing. Work has begun on the final conservation of the painted surface, which is expected to take several years. The finished results will then be shared in a joint exhibition with the OPD and the Museo dell'Opera di Santa Croce and a book on the conservation process.
Above: Conservators at the OPD preparing the reverse of one of the Vasari Last Supper panels for rejoining. Image courtesy Britta New, National Gallery, London. Top of page: Front of Giorgio Vasari's Last Supper (1546) reassembled for the first time in nearly 50 years after the completion of a Getty Panel Paintings Initiative training grant. Image courtesy Archives of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, Florence
Watch an episode of PBS Newshour's "Culture at Risk" about the work of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure and the Vasari conservation and training project supported by the Getty Foundation