Italy's Santa Croce restoration offers rare close up view

Mon Apr 11, 2011 5:07pm EDT
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By Philip Pullella

FLORENCE, Italy (Reuters) - For lovers of Italian art, it's as close as you can come to ascending a stairway to heaven and looking angels in the eye.

For the first time after a major restoration, the scaffolding that has shrouded the 850 sq m (9,150 sq ft) of frescoes of the Capella Maggiore in Florence's famed Santa Croce Basilica will not be dismantled immediately.

Instead, for about a year, a small number of visitors will be able to don hard hats and clamber up the clanking steps to admire the 600-year-old frescos of Agnolo Gaddi, the last major "descendant" of the Giotto school, from close up.

"Climbing up the scaffolding and standing in precisely the same spot where the artist stood is a bit like traveling in a time machine," said Alberto Felici, one of the team that spent five years restoring the frescoes.

"You can re-live the emotions and the atmosphere that the painter experienced 600 years ago," he said, speaking some 30 m (90 ft) above the basilica's ground floor.

Since the next restoration may not take place for centuries, it is the chance of a lifetime to get within inches of a masterpiece that helped pave the way for the Renaissance.

In E.M. Forster's novel "A Room With a View," the young Lucy Honeychurch "wandered not unpleasantly about Santa Croce, which, though it is like a barn, has harvested many beautiful things inside its walls."

The rich harvest that Lucy Honeychurch and millions of real visitors could not see as they craned their necks is the wealth of details, some only a few centimeters (inches) large, that the $3.5 million restoration brought to light.   Continued...

<p>Combination picture of tiny faces that can be found on the 600-year-old Capella Maggiore frescoes at Florence's Santa Croce Basilica, April 7, 2011. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi</p>