National Geographic : 1967 Jul
"Doors of Paradise," Michel angelo called these gilded bronze portals on the Baptistery. Ten panels, created by Lorenzo Ghi berti in the 15th century, illus trate incidents from the Old Testament. Water raging at 35 miles an hour wrenched the doors open and dashed them back and forth. Five panels tore loose. The protective gate kept them from being swept away. Workmen (right) cart panels off for repair. Broken-off head of the plowman, in a scene depicting the story of Cain and Abel (far right), was found later in the mud. familiar aspect. While others were moving out the debris as fast as possible, workmen here were blocking up doors with bricks and mortar so that nothing might be removed. "It is all here," he said, "and when the mud has dried, it will be like any other archeologi cal dig-but in my own museum." The damaged frescoes-Dr. Procacci's staff listed 80 single frescoes and 12 fresco cycles in need of cleaning-presented a similar de mand for time-consuming work. Art experts had already worked out a laborious means of transferring old frescoes to solid new bases. One as large as the Gaddi "Last Supper" could take months to transfer. But the immediate problem-beyond cleaning with solvents-re mained the battle against humidity (page 39). CRIA's Dr. Frederick Hartt, an honorary citizen of Florence because of his labor to res 36 cue works of art during World War II, had warned against optimism. His gentle face, sometimes tear-stained, became familiar to millions of television viewers in England and the United States when the first documentary of the flood was released before Christmas. "We cannot know the full effects of the flood for some time," he said. "The water, rising up through the walls by capillary action, could eventually flake off the paint." I had a startling vision of a group of horri fied tourists standing in the Spanish Chapel watching the great frescoes scatter down in pretty little snowstorms. Time, money, and watchful waiting will be needed for many months before the frescoes can be judged safe. In the Bargello, Michelangelo's statues seemed to be molting. They wore fluffy skins of talcum powder to draw out the moisture and some of the oil (page 35). Then powerful detergents were put to work on the stains.