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A one to one with Nadia Scardeoni and her Virtual Restoration. The true face of the Annunciation, between the virtual and the real  

Tiziana Lanza
ISSN 1127-4883 BTA - Bollettino Telematico dell'Arte, 10th December 2009, n. 546


Traduzione di Kristin Sian Jenkins

In recent times, a trend triggered by some literature bordering on science fiction draw us towards works of art for the appeal of their mystery. Thus, famous paintings such as The Monalisa and The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci have become cults in contemporary society, with people often looking for esoteric meanings in them, transforming them into real and proper enigmas.

However, the magical encounter which bonds Nadia Scardeoni to The Annunciation by Antonello da Messina has led her on a new journey, made up of silence and a sacred appreciation of the artist, enabling her to discover the deepest and most intimate understanding of this extraordinary fifteenth century painting, giving birth to her almost sacred respect for art and its artists.

This respect has evolved into the search for a new method of intervention towards works of art which seeks to be as uninvasive as possible. This has given birth to virtual restoration, amongst polemics and diatribes, but also the passionate dedication of its founder, a passion which has enabled Nadia Scardeoni to transform her seminars into further works of art, rich in emotions, silence and the amazed stupor of those listening to her. We ask her to tell us about herself and to recall past episodes, making us participant in some of the work behind the scenes of her pioneering journey towards a new approach to art.

Nadia, let me start with a question whose answer may seem obvious, but

I’ll still ask you it anyway: who is your favourite painter?

Ten years of studies on Antonello and relative publications already provide an answer, it is true, but I can also revisit the crucial points of this intense passion of mine... which became interwoven into my studies, teaching, research and experimentations along the way.

As a child I was fascinated by the ingeniousness of Giotto.

At the age of five I was painting with pastels, by eight I was experimenting with watercolour, and at twelve with oil painting. At the time only Giotto, Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael were cited in elementary school books and I immediately loved Giotto for the welcoming sweetness of his child-friendly 'space'.

But further ahead in my studies I chose the fifteenth century as my beloved century because of its deep exploration into humanitas, for its ability to suscitate art, which brings us together and does not disperse us. I therefore grew gradually but inexorably closer to the little known and rarely cited artist from a Mediterranean island, who even just with the printed images of his work, paralysed me with the unequalled depth of his 'unique painting'...

''...and it was in this way that an extraordinary work of art became part of my 'being' with an unimaginable authority''.

Tell us about your first enounter with The Annunciation

...After having loved and studied her for years, I saw her for the first time on a summer's day in 1974 in Palazzo Abatellis, in Palermo.

She was in her little room. I remained there for a long time - a very long time- in front of that prodigy, which let out a flow of spiritual energy from the small reliquary, which has benefited my intellectual life beyond all my expectations. In that encounter I found all the answers I was looking for.

What pushed you to go beyond the simple image to be able to truly meet the artist that produced this masterpiece?

I have always believed that it is important to teach an approach to art, which does not suscitate a fetishist clamour, but rather one, which interweaves a virtuous circle of in-depth exploration, aimed at “listening” to the artist. For me this means understanding the gift of the artist: reaching with lightness and respect the soul, which lies at the vital centre of their work. Beyond the technological tools, which have allowed me to bring to light an unimaginable and astonishing story, I believe I have been guided by my vocation, which has been refined by my studies and my restoration work.

Nadia, we ask you in particular: CT scans, x-rays and virtual images...are these investigations enough to understand the significance of a work of art and the relationship its admirers have had with it over the centuries, art restorers included?

No I don't think they are enough. They are necessary elements to explore the material background of the work. They are useful to prepare us for the encounter...but, in order not to deviate into narrow knowledge, it is necessary to rehumanise the event; to observe the work of art and 'listen to it…in silence'. A work of art communicates and within its essence it holds the artist's 'immaterial gift'...

Standing before a work of art's spiritual aesthetic and perceiving its artistic sensorial essence means uniting the two approaches in a single inspirational understanding, which being both affective and relational, is appropriate for revealing the work's true potential and brings out its vital and existing essence, in the mind of its admirers.

It is only when one has a full awareness of the mysterious flow which emanates and permeates us from a work of art, an understanding which goes beyond the details of the experts, that we are able to enter into a dialogue with the artist – and to appreciate the artist's gift, according to our individual sensibility.

A gift so pleasurable and fulfilling as if the mysterious rivers of the most profound vocations were flowing freely in a single riverbed.

A gift so precious and mysterious that often it is enshrouded in modesty, totally impenetrable to scans, infrared rays and any other technological investigations.

The 'Methodology for Virtual Restoration' is founded on these key concepts. It has obtained important recognition within the new 'Technology of cultural communication' of the Department of Cultural Heritage of CNR, ranging from the selection for the: Multi-quality Approach to Cultural Heritage-2006 to the meeting: Italian Spring in Japan 2007 as well as the invitation to participate in the GMFE- Guglielmo Marconi ICT Global Forum and Exhibition 2009 and finally a degree thesis Virtual Restoration: the contemporary debate and the contribution of Nadia Scardeoni by Caterina Cristoforo, which cites the 'Scardeoni Method' (Academy of Fine Arts of Catanzaro, 24 October 2008).

''...some strands of shiny black hair''. You discovered this description in a book by Venturi in 1915. From the veil of the Annunciation once upon a time it was possible to see her hair, some strands. You had already suspected this and Venturi gave you the confirmation of this. Tell us something more about this aspect of your research...

It has been a long journey backwards, a journey that caused general annoyance for raising questions and observations focusing on the critical institutional shortcomings concerning the problems of restoration, the protection and preservation of works of art.

However, through the analysis of an authentic masterpiece such as the ANNUNCIATION, and a totally new research method, which I named 'virtual restoration', I had the happy adventure of being able to reconstruct all the elements providing evidence of the clumsy censorship of those shiny strands of black hair...and what followed.

My research therefore concerns the restoration of the Annunciation Virgin's face as her artist had originally conceived her, documenting an anticanonical and revolutionary vision, which was aborted, for a banal and disrespectful approach in the private and public.

Before 1903 the Annunciation was property of Monsignor Vincenzo di Giovanni of Salaparuta. It was in that era that the portrait of Mary of Nazareth, posed by a young Sicilian maiden enshrouded in an azure mantle...with her little small curl having escaped from under the composure of the veil, was considered too anticanonical or disturbing for private devotion. The portrait was opportunely sanctified: the curl was covered up by heavy brush strokes and a halo was added.

The successive restoration (…in 42?) carried out in order to remove the layer of colour, uncovered the revelation which is still visible today, and which formed the basis of my original idea founded on the hypothesis of a voluntary scalpel abrasion on the right side (for the observer) of the ANNUNCIATION's face, which in turn gave rise to a misguided interpretation of the structure of her veil. The vital discovery of Adolfo Venturi's description, which allowed for the reconstruction of the events preceding my first hypothesis, was thus very important.

It supported the presence of the shadow but also- an unexpected and extraordinary fact- the existence of 'some strands of shiny black hair' [1], which was subsequently further confirmed by an Alinari image from the end of the nineteenth century. This sequence of dates embrace ten years of research and are collected in the multimedia work: ''Maria di Antonello'' which, following requests from academic friends, is about to become a book.

What does virtual restoration consist of in more detail?

Virtual Restoration was conceived in my mind simply to be able to electronically prefigure a high resolution image, an act of restoration, in this case the veils of the mantle, without further devastating one of the greatest masterpieces of ANTONELLO da Messina.

In summary, virtual restoration concerns a critical study of a pictorial work of art and develops ideas on interventions according to a project, which does not act creatively on an questionable ''flaw'', but tends to only re-establish that which reveals itself as ''documented truth''.

It represents a non invasive digital method prefiguring restoration interventions useful for the procedure of a real restoration of the work of arts themselves and it is included in the sphere of protection as underlined in article IV of the Charter of Restoration (Carta del Restauro, 1972) (safeguarding: a conservative measure which does not imply a direct intervention on the work of art itself).

It was applied to the portrait of the Annunciation of Antonello da Messina and subsequently presented to the Director of the Regional Gallery of Palazzo Abatellis in Palermo and proposed to the public online in the collection: 'Interlinea' of [2].

It is therefore an investigative technical-information tool aimed at historical-humanistic research suitable to refine our encounter with a work of art and its artist, used to form a dialogue which is essential for the understanding of the artist's art and not to create an extreme analysis on the artist's uncertainties....or regrets!

What projects have resulted from your innovative technology?

The experimental courses with CNR ITD-Istituto per le Tecnologie Didattiche in Palermo, held during the months of February and March 2008, consisted of seminars and formative programs of a technical-practical nature starting from the methodology of VIRTUAL RESTORATION.

These seminars enable one to acquire the essential notions for a deepened understanding of critical studies and historical research on works of art, prefiguring restoration interventions, using the most recent diagnostic techniques on the conservation of works of art, creating new professionalism in the sphere of the protection and safeguarding of artistic heritage. These are: expertise in pictorial integration for restoration laboratories, expertise in the compilation of cataloguing of multimedia identity fact sheets for the archives; expertise in didactic communication for museum education.

Currently the project: A DIGITAL ARCHIVE FOR SAFEGUARDING is under study.

The Laboratory's objective is to provide training for the protection and the sharing of artistic heritage.

It is possible for institutions interested to add significant works of art to the archive as subjects of study and widespread distribution, as well as creating a patronage by assigning small scholarships to the students involved, as freely agreed amongst the institutions.

In conceiving the idea of a DIGITAL ARCHIVE FOR SAFEGUARDING I identified one of its ''missions''. I believe that amongst the ''scholars'' of a work of art or the material or immaterial works of our artistic heritage, it is essential to give priority to young people who are following an educational journey in the sphere of the protection and conservation of artistic heritage...both in universities as well as in schools of higher artistic training and in secondary schools.

I also believe that a country worthy of its own artistic heritage should know how to use tools, methods and educational means which are not too onerous, in order to form a knowledge base as well as a critical conscience amongst the future safe guarders and art historians.

Finally, I also believe that the study and the multimedia communication of our artistic heritage is an ideal terrain for an intercultural dialogue, which, due to the unique value of its universal language, can build pathways of pacific sharing and understanding of original cultures.

''All art contributes to the greatest art of all, the art of living''

Bertolt Brecht



[1] ''The pensive Sicilian maiden is enshrouded like an Arab in an ample mantle which casts a shadow on her forehead and frames her marmoreal face; her mellow deep black eyes, are imbued with languor under her soft silky eyelids, illuminated by a ray of light; a line at the corners of her nose and at the tips of her lips accompany the slight narrowing of her eyes as if surprised by a sudden light. The shadow, which falls onto her forehead and is projected onto her left cheek, darkens the neck, overshadowing the luminous outline of the chin and the right cheek, leaving a glimpse of some strands of shiny black hair...'' <>

[2] Restoration of the ANNUNCIATION by Antonello da Messina Due to my very deep and personal bond to the Annunciation by Antonello da Messina...I carried out the 'virtual restoration' of the beautiful oval ''defaced'' by an irresponsible restorer in the 1950s <>



Abstract Virtual Restoration

Communication on "VIRTUAL RESTORATION", for the University Master:
Esperto di nanotecnologie per i beni culturali Unipa (19 February 2008)
Blog : <>




The lecture : "Maria di Antonello", ( <> ) is connected to the "cause" of Infanzia Patrimonio dell'Umanità (Childhood: A World Heritage), an appeal which Nadia Scardeoni has promoted since 2004, available to all scholastic, training and cultural institutions, where it is believed to be necessary to sow the seeds for a ''sustainable future''<>




Figure 1: The face of the Annunciation after virtual restoration

Figure 2: A sequence of the studies of the face of the Annunciation

Photographs courtesy of Tiziana Lanza by kind concession of Nadia Scardeoni










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