Restoring Nicolas Froment’s Priceless Triptych “Resurrection of Lazarus”
How funding the restoration of a historic masterpiece proved life-changing for one very special American Art Enthusiast and Friends of the Uffizi Gallery
Compiled by Lisa Marie Browne and Robin Jay
“My first trip to Florence, Italy, with Friends of the Uffizi Gallery was truly life changing. I had been to Florence before, on a tour, but not nearly as intimate an experience. During our trip in 2014, upon seeing the restorations in process (Leonardo’s Adoration of the Magi, and Mary Magdalene) along with finished works that other FOUG members had supported, I was overcome with a sense of purpose. I wanted to leave my small mark on the same city that embraced and cultivated these great artists and the masterpieces they created for generations around the world to enjoy,” said Susan D. McGregor, a volunteer Director of Friends of the Uffizi Gallery based in Palm Beach, Florida, and Founder of Bellissima Luxury & Fine Art Services in Fort Lauderdale.
“Upon reviewing the FOUG website, I was immediately drawn to the Nicolas Froment triptych, ‘Martha meets Jesus Christ; Resurrection of Lazarus; Dinner at the Pharisee’s House’,” McGregor continued. “Although it was very difficult to actually see the work due to the layers of varnish, the story of Martha’s faith in Jesus and the remarkable events surrounding her brother Lazarus’ resurrection, as depicted by Froment, resonated strongly within my heart…it called to me and I knew this was my restoration, my ‘little purpose.’ I cannot fully express the emotion I felt upon seeing the completed restoration; specifically, Martha’s tears…” (See insets on page 121.)
Gratitude From A Princess
Contessa Maria Vittoria Colonna Rimbotti, born Princess Colonna di Paliano in Naples, is President of the Friends of the Uffizi Gallery in the United States and the Amici degli Uffizi in Florence. Each year, she graciously visits South Florida to thank personally U.S. members.
“For the supporters of the Uffizi, every completed restoration is a new source of pride and satisfaction, and even more so when, as in the present case, the work turns out to be so full of surprises and reveals so much new information as to constitute a true ‘case study’, which is to say such an important opportunity for research and investigation that it merits publication in a volume that gathers together all of the findings and documentation, a volume of interest as much to specialists and scholars as to art lovers. And given its importance and extraordinary beauty, the current painting will soon be presented in an exhibition at the Uffizi,” said Contessa Maria Vittoria. “But in this case our satisfaction and joy are even greater, since this is the first publication on a restoration that was sponsored by our American friends.
“In its 10 years of activity, the Friends of the Uffizi Gallery has supported our museum with passion and enthusiasm, making it possible to restore more than 30 important works including sculptures, paintings and tapestries. I would therefore like to thank the Friends and, with my deepest admiration and appreciation, I would like to thank donor Susan McGregor, who so generously chose to restore this triptych, a work of art that has struck and moved her greatly… Once the restoration was complete, she wrote the following words marked by rare sensitivity: ‘Thank you for filling my life with such beauty and the opportunity to go back in time to capture the skill and artistry of Nicolas Froment for all the world to see. I have received so much more than I have given.’”
Froment’s ‘Resurrecton of Lazarus’
The findings uncovered during the restoration proved so remarkable they warranted published documenting in the book Nicolas Froment: The Restoration of the Resurrection of Lazarus.
We learn that in 1461, the French painter Nicolas Froment completed a triptych featuring the Resurrection of Lazarus for the bishop of Terni, Francesco Coppini, who was the papal ambassador in Flanders, France and England.
Ending up at the monastery of Bosco ai Frati in Mugello a few years later, the painting is one of the oldest altarpieces influenced by Flemish culture in Florentine territory and is today one of the most important examples of non-Italian fifteenth-century painting in the Uffizi Gallery. “[Coppini] was an erudite and ambitious bishop, much admired for his juridical skills by none other than Leon Battista Alberti; he collected art and precious books, befriended the most renowned politicians of his time, was wealthy and at the peak of a brilliant diplomatic career when he decided to commission a French artist (perhaps encountered in Flanders) with a triptych around the year 1459,” said Eike D. Schmidt, Director of the Uffizi Galleries, Florence.
“Those regions were the throbbing heart of Europe around the mid-fifteenth century, until the Burgundian wars and the death of Charles the Bold in 1477. Italian bankers were doing roaring trade, merchant trades were flourishing, the sophisticated and luxurious tastes of royal courts imposed themselves over the rest of the continent. It must have been impossible for our bishop, the Prato-born Francesco Coppini (of humble origins), to resist the temptation of enjoying all that luxury now that it was within his means. So he ended up commissioning a painting that was most probably intended for his private chapel, which moreover served as proof of his contemporary cosmopolitan culture.
“The fact that his choice befell upon the young artist Nicolas Froment (whose expressionism was at times ruthless, ironical, full of sharp edges), who had the intellectual King René of Anjou amongst his patrons once he moved to the South of France shortly afterwards, tells us about Coppini’s ‘strong’ and nearly reckless tastes. This arouses our imagination regarding what that chapel, which the prelate had probably never seen accomplished, would have been like.
“The Sala del Camino on the premises of the Uffizi Gallery, where Froment’s triptych is presently on display, may ideally substitute the intimate and definitely valuable space that its patron certainly had in mind. The artwork has returned to its original splendour … following restoration work that has become a breeding ground for research and an opportunity for unexpected discoveries.”
Between Drawing & Paint
One of these unexpected discoveries was the artist’s ‘drawing all prima’ — his work between drawing and paint, as documented by Gianluca Poldi. “Through non-invasive analysis, we have acquired new information about the state of preservation of Nicolas Froment’s Uffizi triptych and the painting method used. In addition to identifying the pigments employed, this research has also revealed an underdrawing, complete with lots of changes made over the course of the work,” Poldi explained. “The discovery of this underdrawing in this case is of particular significance given the importance of Froment for the spread of Flemish style in southern France and so in the Mediterranean, including the Neapolitan context…
“The most important change was the insertion of the man to the right of Christ in the Supper, pointing to Mary, Martha’s sister. We see no trace of a drawing of this figure, nor of the dog at his feet, whereas the complete drawing of Christ’s garment is clearly visible. His importance in the economy of the Gospel story of the supper in Bethany (John 12:1-11), which leads to identifying him as Judas Iscariot, is such as to imply his presence. This figure, which is quite complex, might have been drawn at a later time, using a non-carbonaceous medium and so one transparent to inferred radiation, for example the metal gall ink.”
Become A FOUG Member To Support Future Restorations
Friends of the Uffizi Gallery was established in 2006 as the United States “sister” organization to the Amici degli Uffizi to raise funds and contribute to the safeguarding and growth of the Uffizi Gallery. Created by the Medici family from their extensive private collections, the Uffizi Gallery is considered the world’s first public museum with over 1.8 million visitors a year. In 2013, The Times of London named the Uffizi Gallery the world’s greatest gallery.
In the past decade, funds raised for preserving and restoring the artworks of the Uffizi Gallery, one of the world’s most important cultural heritage sites, have been put to good use. Over 40 important restorations which include paintings, altarpieces and sculptures are now complete, with plaques honoring patrons proudly on display in the Uffizi Gallery. Since its inception, the Friends of the Uffizi Gallery’s membership base has continued to grow each year, now boasting a diverse membership of art collectors, connoisseurs and appreciators throughout the United States and abroad. The Board’s range of expertise and support is considered by many to be one of the organization’s most valuable assets in its quest to preserve the past for future generations.
Attend The 2018 Florentine Weekend
Every two years, the Friends of the Uffizi Gallery organizes a cultural Florentine weekend. Members who attend enjoy exclusive activities at the Uffizi Gallery, featuring behind the scenes tours, receptions at private homes and cultural events. For more information, visit www.friendsoftheuffizigallery.org or call 561-289-4090.