Lanfranco and Scrivelli – Two Giovannis of the Parish Church in Lastovo
Conservation research have cast new light on issues of authorship of the six panels of the polyptych from the main altar of the Parish Church of Sts. Cosmas and Damian in Lastovo – four of them were attributed to Giovanni Lanfranco and the remaining two to Giovanni Scrivelli. The paintings were later restored at the Croatian Conservation Institute, where injuries were treated, unstable parts were consolidated and traces of previous interventions removed, thus giving the paintings back an appearance of their original splendour.
The polyptych on the main altar of the Parish Church of Sts. Cosmas and Damian in Lastovo on the island of Lastovo is a work of two Italian 17th-century painters: Giovanni Lanfranco and Giovanni Scrivelli. A whole series of archival records have been preserved, making it possible to reconstruct the events surrounding the commission of six panels for the polyptych. These records cast new light on the issues of attributing individual panels to the two mentioned artists.
The six fields of the polyptych are framed by architecture of a stone-carved altar. At the centre of the composition there is a painting depicting Sts. Cosmas and Damien, patron saints of the church. The saints are portrayed with books in their hands, an angel is hovering above them and between them there is depiction of the island of Lastovo in the open sea. The author of the painting is, beyond any doubt, Giovanni Lanfanco, as confirmed by his signature on the ridge of the book held by one of the saints. In the attic of the altar God the Father is depicted, and flanking the central panel, four smaller paintings depict: St. Peter, St. Paul, St. Joseph and St. Jerome.
From the archival records
According to Radoslav Tomić, archival records of the purchase of the painting were published by Frano Radić in 1895. They indicate that it was a Lastovo man, Don Anton Bogdanović-Deodato, who was responsible for commissioning the paintings. In 1631, as he was representing the absent parish priest, he raised 121 ducats from the parishioners. He advised the commune to build and furnish the main altar of the parish church. The same year the Lastovo Council entrusted the money for the paintings to Don Anton Bogdanović-Deoadato “to let them be painted in Rome by some noteworthy man. Should one hundred and one ducats not suffice, let him spend more, just let a fine piece be procured.”
Surviving documents provide a series of valuable records on the origin of the paintings, their authors and payments. Duke Andrija Basegli confirms that the six paintings arrived to Lastovo on the 28th of February 1633, having been sent from Rome by Don Anton Bogdanović-Deoadato. On the 14th of April 1632 Giovanni Lanfanco received payment for making three smaller paintings: God the Father, St. Jerome and St. Joseph, and on the 21st of July of the same year, for yet another painting – the central altarpiece depicting Sts. Cosmas and Damian. At the same time, Giovanni Scrivelli received payment on two occasions for making two smaller paintings depicting St. Peter and St. Paul.
The new attribution
In contradiction to some previous authors who claimed that Lanfranco had painted only the central panel with Sts. Cosmas and Damian, R. Tomić analyzed and compared the records and the paintings, and attributed to Giovanni Lanfanco the paintings depicting St. Jerome, St. Joseph and God the Father. Scrivelli is thereby believed to be the author of only two panels of the polyptych: St. Peter and St. Paul.
Conservation and restoration treatments
All panels of the polyptych were restored at the Croatian Conservation Institute workshop in Split. The first treatment was carried out on the central panel depicting Sts. Cosmas and Damian. The painting was restored in 1999, prior to being exhibited in the Vatican, as part of an exhibition titled The Croats – Christianity, Culture, Art. The treatment resulted in the removal of traces from a 1971 restoration, which was carried out at the former Regional institute for the protection of cultural monuments in Split.
The cleaning of a face of the painting consisted in removing the varnishes and retouches from previous treatments, together with the remains of the original varnish which was not fully removed in the earlier reatoration. The existing layer of damar varnish was removed with ethanol, and the retouches with ammonium-hydroxide. Residues of the original varnish were removed by combining the chemical action of ammonium-hydroxide and the additional mechanical cleaning with a surgical scalpel. Wax putties were mechanically removed from the face of the painting. Given that the painting was stable, it was decided not to detach it from the canvas onto which it was lined, but to simply even out the deformations of the canvas. Edges of the painting were strengthened by pasting strips of new canvas (the so-called strip lining). The same wax-resin mixture that was used in 1971 to paste the painting onto a new canvas was used again for the pasting (the mixture was prepared after a well-known recipe used in the Croatian Conservation Institute workshop in Split). After stretching the canvas onto a new frame, the injuries of the paint layer were reconstructed with a glue-chalk preparation. Retouch was done in varnish-bound pigments based on ketone resins, and the final layer of matte varnish was applied in spray. In addition to this, a new gilded decorative frame was made for the painting.
The previous restoration of the remaining five panels of the polyptych was performed in 1974, also at the Regional institute for the protection of cultural monuments in Split. In 2003, three paintings by Giovanni Lanfranco - God the Father, St. Joseph and St. Jerome - were brought for a new conservation treatment to the Croatian Conservation Institute workshop in Split. The remaining two panels of the polyptych – St. Peter and St. Paul by Giovanni Scrivelli – were restored in 2005. On that occasion, traces of all previous restoration treatments were removed, including the fibreboard panels onto which all five paintings were pasted with a wax mixture. All paintings were found to be in a similar condition, displaying signs of the same type of degradation. It was therefore that all five paintings underwent the similar phases of conservation treatment.
Paintings were detached from the fibreboard panels by applying controlled heating from the face side, over a Melinex foil. Once the high temperature had softened the wax mixture, the paintings were mechanically detached from the panels, carefully, using thin metal trowels. A portion of the wax mixture passed onto the faces of the paintings and pasted the Melinex foil as it was cooling. The foil was kept on top of the face in the course of the cleaning of the back side, to ensure that the paint layer remained stable. Residues of the wax mixture on the back side were removed mechanically, with a surgical scalpel. The cleaning was done with the help of a magnifier, so that the paste could be removed as thoroughly as possible, and to avoid damaging the canvas fibres. After the back side was cleaned, the Melinex foil was removed from the faces of the paintings. Parts of the wax mixture that had penetrated onto the faces of the paintings were removed mechanically. To remove the layers of varnish and retouch, cotton wool swabs with acetone were used, and rinsed with white spirit. Earlier wax-based putties were removed mechanically, using a surgical scalpel. Canvas injuries were treated by inserting inlays of a new canvas, shaped to fit the shape of an injury. The paintings were lined onto new canvases, glued with Florentine paste and stretched onto new frames. To reconstruct the injuries to the paint layer, a toned chalk-glue preparation was used, and retouch was done with varnish-based pigments based on ketone resins. A matte varnish spray was used as the final varnish.
- Cvito Fisković, Lastovski spomenici, Split, 1966
- G. P. Bernini, Giovanni Lanfranco (1582–1647), Parma, 1985
- Hrvatski biografski leksikon, 2, Zagreb, 1989, pp. 68–69.
- Kruno Prijatelj, Barok u Dalmaciji, Zagreb, 1982, pp. 832–833.
- The Croats - Christianity, Culture, Art, (ed.) V. Marković, Zagreb–Vatican, 1999, pp. 512–513, Cat. No. 88 (R. Tomić)
- Radoslav Tomić, Giovanni Lanfranco na Lastovu, in: Zbornik 1. kongresa hrvatskih povjesničara umjetnosti, Zagreb, 2004, pp. 227–235.