Assisi chapel finally restored after 1997 earthquake

Giotto's hand evident in frescoes

Assisi chapel finally restored after 1997 earthquake

Assisi, November 5 - After an earthquake and more than two years of restoration work, the striking Chapel of St. Nicholas in the lower Basilica of San Francis in Assisi is finally complete, revealing what experts say is proof that medieval master Giotto painted its frescoes. Restorers note that frescoes in the long-neglected chapel, which had been closed to the public for many years, are signed with the initials "GB" which are believed to represent Giotto di Bondone, who died in 1337. They hope that will silence critics who doubt Giotto had much of a role in their execution, and who argue that his followers and his workshop did most of the work. The damage inflicted by the 1997 earthquake that severely shook the upper and lower basilicas was the impetus needed to begin the restoration work on the chapel, dedicated to the 4th-century saint and painted by Giotto early in his career. "This is one of the first works of (Giotto's) artistic life and is of great importance to reconstruct the chronology of his work and that of his workshop," the chief restorer, Sergio Fusetti, told ANSA. In April 2010, Fusetti and his team began the very delicate work of restoring about 300 square meters of frescoes, including paintings of numerous saints, the apostles, stories from the life of St. Nicholas, as well as the figures of the Madonna and the Christ child, St. Francis of Assisi, St. John the Baptist and Mary Magdalene. The price tag of about 360,000 euros was covered by the financial institution, Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Perugia e Generali. The restoration means the chapel can now be enjoyed by the general public and art historians fascinated by Giotto, his workshop and his times. "For many years this chapel was closed (to the public) and used only rarely by the monks," said Fusetti. "Now the restoration will show the beauty and richness of the frescoes - found in poor condition," he added. The chapel was richly decorated because it was originally built as the burial spot of Gian Gaetano Orsini, a young deacon, and commissioned by his brother, a cardinal. The restoration work, which could be viewed by the public, was conducted at the same time as an exhibition, Colours of Giotto, in the spring and summer of 2010. As many as 30,000 visitors were allowed to climb the scaffolding, with a tour guide, and watch the restoration of the frescoes. The revitalized chapel of St. Nicholas will be officially inaugurated on December 6 by Italy's Culture Minister Lorenzo Ornaghi. The work has also drawn more art lovers and visitors, said Father Enzo Fortunato, spokesman for the Sacred Convent. "We believe that this restoration will help visitors to enjoy the beauty," said Fortunato, "and encourage the pilgrims to elevate their heart and their mind to God".

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