unrestored Madonna della Cintola-1   restored Madonna della Cintola-1
The Madonna della Cintola before restoration (left) and after restoration.

Which is more amazing – Michelangelo’s artworks in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel or how the frescoes there were restored?

For Father Kevin Lixey, the International Director of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums (PAVM), the restoration process is “almost as fascinating as the works of art themselves”.

He was in Singapore and gave a talk at a restaurant at Harding Road on Dec 14 to about 50 members and friends of the Asian Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums (APAVM) on “Unveiling Ancient Beauty – The hidden art of restoration in the Vatican Museums”.

The priest, who was on a tour of Singapore, Hong Kong and Philippines to give impetus to the work of APAVM, shared that few of the people who visit the Vatican Museums every year are aware of the incredible restoration work being done in six laboratories below the galleries. 

The work gives new life to artwork made from paint, wood, ceramic, metal, paper, mosaic and tapestry.

One of the most remarkable restoration works was that of a 16th century altarpiece painting by Italian painter Vincenzo Pagani called the “Madonna della Cintola” or “Our Lady of the Belt”, which had become unrecognisable after years of water damage while housed in an old church.

Nevertheless, after five years of historic and scientific research, and meticulous restoration, the Vatican restored it to its original glory, said Fr Lixey.

He also shared some of the new technologies employed in the restoration process, which include the use of infrared photography, laser, algae pastes and essential oils.

Fr Lixey also related the story of how a reporter once asked Pope Francis: “Holy Father, if you love the poor, why don’t you sell the Vatican art collection and solve the problem of world poverty with these riches?” It was said that the Pope’s response was: “Even the poor have need of beauty!”

The Vatican Museums house Christian and other artworks from the immense collection amassed by popes over the centuries.

The Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums (PAVM) was launched in 1983 to restore, conserve and promulgate these treasures. The group helps to fund about 70 percent of the Vatican Museums’ restoration budget.

In 2016, PAVM’s first Asian chapter was started in Singapore. Today, the Asian Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums (APAVM) has over 100 patrons with branches in Singapore and Hong Kong and soon-to-be the Philippines.
For more information on the PAVM and APAVM, visit vatican-patrons.org and apavm.com 

Fr Kevin Lixey speaking to members of the Asian Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums.