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Francesco Salviati, Deposition from the Cross. Florence, Museum of Santa Croce

Francesco Salviati, Deposition from the Cross
Oil on panel, 1547-48
Florence, Museum of Santa Croce


Artist Biography

Born in Florence around 1509 with the name Francesco de' Rossi. Friend of Vasari, he was pupil of Baccio Bandinelli and Andrea del Sarto; in 1531 he settled in Rome, where he entered the service of Cardinal Salviati, from whom he took his name. His first known Roman work (Annunciation, ca. 1533, San Francesco a Ripa) already shows his assimilation of the post-Raphaelesque Roman manner; the following collaboration in the decoration of the Oratory of San Giovanni Decollato (Visitation, 1538) with Iacopino del Conte and other artists reveals the evolution of his style, especially in reference to Perin del Vaga, placing Salviati among the major exponents of late Mannerism.

From 1539 to 1541 he stayed in Venice (decorations of the Sala di Apollo in Palazzo Grimani, with Giovanni da Udine; Deposition from the Cross for the Corpus Domini Church, Viggiù, Santa Maria del Rosario) and travelled to the region of Romagna; the strong influence due to his direct acquaintance with Parmigianino is evident in this immediately following artworks (Charity, 1543-44, Uffizi Gallery). From 1543 to 1548 he was in Florence, where he painted frescoes in Palazzo Vecchio (Scenes from the life of Furius Camillus, 1545) and several altarpieces (Deposition from the Cross, 1548, Santa Croce), as well as providing cartoons for the Medici tapestry manufacture.

The fluid and elegant decorative style of Salviati once more evolved after his return to Rome (1548), due to the influence of Michelangelo's late works, which characterizes in varying degrees artworks by Salviati of this period (frescoes in Santa Maria dell'Anima, 1549-50; in the oratory of San Giovanni Decollato, 1550-51; in a room of Palazzo Ricci Sacchetti and in the chapel of the Chigi family in Santa Maria del Popolo, ca. 1554). Except for a short trip to Paris (1555-57), he did not leave Rome; among his last works, the Stories of the Virgin in San Marcello al Corso and the frescoes in the Room of the Farnese Deeds in Palazzo Farnese. He died in Rome in 1563.


Artwork History


The painting was realized in 1547-48; it was probably the last work done by Salviati before leaving Florence. The frame, also dated 1547-48, is attributed to Battista di Marco del Tasso.

At the time of the 1966 flood of Florence, it was already in the rooms of the Museo dell'Opera di Santa Croce.


The panel was commissioned to Salviati by Agostino Dini, an important Florentine landowner, for his chapel located on the counter-façade of Santa Croce, where he was buried when he died in 1548.


Artistic technique

The support consists of six medium quality poplar planks, with through marrow and several knots that were carved out and filled with shaped wooden inserts. Biscuits have been inserted in the planks’ thickness, along the joints; three trapezoidal section crossbars are applied on the back.

There is no cushioning material between the wooden support and the ground layer, consisting of a double layer of gypsum and animal glue in double layer. There is an imprimatura of animal glue.

The preparatory drawing, without any visible traces of spolvero, is carried out with diluted, shaded brushstrokes; the infrared reflectography images reveal that the drawing corresponds almost perfectly to the final pictorial realization, with very few variations, amongst which an eye of the Virgin, slightly shifted compared to the underdrawing.

The binder of the paint is linseed oil and the colours are layered in rather thin drafts, allowing to obtain particularly refined effects of iridescent colours in some of the draperies. Christ’s mantle is painted with natural ultramarine, whilst for the other blues Salviati used azurite. To model the fleshtones, the painter first defined the chiaroscuro with a very diluted transparent brown; for the midtones he chose warm shades, warmer than the final layers, applied with pasty brushstrokes. The XRF analysis (X-Ray Fluorescence) revealed a peculiarity of Salviati's painting technique: the addition of only lead white to lighten the greens, without the use of lead and tin yellow, used instead for highlights or precious iridescence effects. For the bright reds, the pigment used is cinnabar, whilst the more muted shades, dark or purple, are realized with red lake mixed with other pigments.


Conservation Conditions

The most evident deterioration of the panel painting was due to the water and alluvial material that impregnated the support and ground and paint layers in 1966. The soaking and subsequent drying caused a considerable shrinkage of the wood, both in height and width, that caused many blisters and losses of the ground and paint layers. The wooden integrations of a previous intervention had undergone strong deformations, creating signs on the painted surface. The crosspieces had completely lost their function.

The whole structure was extremely fragile due to the breakage of the chemical-physical bonds that the powerful action of water, mud and naphtha had caused. Many small fragments of paint were scattered all over the artwork’s surface. In addition to this damage, there was also deterioration due to previous restoration work. There were, in fact, many fills and oil repaints, also above the original layers, especially in the upper part of the painting. Previous fixing operations had been carried out: this was evident due to the presence of small holes, present on the pictorial film, due to the needles of the syringes used for injecting an adhesive.

The frame was in very precarious conservation conditions, entirely covered in mud; it presented cleavage and blistering in its ground layers, upon more than 80% of the total surface.


Restoration work

In 1984, when the restoration of this painting was resumed after the first-aid facing operations immediately after the flood, the first operation carried out was the fixing of the various layers and their re-adhesion. Resinous substances (such as Paraloid B-72 used for the post-flood facing) hindering the penetration of animal glue used as a consolidating agent, were first extracted with compresses of trichloroethylene. The surface was heated with an infrared-emitting source in order improve the penetration of rabbit glue within the paint layers; the cleavages and detachments were flattened with the use of a heated spatula. This procedure had to be repeated several times to obtain satisfactory results.

Subsequently, in each individual plank the tracks of the crossbars and the deformed previous wooden inserts were repaired with small blocks of aged poplar wood. The planks were then placed one next to each other; the degree of warping of each plank was evaluated. An adequate degree of curvature was decided for their re-assembling together. The desired curvature for the planking was reproduced on wooden shapes used as a guide during all the subsequent phases of the intervention on the support. The edges of the planks were rectified to accommodate V-shaped inserts used to connect the planks together; the wedge shaped inserts were glued with a vinyl adhesive. After restoring the integrity of the planking, the crossbar tracks were adapted to accommodate three new crosspieces in lamellar oak wood. The back of the painting was then protected with wax, paraffin and colophony.

The paint layers still presented cleavage and detaching phenomena; a total consolidation of the ground layers with animal glue was carried out under vacuum pressure, to guarantee a more even treatment.

To remove the many extensive overpaints, a mixture of organic solvents was used, either supported in stearic emulsion (wax emulsion) or thickened with Carbopol with the addition of a surfactant (Ethomeen C/25). The most tenacious repaints were removed with an alkaline Carbopol gel. This operation was completed with mechanical removal under the control of the microscope using a surgeon’s scalpel, constantly verifying the cleaning levels under UV fluorescence. Solvent surfactant gels were then used for the final level of cleaning.

The losses were filled with traditional gesso infills, with gypsum and rabbit glue; the surface of the fill was textured, according to the surrounding layers, to obtain surface continuity. The inpainting was carried out with the selezione cromatica technique, using mainly watercolour paints; due to the considerable size of the losses, an almost exclusive use of watercolours was preferred to a combined use of watercolours followed by varnish paints, generally used for the final toning of the inpaints. The abrasions were slightly glazed to quench their impact and thus improve the artwork’s legibility. Mastic resin was used for the varnish, first applied with a brush, then in a spray.

The frame was consolidated with injections of alcohol and rabbit glue. The cleaning was carried out with a specifically formulated solvent-surfactant gel; turpentine was also used. The missing parts were reconstructed according to the original and in compliance with the principle of reversibility. The losses of the gilding were filled with gypsum and rabbit glue; Armenian bole was applied, and the losses were then water gilded with gold leaf. The gold was finally burnished and glazed to tone it to the original. Beeswax was used as protective coating.


Summary colophon

Francesco Salviati
Deposition, 1548, oil on panel, 495 x 285 cm
Museum of the Opera di Santa Croce, Santa Croce, Florence

Director of restoration work: Marco Ciatti

Technical direction and restoration
Ground and paint layers: Mariarosa Sailer, with the collaboration of Francesca Berni, Elisabetta Bianco, Emanuela Bonaccini and Dedde Nozzoli for the inpainting
Wooden support: Ciro Castelli, Mauro Parri, Andrea Santacesaria
Intervention on the frame: Firm C.S. Martelli



Observation in raking light, through the microscope, and under UV rays: Mariarosa Sailer
False colour UV, IR false color: Annette Keller
IR reflectography, X-radiograph: Alfredo Aldrovandi
Cross sections with optical and scanning electronic microscope: Mauro Matteini, Arcangelo Moles, Carlo Lalli
FT-IR Spectrophotometry: Mauro Matteini, Arcangelo Moles, Giancarlo Lanterna
X-ray fluorescence: Pietro Moioli, Claudio Seccaroni (ENEA)
Reflectance spectrophotometry investigation: Alfredo Aldrovandi, Natalia Cavalca



http://www.treccani.it/enciclopedia/francesco-salviati (Dictionary-Biographical Dictionary)