Ten years of delicate, painstaking work has paid off, finally, in the restoration of Raphael's glorious painting to its true colors. Gorgeous!
From the Telegraph.co.uk:
Raphael's Madonna shines forth beneath grime
By Nick Pisa in Rome
Last Updated: 1:45am BST 01/04/2008
A Raphael painting has been revealed in its true colours after centuries of neglect.
The Madonna del Cardellino, or Madonna of the Goldfinch, was in a poor condition after successive restorations left it with fading colours and splits in the wood panel on which it was painted.
But following a repair and cleaning lasting 10 years, it now boasts the bright blue sky and brilliant red drapery which the artist intended.
The Madonna was a wedding gift from Raphael to his friend Lorenzo Nasi in 1506. In 1548, the panel broke into 17 pieces when Nasi's house was destroyed by an earthquake.
Marco Ciatti, who was in charge of the restoration, said yesterday: "When we unwrapped the painting and I saw it horizontal for the first time instead of on a wall I was actually filled with doubt.
"It was a wood sandwich: full of nails, glue and various layers of paint from other restorations carried out during the centuries.
"The beautiful blue sky of the background had turned a dull grey. The problem was that after it was damaged it was badly restored with nails and oil paint."
As part of the process, the panel was X-rayed from several different angles to distinguish Raphael's brushwork from that of later artists who tried to cover up the damaged surface.
Mr. Ciatti said: "There were also other materials that had ruined the splendid colours of the original painting."
Special thinning agents were used to clean away the grime of 500 years so as not to damage Raphael's original paintwork.
By removing the grime they managed to uncover details such as countryside scenes in the background that had been hidden for years.
The colours on the painting were restored using as closely as possible oils that Raphael himself would have used.
Raphael arranged the three figures - Mary, Christ and the young John the Baptist - in a triangular composition favoured by Renaissance artists.
The Virgin is holding a book, which identifies her as Sedes Sapientiae ("Seat of Wisdom"). The goldfinch is a symbol of Christ's future death on the cross. St John offers the goldfinch to Christ as a warning of his fate.
Mr. Ciatti blamed one of the painting's past owners, Cardinal Giovan Carlo of the Medici family, for much of the damage. He said: "The decision to use those nails and glue was dramatic because it hid the colours of the painting.
"But we have managed after 10 years of hard, painstaking and careful work to bring the painting back to its original glory."
The painting is due to go on display in Rome in December before returning to the Uffizi gallery in Florence.