Brussels, Jun 2003
An Italian medieval fresco, hidden for around fifty years after an accident with some glue, has been restored following the discovery that bacteria can do the job better than any solvent.
The 'Conversion and Battle of Saint Efisio' by Spinello Aretino decorated the Camposanto cemetery in Pisa until it was bombed during the Second World War. Restoration attempts began immediately afterwards, but a technique involving organic glue and canvas to pull the frescoes from the wall intact resulted in one painting vanishing under a layer of glue. Art restorers have tried in vain to remove the glue over the years, but have made little progress and last year were accused of damaging the painting when they tried using a powerful solvent.
Scientists from Milan University then demonstrated that the bacteria Pseudomonas stutzeri, when applied to the painting with water on cotton wool, could eat through 80 per cent of the glue in around ten hours. 26 square metres of the fresco have now been uncovered, and the complete work is expected to be returned to the cemetery next year.
Claudia Sorlini, a professor at the University of Milan, along with colleagues from around Europe, will now use the bacteria to restore other works of art, starting with the ancient Greek monuments at the Epidaurus archaeological site.