Picture: Sunday Times via Artwatch
Final installment of Michael Daley's devastating indictment of the Sistine Chapel cleaning is now available on the Artwatch blog. It's only online at the moment, but I do hope it gets published to ensure a permanent record. The research is meticulous and the argument simply overwhelming. As he says of the details above:
if the after-cleaning state (as shown above right) had truly recovered the original appearance as left by Michelangelo in 1512, there could be no plausible explanation of how the painting might then have progressed towards the greater degrees of finish, modelling and sharpness that were seen (left) to have existed underneath the dirt immediately before the “cleaning”.
Scholars, curators and journalists were carried away by enthusiasm for the new Michelangelo who emerged from the cleaning. Tragically they weren't seeing a new Michelangelo, but rather the ravaged ghost of the old Michelangelo, wrecked by an aggressive programme of scrubbing that obliterated fine details and destroyed tonal relationships. Daley documents the vituperative attacks on the restorers' critics, and the argumentative acrobatics of their defenders. The reputations of some great scholars, like John Shearman, will forever be tarnished by their foolish support for this destructive restoration.
Artwatch's uncompromising stance has won it many enemies, and even sympathetic observers have regarded it as somewhat bombastic. But, to borrow a phrase of Churchill's, you can't compromise between the fire and the fire brigade; there is no reasonable middle ground here. As Artwatch warned from the start, this restoration has wrecked one of the greatest monuments of human culture.