Historical background

This large panel, one of the most important examples of Italian mannerism, present in all of the art history textbooks, was originally in the chapel of the Compagnia della Croce di Giorno in the church of San Francesco in Volterra. There, it was in perfect harmony with the Stories of the Cross frescoed in the chapel in the early 15th century by Cenni di Francesco di ser Cenni. The altarpiece remained in place until 1788, when it was moved first to the chapel of San Carlo in Volterra Cathedral, then to the Palazzo dei Priori in 1905, and finally to the Pinacoteca Civica in 1980. The Compagnia volterrana, a flagellant confraternity, commissioned the painting in 1521, as indicated by the signature and date (on the base of the ladder). The painting was therefore completed shortly after Rosso’s stay in Piombino at the court of the Appiani (where, as Giorgio Vasari recounts, "he worked [...] a panel with a beautiful dead Christ, and made him a small chapel", now lost) and his subsequent period in Naples. In the same year, Rosso was commissioned another altarpiece for Volterra, the so-called Villamagna Altarpiece, now in the Museo Diocesano d'Arte Sacra.

Restoration Project

Following an examination of the work’s state of conservation and in conjunction with the 500th anniversary of the altarpiece’s creation (1521-2021), it was decided to draw up a plan for diagnostic and technical-scientific investigations. These investigations would in turn determine the necessary maintenance work to be carried out on both the structural (i.e. its wooden support) and pictorial level (i.e. restoration of the paint film and of previous restorations). The treatment of the support specifically is necessitated by the previous and now inadequate restoration work carried out in the twentieth century. Specifically, the following investigations will be undertaken: Infrared Reflectography, U.V. Fluorescence, Radiography, Infrared False Colour, XRF investigations and Chemical investigations (stratigraphic sections and enzyme immunoassays). Together, these analyses will allow throw light on Rosso Fiorentino's working methods, his peculiar painting technique and the many other secrets hidden within this 16th-century Florentine masterpiece.
Once the data resulting from these analyses has been acquired, the restoration will be carried out in the same room of the Pinacoteca in Volterra where the work is kept. The room will be modified and adapted for the occasion; a worksite will be set up so that museum visitors can witness the restoration.

Thanks to the generous contribution of the non-profit foundation Friends of Florence (in the person of foundation president Simonetta Brandolini d'Adda) and in particular Kathe and John Dyson and the Alexander Bodini Foundation, the project has been approved by the Soprintendenza Archeologia Belle Arti e Paesaggio for the provinces of Pisa and Livorno, and by the Municipality and Diocese of Volterra. Work will begin in September 2021 and is expected for completion in the following autumn.

Daniele Rossi