You most certainly haven’t seen Raphael’s Madonna recently, even if you have been to Florence’s Uffizi gallery during the past five years. Since May of 1999, the painting has been missing from its regular location, with a poor copy in its place. It has been transported to the Opificio della pietre dure, where it has been undergoing a particularly lengthy and disconcertingly quiet restoration.
The Madonna of the Goldfinch, or Madonna del Cardellino, suffered some traumatic damage only decades after Raphael painted it around 1506-7. According to Giorgio Vasari, the work was crushed when a landslip destroyed the house of its owner, Lorenzo Nasi, on 17 November, 1548. He reports that the pieces of the painting were recovered from the rubble, and reassembled by Lorenzo’s son, Battista. In addition to a 16th century restoration, perhaps by Michele di Ridolfo, evidence of an 18th century intervention has been detected.
This current restoration under Opificio director Cristina Acidini is being carried out by Marco Ciatti and Cecilia Frosinini. Following several years of tense silence regarding the condition of the work since its disappearance from the Uffizi, we began to wonder if something had gone drastically wrong.
Yet, it now appears as if we should see the work in about a month. On 17 December 2002, a conference was held at the Opificio delle pietre dure in Florence in celebration of the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the painting restoration laboratory in 1932 by Ugo Procacci, and an announcement was made that the work would be returned to view within a year. It was at this time that the Opificio released a single photograph of the work in showing the restoration underway, along with a technical report.