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Baldini, Umberto

Date born: 1921

Place Born: Pitigliano, near Grosseto Italy

Date died: 2006

Place died: Marina di Massa, Italy

Historian of the Italian Renaissance; headed restoration in Italy after Arno River flood, 1966. Baldini studied art history under Mario Salmi (q.v.) at the University of Florence. In the 1940's began working as a conservator in Florence. After the war, he was appointed a temporary worker in the restoration office in 1949, housed at the time in the loggia of the Uffizi. He rose to Uffizi conservation director, and, during the early morning hours of November 4, 1966, it fell to him to try and prevent the sudden flooding of the Arno River from pouring into the museum's storerooms. Despite personally sandbagging the Uffizi doors (it was a holiday and most museum workers were on vacation), the conservation labs were submerged, damaging more than 1,000 medieval and Renaissance paintings, sculptures and frescoes. Baldini took over the restoration of hundreds of these artworks, not only at the Uffizi, but also in organizing efforts at other museums, libraries and churches. He helped to hire and train hundreds of assistants to dry, clean and restore artworks and worked with experts to develop new restoration techniques. As a result of this campaign, the Florentine state restoration laboratories were merged into the historic 'Opificio dei Medici' (located in a Medici building), which had taken lead role after the 1966 catastrophe. Baldini became the director in 1970 of this new body, now known as the Opificio delle Pietre Dure. He reorganized the museum’s new conservation facilities, creating a single institute with training programs for students. In 1972 he organized an exhibition on the conservation works damaged the flood. His important book on conservation-a fundamental work-Teoria del restauro e unità di metodologia, appeared in 1978. Baldini moved to Rome in 1983 as director of the Istituto Centrale per il Restauro, the most important conservation institute in Italy. As director, he and his wife, Ornella Casazza, led the project to clean and restore the Masaccio frescoes in the Brancacci Chapel of the Carmine Church in Florence. Using as their guide colors from a portion of the fresco hidden behind an altar--and very nearly original--the restorers brought Masaccio’s masterpiece back to vivid colors, avoiding the kind of criticism later applied to the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Baldini published a book on this project as well, La Cappella Brancacci, in 1990. He retired from the Institute in 1987. However, he continued to write about restoration, and to contribution to conservation in his role as President of the ‘Universitá Internazionale dell’Arte’ (International University of Art or UIA) in Florence. Using the famous Cimabue Crucifix in the Basilica Santa Croce as the prime example Baldini published Brunelleschi e Donatello nella Sagrestia Vecchia di S. Lorenzo in 1989. Baldini contributed art reviews in Italian art journals, including Critica d'arte, Arte documento, Museologia, Bollettino d'arte, Commentari and Antichità viva. He was president of the Horne Museum, the museum-home of the British historian of Renaissance art, Herbert Horne (q.v.). In 2004 he joined other Italian art historians in authenticating wooden crucifix as an early work of Michelangelo, still controversial. Baldini died after a long illness at the age of 84, shortly before he was to deliver a speech at a conference on the 40th anniversary of the flood.. His funeral was held at the church of San Giuseppe Vecchio in Marina di Massa, Tuscany.

Baldini was known as an authority on Michelangelo, Botticelli, Masaccio and Della Robbia family. His restoration work was open to criticism, some asserting that the subtleties of the Brancacci frescos had been effaced. His bold restoration moves during the Arno flood saved countless works; he removed entire frescoes from church walls to protect them from corrosive salts seeping through masonry from basement crypts.
Giulia Savio University of Genoa-Italy

Home Country:  Italy

Sources:   Numero speciale dedicato a Umberto Baldini. Critica d'arte 69 no. 32 (December 2007); [obituaries:] Lapucci, Roberta. “Umberto Baldini” Arte documento 22: 286-287, 2006; "Umberto Baldini." Times (London), August 26, 2006, p. 73, Lavietes, Stuart. "Umberto Baldini, 84, Restorer Who Saved Italy's Treasures." New York Times August 22, 2006, p. C11;

Bibliography: Palazzo Vecchio e i quartieri monumentali. Florence: Tip.Giuntina, 1950; Mostra di opere d'arte restaurate: settima esposizione. Soprintendenza alle Gallerie per le Provincie di Firenze, Arezzo e Pistoia, Gabinetto dei Restauri. Florence: Tipografia Giuntina, 1953; Il Rinascimento nell'Italia centrale. Bergamo: Istituto italiano d'arti grafiche, 1962; Umanesimo e Rinascimento. Florence: Sadea/Sansoni, 1966; Firenze 4 novembre 1966: rapporto sui danni al patrimonio artistico e culturale. Florence: C.E. Giunti/G. Barbèra, 1967; La bottega dei Della Robbia. Florence: Sadea, 1965; Michelangelo. Rome: C.E.I. - Compagnia Edizioni Internazionali, 1966; Luca Signorelli. Milan: Fabbri, 1966; and Perugi, Liberto. L'opera completa di Michelangelo scultore. Milan: Rizzoli, 1973, English, The Sculpture of Michelangelo. New York: Rizzoli, 1982; Teoria del restauro e unità di metodologia. Florence: Nardini, 1978;and Casazza, Ornella. La Primavera del Botticelli: storia di un quadro e di un restauro. Milan: A. Mondadori, 1984 English, Primavera: the Restoration of Botticelli's Masterpiece. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1986; Brunelleschi e Donatello nella Sagrestia Vecchia di S. Lorenzo. Florence: Il Fiorino-Alinari, 1989; and Casazza, Ornella. La Cappella Brancacci. Milan: Electa, 1990, English, The Brancacci Chapel. New York: Abrams, 1992;"Theory of Restoration and Methodological Unity." in, Price, Nicholas Stanley, and Talley, M. Kirby, Jr., and Vaccaro, Alessandra Melucco, eds. Historical and Philosophical Issues in the Conservation of Cultural Heritage. Los Angeles: Getty Conservation Institute, 1996, pp. 355-357; Masaccio. Milan: Electa, 2001.