Cold temperatures damage masterpieces from Pinacoteca di Brera

Cristo alla Colonna, Bramante, Pinacoteca di Brera. Public Domain image

MILAN - A recent, unusually cold spell has caused unexpected damages to paintings at Milan’s Pinacoteca di Brera.
By mid-January, a pair of paintings suddenly disappeared from the walls and forty remained in place but covered with light tissue patches used as ‘facings’ to avoid flaking of paint. The combination of very cold air and low relative humidity proved too much to cope with for the environmental condition systems at the museum. By descending too suddenly, temperature and relative humidity caused organic material to shrink leaving visible damage to frames and paint layers. This was the case for Bramante’s Christ at the Column, one of the museum's masterpieces and one of the paintings that required immediate attention by the museum’s conservators. The other painting to require conservation was the San Gerolamo’s Stories painted by the Venetian Lazzaro Bastiani.
Installed in 2004, the Pinacoteca environmental conditioning system is not a very old one and its alarm mechanism did alert the museum’s personnel of the incident. Unfortunately, it was unable to cope with the severe drops and compensate the loss of temperature and humidity before the damage happened.
Anglo-Canadian museum’s Director James Bradburne was quick to play down the incident blaming the damage on a ‘climate earthquake’ adding: “We followed the security frameworks by the book and the Bramante painting had to go to restoration anyway so we just had to anticipate the intervention. The museum is under control and in the coming days will continue monitoring”.