Restoration art: Futuna’s Christ

Carolina Izzo keeps good company.

Colin – McCahon that is – stands by the window. Van Dyck is resting under covers in the corner and Toss Woollaston is lying on the table awaiting further dental work.

But it’s not the big-name guests commanding the most attention at the Italian art conservator’s Wellington studio.

Propped on pillows on the central table is Jim Allen’s striking mahogany Christ figure – stolen from Karori’s Futuna Chapel over a decade ago and last year rescued from a Taranaki farm.

Izzo is having a minor conservation crisis. Having spent 20 years restoring religious art around Naples following the 1980 Irpinia earthquake, she is no stranger to crucifixes.

Her children were breastfed in pews, and when she moved to New Zealand in 2001 she so missed churches that she begged to work on Khandallah Catholic church’s crucifix for free.

But when restoring a 13th century crucifix, consulting the artist is not a consideration. Here, she must juggle the wishes of the Futuna Trust, the original sculptor and her own conservation ethics.

Fortunately, Allen and she agree that Jesus should tell something of his dramatic story.

But it’s a question of degree. It’s the eternal conundrum for conservators, whose job is not to make old things new, but to conserve while retaining time’s signature; to repair damage so it no longer distracts, without trying to forge the original.

Izzo points out thin stripes of blanching on Jesus’s right calf. The fact they dribble across rather than down the smooth muscle suggests they were caused recently – probably by water infiltration -when the figure was lying down.

So she will need to swab the surface to lighten the surrounding wood, making the blanching less obvious.

”I have to find a mediation between the desire of the artist and what needed to be done . . . It’s a puzzle.”

With her red statement glasses, the glamorous Izzo, 52, could step out of her white lab coat and into a cocktail party.

But her workplace hasn’t always been so sanitised. Born in Rome, she studied art, then heritage conservation.

When the Irpinia earthquake struck, she volunteered to help piece together the treasures of generations, from sculptures and ceramics to a 50 square metre canvas. Continue reading


Additional reading

News category: Features.

Tags: , , , , ,