Raphael's Madonna of the Goldfinch restored

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A five-century-old Renaissance painting that was smashed to pieces just 41 years after its creation is to appear on display after a decade of intensive restoration.

Raphael's Madonna of the Goldfinch - or Madonna del cardellino as it is known in Italian - was shattered into 17 pieces when the house of its owner collapsed in 1547.

The work was just 41 years old. It was nailed together again before being painted over time and again to hide the cracks.

A grimy brown film of dirt and dust, built up over five centuries, also conspired to rob it of its blue, red and golden hues. But after 10 years of microscopic restoration it is to be put on show again in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

The painting shows Mary with a cherubic John the Baptist and Jesus at her feet. John is offering Jesus a goldfinch, which symbolises the crucifixion.

Patrizia Riitano, 52, chief restorer of the work at Florence's Opificio Delle Pietre Dure, one of Italy's most prestigious state-run art restoration labs, told Reuters: "I am just a technician. But yes, I think I probably know this painting almost better than Raphael. He looked at it, sure, but all these years I have been looking at it with a microscope".

"To think of it, I have spent more time with him than with my daughter," she admitted. She meticulously removed the work of painters who had tried to patch up Raphael's masterpiece, taking it back to its original varnish...

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