Pigeons Lead Restorationists to Major Art Find

Roundup: Talking About History

From the New York Times (June 24 2004):

Pigeons fluttering through a hole in the ceiling of a Spanish cathedral led an art restoration team to discover a hidden Renaissance fresco of winged angels that had been covered by a false ceiling for more than 300 years.

The team had been working on the baroque dome of the cathedral in Valencia for more than a month, removing gray paint and fending off birds flying in and out of the hole, Valencia's regional government said Thursday.

Underneath, the experts had been hoping to find Renaissance artwork cited in centuries-old cathedral records, although they feared it might be ruined. Their stroke of serendipity came Tuesday when they were drawn to the hole by the pigeons and their cooing.

One of the team leaders, Javier Catala, stuck a digital camera inside, shot blindly and came back with partial but spectacular images of a well-preserved fresco believed to be more than 26 feet in diameter.

The photos show parts of four winged angels against a starry blue background, all surrounded by gold-leaf trim.

The baroque ceiling turned out to be a false one that masked a fresco completed by Italian painters Francesco Pagano and Paolo de San Leocadio in 1481. They were hired by papal envoy Rodrigo Borja, a Spaniard who went on to become Pope Alexander VI.

The space between the ceiling and the fresco was 32 inches at its widest point, providing plenty of room for a bird's nest.

The duo of Italian artists served as official Vatican painters throughout Alexander VI's papacy and before that when he was archbishop of Valencia, doing other paintings in churches in the southeast Spanish region.

The fresco is important because it's one of the earliest examples of Italian Renaissance art being imported to Spain, said Fernando Lopez, an art historian who works at the Valencia government's main library.

It is also remarkable because the fresco technique -- watercolors painted on wet plaster -- was rare in Spain then and this one is in such good shape, Lopez said....

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