Raphael's Deposition: Renaissance masterpiece warped by Rome museum’s faulty air conditioning

Damage to painting follows mounting concerns over the poor maintenance of country's heritage such as Pompeii and the Colosseum

Rome

A Renaissance masterpiece by Raphael has warped because the air conditioning in a Rome museum has not worked for six months, raising questions once again over Italy’s ability or willingness to look after its precious cultural heritage.

In the heat and humidity of the Italian summer, the High Renaissance master’s Deposition, which shows Christ being carried from the cross, became deformed, forcing officials in the capital’s Galleria Borghese to place a dehumidifier next to the art work in an attempt to save it.

In May, the museum’s director Anna Coliva warned the air conditioning had not worked for two months because the system, which was fitted in 1997, was “completely worn out.” She added that “lack of maintenance over a period of years” had been a factor.

It has now emerged that the gallery had to resort to emergency measures to save the Deposition, which Raphael painted on a wooden panel in 1507 as the central part of an altarpiece. Ms Coliva told La Repubblica newspaper that the deformation in the painting had now been reduced.

But other priceless works at are at risk, including paintings by Caravaggio, Titian and Rubens, and sculptures by Bernini and Canova.

In August as the temperatures soared into the mid-thirties, and humidity levels rose with them, staff at the gallery installed fans and opened windows to cool the rooms and protect the artworks.

Many visitors complained of the stifling heat in the museum. “Some customers even felt overcome – and unfortunately, it wasn’t due to Stendhal syndrome,” according to one official quoted in La Repubblica.

Ms Coliva has said the gallery is gradually working to upgrade the air-conditioning system, which was unable to cope with the summer heat despite one intervention by engineers in May. It is not clear when a new or fully-functioning system will be up and running. The damage to the Raphael masterpiece follows mounting concerns over the poor maintenance of the ancient city of Pompeii and the deteriorating state of famous monuments, including the Colosseum. The Rome landmark is now being restored thanks to a €25m (£20m) project funded by the Tod’s leather goods brand. Pompeii has been given €75m by the EU, which has to be spent by the end of next year.

In 2009 a large part of the underground complex of Nero’s Golden Palace in the capital collapsed.

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