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mail: Bill Thayer 
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Restoration

On my opening page for S. Nicolò, you were treated to a pretty horrific snapshot of its restoration, or that of its cloister at any rate: cranes, concrete, re‑bars, workmen. Well, browsing thru my photo files, I discovered that I photographed the front door of the church in 1998, while the restoration was still ongoing; and again in 2000: a semi-fortuitous opportunity to give you a glimpse of the results, to judge for yourself. Here it is:


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Before and after restoration: the main door. I regret I didn't think to take the photographs from the same vantage point, but look carefully, and you'll see the changes just the same: repaired pilasters, a new base of neatly squared stone, cleaning.

The fresco in the lunette over the door, of uncertain authorship, is dated 1412 (according to the Spoleto volume of the Manuali del Territorio, but see below) and depicts the Virgin and Child with two bishops. These are generally identified as SS. Augustine and Nicholas, since these are the most logical figures to accompany them: the church is dedicated to the latter and was taken over by Augustinians; you did read that orientation page, right?


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Pollution, mostly soot and sulfuric acid from automobile emissions, had significantly degraded the original fresco, altering the colors and concealing the details under a thick layer of dirt. Nor must we think this is hundreds of years of "patina": the last restoration before this was in 1969; what you see is the damage wrought by a scant thirty years of car traffic.

Below, on the other hand, the dirt is gone, revealing beautiful contrasting colors of Subasio limestone, and a nice crisp painting, all its details fresh and clear. The inscription is readable but almost certainly wrong.


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Here's the inscription from my full-size original photograph; to make it fit well on this page, I doubled it over, with a bit of overlap; but otherwise it's not tinkered with:


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. . . fecit fieri nicolau9 bātoli . m̅ . māchi polinache pro aīa dicti bātoli sui pris m.iiͦii.iiͦii et die xii mensis april (?)
Fecit fieri Nicolaus Bartoli M. Marchi Polinache pro anima dicti Bartoli sui patris [anno] M.IIͦII.IIͦII et die XII mensis Aprilis.
Nicolò di Bartolo (di?) M. Marchi Polinache had this made for the soul of the said Bartoli his father in the year 14-- and the 12th day of the month of April.

I mark the date in the inscription as incomplete because as it is now written, it doesn't make sense.

We have M = 1000, followed by IIII (with a circle over it) = 400; so far, so good, that was the standard way of writing 1400. Then, unfortunately, a second IIͦII (with a circle over it): another 400. Clearly, the restorer goofed, and painted IIͦII.IIͦII with two circles, equivalent to "1400400" — when they meant IIͦII.XII or IIͦII.VII or conceivably IIͦII.IIII, only the first number getting the little circle; reading II as V or X is one of the commonest traps in paleography. The date is thus probably 1412, as stated in the Manuali, published just after the 1969 restoration; or even — more plausibly to my mind since in this Gothic script V looks more like II than does X — 1407, or again 1404. Achille Sansi's reading of 1402 (Storia di Spoleto, Vol. IV, p242) seems less likely to me, but he wrote before the automobile, so he might well be right.

The moral of the story, as always, is don't trust everything you see or read — especially if it's been restored.


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Site updated: 24 Aug 12