Parma Conserves Historic Mural in Manhattan
THE CRUCIFIXION, by Constantino Brumidi, is a 20 ft. by 40 ft. mural at the Church of the Holy Innocents. Located in the heart of Manhattan on 37th and Broadway, the 1860’s church stands out conspicuously amid the bustle of office buildings near Times Square.
Constantino Brumidi is best known for being “the artist of the Capitol”, having extensively frescoed the Senate corridors and massive interior dome of the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Less known is that he was also commissioned to paint frescoes in churches in New York City and in several palaces, including the Vatican, in his home town of Rome, Italy. The Crucifixion is certainly one of his masterpieces. Created in 1870’s, it is both a beautiful and iconic rendition of Christ’s Crucifixion.
Unfortunately, by the turn of the 20th century, the mural had suffered from severe water damage, resulting in flaking and losses to the paint layer. So much so, that in 1901, the church hired another artist (Brumidi was deceased in 1880) to touch-up the damage. But the new artist changed the original work dramatically. The figures were heavily laden with overpainting. The entire tonal composition became muddy and obscuring, certainly differing from what Brumidi had envisioned as the most dramatic event in Christendom.
Only relatively recently had parish chronicles rediscovered the history of the original Brumidi artwork, hidden beneath overpaint and darkened varnish. Under the leadership of Fr. Thomas Kallumady, an earnest fund-raising campaign began in 2011 in order to bring the mural back to its origins. Christy Cunningham Adams, a world-known conservator of Brumidi frescoes in the Capitol Building, was consulted on the project. She developed a proposal that eventually saw the restoration take place in phases. Stabilization and consolidation of the mural was done by Cunningham-Adams Conservation in the Winter months. Cleaning and Aesthetic compensations to the mural were to be done by Parma Conservation.
In the summer of 2012, Parma moved a full laboratory and five member team to NYC. Perched on scaffolding high above the altar, they removed decades-old overpaint, previous restorations, oxidized varnish, dirt, and anything “unoriginal” to Brumidi’s work. According to Elizabeth Kendall, Director of Parma Conservation “While there, working on this beautiful mural, we were all moved by what we were doing. Our job is to save art in order that it lasts.“
The church conducts six masses per day, which Parma had to work around. “It’s a church for the people, “ said Kendall, “Mass or not, people wandered in all day long. It was clearly their church. Every day there was someone to thank us for what we were doing.”