Restorations of the Loggia of Cupid and Psyche
The loggia, opening onto the garden, is adorned with frescoes depicting the mythological tale of Cupid and Psyche, carried out by Raphael and his school in 1518. It was once the main entrance of the villa which the Sienese banker Agostino Chigi had commissioned Baldassare Peruzzi to design and build a decade earlier. We can imagine this entrance to have been extremely captivating, particularly the exquisite work of Raphael, who wanted to portray the passages chosen from the fable as if they were really alive and close to us. To evoke that feeling in the viewer he had the idea to make it seem as though the loggia were a great pergola; an idea which was brought to fruition by Giovanni da Udine, who made exquisite work of the arbor, from which the gods and Psyche peep. The beautiful young girl who had aroused the jealousy of Venus, had to overcome terrible trials, and only then was she permitted to drink the cup of immortality and go to marry her beloved Cupid. In all probability her depiction was a representation of the future bride of Agostino Chigi, who had to overcome various social obstacles in order to become the wife of the famous banker. Many other symbols are found in these representations, which are still the subject of study and speculation.
There is not much reliable data with regards to this mural. For example, we do not know with certainty who exactly the painters, or rather the “transcribers” of Raphael’s ideas, were. There are several autographed drawings by Raphael, and others that are attributed to him with more or less plausibility. But in addition to the extraordinary idea of the imitation pergola and the two central pieces, with the successful conclusion of the story, namely the Council of the Gods and the Wedding Banquet, we can speculate that it was carried out by no more than a handful of people. Recent studies yet to be published, which were carried out during the last restoration by the Central Institute of Restoration, may also shed some light on this aspect. The famous Loggia was very much loved, visited and copied by various artists and it was due to such fame that it was also often restored.
In 1693 a fortunate coincidence occurred: the abbot Felines, representative for the Duke Ranuccio Farnese, the literary man Giovan Pietro Bellori, defender of art restoration, together with the painter-restorer Carlo Maratta, planned, executed and reported on the first restoration of the original paintings, conducted with an utmost respect for the work of art and with “reversible” materials: pencil and pastel. Other less respectful restorations followed, but fortunately they only disturbed the backgrounds of the sky: Raphael’s figures and those of his collaborators were left almost untouched.
The restoration carried out in these recent years by the Central Institute of Restoration saw the formation of a team that has really worked in an interdisciplinary way: art historians, architects, restorers, scientific experts, specialists in photographic and graphic documentation, as well as all those professionals who revolve around both a technical and administrative restoration site.
Just as it was in 1693, the starting point was the controlling of the static situation and the monitory of the old cracks and lesions. Then the method of operation was developed of cleaning the pictorial film, as well as other operations related to this: the 850 grappas inserted by Maratti to restore the adhesion between the plaster and wallwork, most of which are still functional; the filling in of large cracks; the reintegration of the painting, combining traditional materials tested by the CIR and experimenting with new approaches and materials (e.g, with the problem of large cracks, the preferred method is not to apply them).
Finally, in the process of reintegrating the painting, the hardships suffered by these murals are taken into account: they are not to be merely deleted from history, but to be made immediately aesthetically pleasing to the viewer and the chromatic relationship between the figures, the festoons and the background is to be balanced out, even if the latter was irreparably compromised after the removal of the blue in the 1930s when, in the belief that they were removing Maratti’s celestial blue, they also removed the already darkened azure blue of Raphael.