Exactly 50 years ago, on Nov. 4, 1966, the river Arno burst its banks and raced through Florence in the worst flood the city had seen in centuries.
Muddy waters rushed into my family's home as well as into the homes of thousands of Florentines. The flood came with little warning, claiming the lives of 34 people. Raging torrents entered streets, houses, shops, museums, churches and libraries.
Thousands of frescoes, paintings, sculptures and rare books were destroyed or terribly damaged by slime in one of the greatest cultural disasters of modern times.
Such was the devastation that an army of young volunteers - known as "the mud angels" - came from all over Europe and America to help rescue Florence's treasures.
The prompt intervention of restorers and new methods of restoration in the following decades made it possible to salvage almost all of the damaged artworks.
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One masterpiece, however, was considered beyond saving. Giorgio Vasari's "Last Supper," a large painting on five wooden panels, remained for four decades in storage, and restorers did not even dare to touch the cracked panels.
Today, Vasari's "Last Supper," the last major flood-damaged artwork that remained untreated, has been returned to public viewing in Santa Croce Church.
"It's a dream that has become reality," Marco Ciatti, head of the renowned restoration center Opificio delle Pietre Dure (OPD) in Florence, said.
More than 8 feet high and 21 feet across, Vasaris' painting was commissioned by the nuns of the Murate convent in Florence. Vasari was best known for writing one of the first great books of art history, "Lives of the Most Excellent Italian Painters, Sculptors." He was also a painter and architect.
The nuns' cloistered rule prohibited male artists from staying in the convent, so Vasari split the painting of Christ and his disciples into five portable poplar panels so he could work on the piece elsewhere and then transport it into the convent in parts. He completed the monumental painting in 1546.
After being moved several times, the "Last Supper" was installed at the museum of Santa Croce Church. When the river flooded, it remained completely immersed in filthy, oily water for at least 12 hours.
In the first hours after the flood, a team of restorers, led by art conservator Umberto Baldini, separated the panels and attached protective sheets of Japanese paper all over them in a desperate attempt to prevent the paint from flaking off.
"We can now say that system has worked. However, the glue used to attach the paper was a very strong acrylic resin which over the decades became an impermeable plate," Ciatti told Seeker.