Founded in 1923, the Laboratory now represents a significant point of contact between Vatican tradition and modern experimental methods. It is rooted in the centuries-old tradition of the maintenance of the Vatican collections, as shown by the establishment back in 1543 of the Ufficio del Mundator by Pope Paul III. A follower of Michelangelo Buonarroti, Francesco Amadori “l’Urbino”, was the first to be responsible for the periodical dusting of the Sistine Chapel. The growing awareness of the importance of conservation and protection of artistic heritage, especially of paintings, is demonstrated by the numerous documents issued over time on the subject: from the Benedict XIV’s Apostolic Letters in 1757, containing provisions for the protection of works of art, to the first Regulations of the Museums and Pontifical Galleries of 1816, up to the Pacca Edict of 1820, which legislates for greater action in “[…] restoration and conservation of public Monuments and Antiquities of Art [...]”. Leo XII (1823-1829) went on to dedicate space located under the Vatican Library for use as storage deposits for the Museums and as a restoration workshop.
Moving on almost a century, we arrive at the foundation of what was then known as the “Painting Restoration Laboratory”. Its institutionalisation in 1923 marks an important moment for the affirmation of a firm awareness of conservation in the Vatican Museums. Indeed, the designer of the new Picture Gallery, the architect Luca Beltrami, decided to location the Laboratory spaces below the Gallery itself, equipping them with a freight elevator able to hold the largest painting in the collection, Domenichino’s “The Communion of St. Jerome”. The main aim was to enable the rapid transfer of the works in conditions of maximum safety.
During the years, the activity of the Laboratory has involved a vast patrimony, difficult to quantify and extending throughout the territory from Vatican City State to the main Roman Basilicas and even the Pontifical Villas of Castel Gandolfo, in particular the Apostolic Palace.