Senator Edward M. Kennedy to Deliver Keynote Address

On November 4, 1966, after a month of heavy rain, the Arno River overflowed its banks, flooding the city of Florence and causing incalculable damage to life, property, and the cultural patrimony of Italy and the world. Now known as “l’Alluvione”, the Florence Flood revolutionized the field of art conservation and moved it from a craft to a specialized field for professionals dedicated to the study of the technology and conservation of works of art and historic artifacts.

New York University’s Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts, and Villa la Pietra, NYU’s 57-acre campus in Florence, in a joint American-Italian venture with Mayor Leonardo Domenici of Florence and the Opificio delle Pietre Dure e Laboratori di Restauro will mark the 40th anniversary of the Florence Flood with an international symposium to be held in Florence, Italy. Entitled Conservation Legacies of “l’Alluvione,” the event will take place at the Villa la Pietra and the Palazzo Vecchio on November 10 and 11, 2006, and feature a keynote address by Senator Edward M. Kennedy.

On Saturday, November 11, Mayor Domenici, along with U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy and the mayors of New Orleans, Dresden, and Prague-cities that have experienced severe flooding-will sign a Declaration of Commitment to conservation and protection of art treasures in the wake of natural disasters. For a detailed program of events, visit:

Participants from Canada, Denmark, England, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and the United States will be in attendance at the symposium. Some notable names participating or attending include: Natalie Brooke and Lady Frances Clarke C.B.E., founders of Venice in Peril; Giorgio Bonsanti, former superintendent, Opificio delle Pietre Dure e Laboratori di Restauro; Kenneth Hempel, former head of conservation, Victoria & Albert Museum; Fred Licht, curator, Peggy Guggenheim Collection and co-founder of Committee to Rescue Italian Art; Debbie Hess Norris, director Winterthur/ University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation; Dag-Ernst Petersen, former head of preservation and restoration, Herzog August Bibliothek; Kirsten Aschengreen Piacenti, director, Museo Stibbert; Anne Radice, director, Institute of Museum and Library Services, Washington D.C; Andrea Rothe, former head of painting conservation, Getty Conservation Institute; among many others.

“The great flood of 1966 in Florence most certainly served as a catalyst for the development of new materials and methods for restoration, especially those for mass or large-scale treatments,” said Michele Marincola, Sherman Fairchild Chairman, Conservation Center, and professor of conservation at NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts. “It also led to the creation of organizations that raised funds for the treatment of damaged art works. And, it brought together art conservators from all parts of the world, enabling them to exchange knowledge with colleagues they might never have met.

“Those experts returned to their countries and institutions with approaches and treatments pioneered in Florence. Unfortunately, much of the knowledge gained by those individuals was never published or widely disseminated and, without this symposium, would be lost for good when the generation of “l’Alluvione” is gone.”

Ellyn Toscano, director of NYU’s Villa LaPietra, said, “Just like the historic collaboration of so many young American students and their Italian counterparts 40 years ago, the symposium represents a wonderful partnership between American and Italian conservators and policy makers. We are thrilled that Mayor Domenici invited us to convene in the historic Palazzo Vecchio, and that Senator Kennedy will join in our commemoration.”

The symposium will bring together many of the surviving participants in the rescue effort-both the leaders and the so-called “mud angels” who were in the field. They will consider the Flood and its legacy for art conservation and international emergency response, international cooperation, the introduction of new materials and techniques, and the continuing development of disaster preparedness and preventive measures.

The international response to the flood revolutionized the field of art conservation and served as a catalyst for the development of new emergency procedures and responses, such as:

  • Disaster response and recovery protocols for cultural property
  • Mass treatment of works on paper and books
  • Use of synthetic resins in consolidants and varnishes
  • Refinement of the strappo technique, which removes frescoes from walls
  • Techniques to remove salts from frescoes
  • Techniques to remove oil and stains from marble and other stone

The flood waters damaged a wide range of artworks and monuments in the historic heart of Florence, including such masterpieces as Cimabue’s great Crucifix from Santa Croce, Donatello’s “Penitent Magdalene,” and Ghiberti’s magnificent “Doors of Paradise” from the Baptistery of San Giovanni. Lesser-known works of great historical importance, such as the rare collection of the National Library, were also heavily damaged.

In acknowledgement of the importance of this symposium for the field of conservation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation is funding the participation of a group of U.S. conservation students who have been involved with the Hurricane Katrina response and recovery efforts.

Please note: The symposium is fully subscribed and members of the media interested in covering should make arrangements in advance with NYU Public Affair at 212.998.6796, or NYU Villa la Pietra at 39.055.5007.205

The Institute of Fine Arts is one of the world’s leading graduate schools and research institutes in art history, archaeology, and conservation. The Institute has a permanent faculty unrivalled in the breadth and depth of its expertise and an extraordinary adjunct faculty drawn from top museums, research institutes, and conservation studios. Since the Institute awarded its first PhD in 1933, more than 1,600 degrees have been conferred. A high proportion of alumni hold international leadership roles as professors, curators, museum directors, archaeologists, conservators, critics, and institutional administrators.

Press Contact

Richard Pierce
Richard Pierce
(212) 998-6796