Helping to preserve world’s great artwork

| Susan Klemond for The Catholic Spirit | December 6, 2012 | 0 Comments

Local chapter of Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums supports the restoration and care of valuable artifacts

At a Vatican Museums restoration laboratory, master conservator Francesca Persegatti, left, explains restoration of a painting by Bernard Buffet to Minnesota/North Dakota members of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums: Johan van Parys, center, Sarah Hargrove and Natalie Joly. Photo courtesy of Vatican Museums

The Church has a preferential option for the poor, but its Vatican Museums also seek to be a cultural extension of the Gospel to show God’s love and the Church’s interest in everyone — functions that seem to be resonating as museum attendance is up even during the economic downturn, according to Legionaries of Christ Father Mark Haydu, international director of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums (PAVM), which financially supports preservation and restoration of the Museums’ collection.

“You almost notice that people are more interested in timeless, eternal things in the midst of the fluctuating and uncertainty of today’s economy and politics,” said Father Haydu, who was in the Twin Cities last week to meet with the Minnesota/North Dakota PAVM chapter.

Along with 22 other chapters in the U.S. and Europe, members of the Minnesota/North Dakota chapter have been part of the Museums’ cultural extension of the Gospel through support for the restoration and care of a growing body of art and artifacts, including the chapter’s latest project: a fifth-century monastery excavated in recent years near one of the Church’s major basilicas in Rome, said Johan van Parys, the chapter’s board chair and director of liturgy and sacred arts at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis.

“The collection is so enormous that to keep up the preservation it’s a very, very expensive endeavor and it really needs to be done,” he said. “That is why we have committed ourselves to helping with that task.”

Founded as the first public museum in 1503 by Pope Julius II, the Museums continue to make a broad range of works, including many donated to the popes and the Church, available to visitors from around the world.

Among only a handful of museums that regularly attract more than 5 million visitors, the 12 Vatican Museums located within the Vatican walls also lend many objects to traveling exhibitions, such as the “Vatican Splendors” exhibit that came to the Twin Cities four years ago.

Because of the huge number of artworks and artifacts, some dating to the 10th century before Christ, there is always need for restoration and Museum sales cover only daily operation, Father Haydu said. The Vatican Museums has in-house restorers and seven restoration labs for different types of objects, he said.

“They’re material objects deteriorating over time and those beautiful objects, those inspiring objects can be lost,” he said. “A Sistine Chapel could be lost. And once it’s gone, it’s gone forever and that would be a tragedy. The world would be more impoverished.”

As the need for restoration grows, the PAVM also is growing. The Minnesota chapter was founded in 2000, and its 70 members include Catholic and non-Catholics, van Parys said, adding that new chapters are forming in other parts of the country.

New projects

Choosing from a “wish book” of needed restorations the Museums compile each year, the chapter has funded projects ranging from a 17th-century papal chasuble to a hammer used to verify a pope’s death to gilded sculptures of the apostles, several of which were included in the “Vatican Splendors” exhibit. More recently, the chapter has funded restoration of contemporary paintings, including Gaetano Previati’s “Stations of the Cross” and works by Bernard Buffet.

While some chapters choose to fund renaissance works for which sponsorship may be easier to find, the Minnesota chapter has sponsored preservation of less well-known work, van Parys said.

The chapter’s newest $1.3 million project is to help make an excavated monastery near the St. Paul Outside the Walls basilica accessible to visitors, van Parys said.

“Right now you can look down on the excavation, but the plan is to build walkways within it so that people can get a much more up-close look at what has been excavated,” he said.

While he encourages benefactors to support local causes, Father Haydu appreciates that they also recognize the Museums’ importance to humanity.

For more about the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums, visit

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Category: Arts and Culture