Although this blog entry by Julian Bickersteth dates back to just after Frank Mason’s passing in the summer of 2009, the content is still very relevant to today’s debates over the damages caused by poor art restoration. Our documentary film is not only a testament to the great painterly skills and vibrant life force of Frank Mason. It is also a motion picture survey that brings full attention to the concerns he had over art restoration, especially the restoration of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. What should have resulted in an exhaustive session of public debates to argue the pros and cons of restoring the frescoes, ended up becoming a Vatican instigated PR campaign to quiet or denigrate any one who objected to the ongoing cleanings.
I think it is wise of Mr. Bickersteth to conclude his entry with the line, “I’m a great fan of the cleaning of the Sistine Chapel, but I am an even bigger fan of having these types of discussions as only by such debate do we ensure we can get it right more times than we don’t.” Of course, Frank Mason was not a “fan” of the cleaning and urged the art community to have these public debates. Unfortunately, not many restorers during the mid-80s felt the moral responsibility to consider any opinions outside of their small elite circle of experts. Had Frank gotten his wish they might have “got it right” and preserved Michelangelo’s final glazes of liquid shadow, which gave his figures and trompe l’oeil architecture that once dramatic sculptural effect.