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Renovating the Reading Room Around a Very Large Pietro da Cortona Painting

  • Posted by: Alice Bampton
  • Posted Date: August 29, 2016
  • Filed Under: Library News

The Pietro da Cortona painting, “The Triumph of David,” at Villanova has been described as a “hidden treasure in plain view” on more than one occasion. Hung high on a wall, yet in a room closed to the public and used to store microfilm and other materials, the painting had deteriorated to the point where few could appreciate it.

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In 2013 professional art handlers removed the painting from the wall where it had hung since 1956

The Baroque masterpiece spent 2013 – 2015 undergoing professional conservation to revitalize its vivid blues and reds and rich depths. Conservators, led by Kristin deGhetaldi, also reattached flaking paint and stabilized the surfaces. The painting became the inspiration and centerpiece for what will be the campus’ latest signature destination – Falvey Memorial Library’s Reading Room.

This summer, however, the painting has once again become the “hidden treasure in plain view” as, because of its large size, it cannot be removed during the room’s renovation. Instead, the construction team, led by Michael P. O’Donnell, project superintendent for Adams-Bickel Associates, and Villanova personnel – University Librarian and Library Director, Millicent Gaskell; Margaret Duffy, Budget and Administrative Services specialist; and Project Manager, Jim Matthews  – had a unique situation: how to protect a huge masterpiece (12’ x 19’) and still proceed with the renovation of the Reading Room.

On June 3, 2016, “The Triumph of David” was placed in a custom-built crate and moved from behind the wire cage where it undergone public conservation by a team of professional art handlers from Crozier Fine Arts, New York City. And there it rests, carefully crated and packaged, including attached handles for moving should that become necessary, in the midst of a forest of scaffolding while the renovation of the Reading Room proceeds.

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“The Triumph of David,” where it was conserved. The painting has been replaced in its frame and the crate is being built around it.

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The crated painting surrounded by scaffolding.


“What is it like to work around this huge white box? I asked O’Donnell, project superintendent. He answered, “We are very conscious of it at all times.” Workmen often ask him, “What’s in the big box?” His answer is the conserved painting which is one of the stimuli for the renovation. O’Donnell said that he and the workmen are very aware of the historical value of the painting. He also mentioned that the scaffolding creates a protective framework for it. Occasionally, the crate must be moved; it takes six people to slide it, using the four handles attached to the base of the crate. O’Donnell says the crated painting weighs about 1,400 pounds!

When the renovation is completed this fall, “The Triumph of David” will hang once again near where it had been originally placed, but it will be in a bright new room with new insulated windows which will protect it from harmful ultraviolet rays. And students will enjoy a beautiful new Reading Room, an appropriate setting for a masterpiece.

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Architect’s rendition of the finished room with “The Triumph of David” hanging once more on the wall near its original location.  Image of renovated Reading Room courtesy of BLTa, the architects responsible for the design of this room and the second floor Learning Commons. Furniture arrangement indicated in rendering may change.

All photographs in this blog are the work of Alice Bampton, Communications and Marketing Dept.

 Joanne Quinn contributed to this article.


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Last Modified: August 29, 2016

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