Gianluigi Colalucci, Who Showed Michelangelo’s True Colors, Dies at 91

Gianluigi Colalucci, Who Showed Michelangelo’s True Colors, Dies at 91

Gianluigi Colalucci, Who Showed Michelangelo’s True Colors, Dies at 91

Gianluigi Colalucci, Who Showed Michelangelo’s True Colors, Dies at 91

While he admitted to a feeling of anxiety in the late 1980s, when the critics were at their most vociferous — Italy’s Communist newspaper called him a “restoration assassin,” while one exasperated art historian countered by comparing the critics’ claims to “the wild cries of some ferocious mutant Chicken Little” — he remained a serene and steady presence, a soft-spoken, polite man clad in tweeds and deck shoes. He liked to sketch his colleagues, and the laboratory where they worked.

“I feel like a soccer player before a championship game these days,” Mr. Colalucci told The Times in 1987. “I wish I could go on a retreat and be entirely cut off from the world so that I could concentrate on what I have to do and not these other things. This all creates a kind of stress which doesn’t let you work with tranquillity.”

And he had the approval of his boss, as he told an Italian newspaper in 1988. Though Pope John Paul II had not been up on the scaffolding, Mr. Colalucci said, he seemed to be happy with the restoration. If not, he added, “he would have stopped the work, or simply fired me.”

Gianluigi Colalucci was born on Dec. 24, 1929, in Rome. He grew up there, and as a child played on the steps of the Piazza del Campidoglio, which was designed by Michelangelo.

He graduated from the prestigious Istituto Centrale per il Restauro in Rome and joined the Vatican in 1960, becoming chief restorer in 1979. He retired in the mid 1990s, but continued to advise on the Vatican Museums’ ongoing restorations.

In a statement, Barbara Jatta, director of the Vatican Museums, noted his grace under pressure, “never shaken by media controversy,” as he “helped to rewrite a page of art history, and the history of restoration.”

Mr. Colalucci had two sons, and his survivors include his wife, Daniela, who is also a conservator.

“There comes a day for each of us when nothing will ever be the same again,” Mr. Colalucci wrote in an undated article for National Geographic Traveler. “For me that day was April 8, 1994, when Pope John Paul II celebrated a Mass in the Sistine Chapel,” when the famous frescoes, he said, became transfigured by the ceremony.

“I felt like I had been struck by a bolt of lightning, and suddenly understood two important things: the transcendent spirituality of Michelangelo’s paintings and the true meaning of working inside the Vatican.”


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