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The restoration of the Diptych of the Five Parts

This artefact returns to its former glory at the Duomo Museum

01 Valva Anteriore Recto Bianco
24 March Mar 2023 1126 24 March 2023

The Treasure of the Cathedral, hosted in the dedicated section of the Duomo Museum, contains numerous objects of liturgical use, owned by the Metropolitan Chapter. Among these, an Evangeliary Cover, known as the Diptych of the Five Parts, stands out for its beauty and historical and artistic importance. The work takes its name from the number of ivory plates decorating each of the two parts (valves or plates) of which it is composed, probably made in the 5th century by workshops in Ravenna.

The precious artefact made of ivory and finely decorated with applications in gold and precious gems has recently undergone conservation work by Laboratorio di Restauro Franco Blumer (Franco Blumer's Restoration Workshop), generously supported by Factorit s.p.a..

The first step was to remove the non-coeval wooden frame, in which the two valves were inserted, and to take out the 18th-century brass nails, which disturbed the reading of the episodes and, in some cases, had damaged the artefact, causing evident cracks. The ivory surfaces, as well as the precious gems and the golden parts, were then cleaned from surface deposits. The disassembly phase made it possible to understand the interlocking anchoring system of the plates, showing the workmanship and the ancient numeration on the back, not previously visible as they were covered by the wooden support. The cleaned ivory has now regained its ancient and natural beauty; it's now possible to appreciate the naturalness of the gestures, the expressiveness of the figures, the accuracy and definition of the details. Great care is taken in the depiction of animals and objects, the materiality of the clothing and even the lightness of the textiles, details that were covered, until now, by layers of dirt that dulled the surfaces. Now it's easy to perceive the precision of the workmanship and the effort of the craftsman - perhaps he should be considered a high quality 'artist' - in trying to represent the volumetry of bodies, the depth and movement through a very fine carving, certainly not easy to achieve if we think of the characteristics of ivory and the minimal thickness of these plates.

The Diptych of the Five Parts is a fine work both from a technical as well as an iconographic and historical point of view: the two valves are intended to evoke both Christ's human nature (the one with the Agnus Dei) and his divine nature (the one with the glorious Cross). The episodes from the life of Jesus depicted here, taken from the canonical and apocryphal Gospels (some of which are also difficult to interpret), reveal the presence of a cultured and refined iconographic design that alludes to very ancient sources and the writings of Bishop Ambrose himself. This artefact, which belongs to the Treasure of our Cathedral, is closely linked to the history of the Church of Milan and can now be admired once again as part of the Duomo Museum tour.