Succumbing to despair is by definition never a winning strategy, which is why the story of Giorgio Vasari’s painting, “The Last Supper,” resonated so strongly with me when I read it had been successfully restored. I’ve loved Vasari since discovering his “Lives of the Artists” when I was in college, and the restoration of his work (not to be confused with the more famous Last Supper of Leonardo da Vinci) was reported a week before one of the most bitterly fought presidential elections of my memory. Readers at that time may have found little space for optimism, and much less hope for the immediate future. But we at the Acton Institute recognize that recent events only represent an opportunity to redouble our efforts to advance free-market principles based on sound religious doctrine.
Vasari’s painting was thought to have been irreparably destroyed in November 1966. Heavy rains caused the Arno River to flood Florence, Italy, the epicenter of the 16th-century Italian Renaissance. Among the reported “damaged or destroyed thousands of paintings, frescoes and manuscripts” was Vasari’s five-panel depiction of the Last Supper, which was hung in the Santa Croce basilica. The painting was submerged for at least 12 hours beneath a toxic mixture of flood waters, sewage and oil, which warped and cracked the wood panels of the painting and peeled the paint.
The details of the actual restoration are fascinating if not miraculous. The chief restorer on the project, Marco Ciatti, acknowledged that the task at first was considered impossible. Blending modern technology and Renaissance techniques over the course of nearly seven years, the painting eventually was given new life and returned to Florence last month. “When we saw the painting standing, it was like someone who had risen from their sickbed after being very ill,” Ciatti told the Wall Street Journal. “Overcoming a challenge that was considered impossible and handing this work back to Florence was very emotional.”
When I read about art rising like a phoenix from the ashes of destruction, I’m reminded of the reasons Kris Mauren and I began the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty more than a quarter century ago. We had witnessed firsthand the misunderstandings perpetrated by public figures in politics and religion that included redistributionist platforms and other wrongheaded collectivist and cronyism schemes contrary to personal flourishing. We see our work not as some new invention, but as a retrieval of a classical understanding of the world.
Time and again over the past several decades we’ve been compelled to set the record straight – adhering to religious faith is not concomitant with proto-socialism, abrogation of religious liberties and statism. I’m proud to write that we’ve accomplished many good things since the Acton Institute first opened its doors nearly 30 years ago, but just like the “Last Supper” of Vasari; there have also been setbacks. Yet each time we found ourselves down, we resolved never to be out for the long count.
We continue to refine our strategies moving forward in our strongholds here on Fulton Street and in Rome, fighting the good fight with the full knowledge that those who oppose us with promises of earthly utopias will never cease as well. On this winter’s solstice we renew our pledge to uphold the values of the Acton Institute for yet another year.
May this be a Christmas filled with blessings and joy in each of your homes and a prosperous New Year for all!