In this elegant Nymph with Panther statue, with graceful, slender proportions, it is easy to recognize the “Diane with Leopard” seen by Vasari in the Niche Room at Palazzo Pitti. The sculpture had been in the grand-ducal collections at least since the mid XVI century, and in spite of the many integrations and modern interventions that have also compromised the ancient marble surface, the original iconography is still clearly readable. The young woman, slightly smaller than life-size, is clad in a long tunic with a soft drapery falling sideways. The body is slightly rotated, as in a dancing pose, the right arm raised, the left hand in a caressing gesture over the panther’s head. The extensive past restorations and reworking of the surface make an accurate dating difficult, but the refined effect of transparent drapery attest to a good-quality replica of the early Imperial period. The thick deposits of dust seriously impaired the readability of the sculpture, that had not undergone any conservation treatment since the mid 90’s.
The conservation condition survey of the sculpture revealed the inhomogeneous visual impact of the marble surface, due to the presence of significant brownish stains caused by protein residues most probably released by casts taken in the past, when a so-called gelatin was used for the molding plaster (this was a substance made with rabbit-skin glue, sugar and glycerin, applied to the original at rather high temperatures, unfortunately causing marble deterioration; later, gelatin was supplanted by silicone mixtures). Removal of such stains was attempted in the past by rather aggressive techniques that did not conform to marble conservation methods. Not infrequently can one notice abrasions and scraping on such dark areas. Once organic substances penetrate into the micro- porosity of the marble surface, they become irreversibly ingrained altering the overall aspect of the sculpture.
The initial restoration operations entailed a thorough dusting of the sculpture with soft-bristled brushes and vacuum cleaner. The subsequent cleaning was carried out in different stages to remove dirt, layers of oxidized wax and the patina underneath, using cotton swabs and demineralised water, Japanese paper lining to soften the more resistant areas, and white spirit solution for the more recent tempera coloring. The ochre dark shades due to the old hot glue were lightened with denatured alcohol and heavier residues removed by bistoury. All calcium carbonate- and acrylic resin-based putties were removed by bistoury, after softening with cotton swabs dampened with pure acetone, and reintegrating lacunae with a mix of marble dust and acrylic micro-emulsion. Reintegrations were then retouched with watercolors.
During the initial cleaning tests some traces of original polychromes were discovered, confirmed by diagnostics. One sample was taken from within a fold of the drapery underneath the nymph’s left arm, another from the rear surface of the panther: the former revealing a red color, the latter a black coloration over a lining of lead white.
Lastly, documentary lacunae have been filled by a complete mapping of ancient parts and modern integrations, and a systematic photographic campaign.