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Bardini blue

The completed restoration of the Bardini blue walls.
Photo: Courtesy Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Isabella Stewart Gardner knew from color. Specifically, she adored a vibrant blue on Florentine art dealer Stefano Bardini’s walls in Italy so much that she set out to duplicate it for her museum. “She knew this heavenly blue would create a tremendous background for the religious objects in her collection,” said the Gardner Museum’s chief conservator, Gianfranco Pocobene, “and she was right. This is a color as intense as color can be.”

Last fall, the museum began the process of restoring the hue to the walls of the Long Gallery. After discovering traces of the original blue in the gallery and near the museum staircase, Pocobene reconstituted wall scrapings with gelatin and water and then painted the color onto a board. With the help of the manufacturer Keim, Pocobene’s team worked iteratively to attain the luminous matte appearance of the original shade. Then, when Keim delivered the paint, “we pulled bags of ultramarine blue to add to the formula,” he said, assessing the color’s intensity as it dried.

“Think of art through the ages; the fascination was with color. Once in a while today, you’ll see a publication come out with ‘the color issue,’ but there’s no real color, just pastels,” said Pocobene. For him, Bardini blue connotes royalty. “It’s a pigment paint, not like the dyes like you get in a store; it has an intensity that is always aston­ishing to me.” — Fiona Luis


Photos: Courtesy Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum