Looking Inside a 560-Year-Old-Patient

by McKenzie Floyd '12

Scanning St. Michael

On April 23, 2010, the oldest patient ever to be admitted to the Pomona Valley Imaging Center arrived for a CAT scan. He was in critical condition. While the patient was conveyed through the CAT scan instrument, five of us, his good friends and caretakers, waited anxiously to see the results. Patients name: St. Michael. Occupation: Saint and angel, weigher of souls. Age: approximately 560 years.

Scripps College’s ancient local celebrity, the 15th-century painted and gilded wood sculpture originally from Perugia, Italy, had finally been brought in for some health tests.

As Scripps’ first art conservation major and an intern at the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery, I have had the amazing opportunity of working on the conservation of St. Michael throughout much of the 2009-10 academic year. My work, which has primarily involved the stabilization of the surface decoration, made it possible for St. Michael to be moved to Pomona Valley Medical Center and scanned without further damage to the piece. This procedure has revealed much about St. Michael’s internal construction, information we will need as we prepare for structural conservation.

As the CAT machine scanned the body, computer screens in an adjacent room flashed bright blue cross-sections of St. Michael. Dark circles appeared, emanating from the center of the sculpture — the rings of a tree cut down more than 500 years ago to create the piece of artwork lying before us. The final images from the scan, ghostly black and- white front and side views of St. Michael, show that he was carved in one piece except for his whole right arm, and possibly his left forearm. Nails and bolts were inserted deep into his arms, shoulder, and elbow, evidently to hold the respective pieces together. We have yet to determine whether some of those metal pieces will be removed, and whether any are original to the piece. While the separately carved sections of the sculpture threaten to detach without proper stabilization, there are no expansion cracks in the main body — a good sign, and rather astonishing, considering the barrage of different climactic environments the wood has endured over the centuries.

I presented the results and progress of my internship during Scripps College’s 2010 Alumnae Weekend last May. After the talk, a woman approached me and said, “By the end, you started calling the sculpture ‘he.'”

My automatic adoption of the pronoun demonstrates that he is no longer an inanimate object to me. I have come to see in him a rich history. And in trying to extend that history, I have realized that he needs help to stay healthy in his old age; seeing him pass through the CAT scan machine has increased my understanding of that fact.

St. Michael holds within him the hope of the people who looked up and saw him perched gloriously upon the side of a church, the people he comforted with the promise of eternal life. He is imbued with the love of everyone who has owned him. And now, St. Michael contains a part of us — those five who waited on tenterhooks as he was conveyed through the CAT scan at Pomona Valley Medical Center, as well as so many others who have helped him along the way.

McKenzie Floyd ’12, Scripps Colleges’ first art conservation major, was a Wilson intern with the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery and a recipient of the Virginia Judy Esterly Award.


Above: McKenzie Floyd and Assistant Professor of Chemistry Anna Wenzel of the Joint Science Department watch as the statue of St. Michael enters the imaging instrument at Pomona Valley Medical Center.

 

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