Donatella Zari

It is with great sadness that ICCROM says farewell to friend and colleague Donatella Zari, who passed away in Rome on 27 December 2016. Donatella and her husband of 49 years, Carlo Giantomassi, worked with ICCROM on numerous projects and courses over many decades. They team-taught on ICCROM’s Mural Paintings Conservation course, and carried out conservation on important and challenging heritage in some of the most remote corners of the globe. Many examples from Donatella and her husband’s teaching experiences attest to their willingness and ability to transmit ideas, skills and knowledge to the younger generation of restorers.

Donatella was born in Pisa in 1949. At a very young age she came to Rome to attend the Istituto Centrale del Restauro, where she received her diploma in 1970. While working on her specialization she met Carlo, and together they began their careers, rich with personal and professional experiences. These were the years of the restoration of the Basilica of Assisi, the frescoes by Cimabue and Giotto, Cavallini’s Last Judgement in the church of Santa Cecilia, to mention only a few. During this time she also began teaching in Spoleto, in Botticino, at the UNESCO Office in Venice, and at ICCROM on the Mural Paintings Courses.

Donatella’s contacts and curiosity led her to seek adventure on several foreign missions, many of which were carried out for ICCROM. Donatella, together with Carlo, led several restoration projects for ICCROM, including the Abbatija Tad-Dejr Hypogea in Malta (1981), the Monastery of Qannoubine in Lebanon (2001) and the Zighoud Youcef Palace in Algiers, Algeria (2009).

She was a senior team member for numerous ICCROM wall painting conservation missions. These include missions to the Karanlik and Tokali Kilise churches in Göreme, Turkey (1981); Wat Pra Kaew  and Wat Sutat temples in Thailand (1981-82); several trips to Myanmar to restore temples in Bagan (between 1983 and 1994); and the Debre Berhan Selassie Church in Ethiopia (1977-79).


Of particular note is her involvement in the restoration of the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem after a bomb and fire damaged the painted and stuccoed dome. For this project ICCROM won the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 1986.  Donatella and Carlo also taught on the first edition (2010) of the First Aid to Cultural Heritage in Times of Conflict, organized in Rome by ICCROM in collaboration with MiBACT.

In 1979 she and Carlo won the Zanotti Bianco di Italia Nostra Prize for the restoration of the frescoes of Pinturicchio in Spello, and in 2004 they received the Nazionale D’Eccellenza Profeti in Patria prize. In 2015 Donatella and Carlo were honoured with Honoris Causa doctorates from the University of Freiburg.

Donatella Zari was a person of clarity and determination, always willing to engage in dialogue. In the discussions that preceded any work, she was passionate in her appreciation of the object that she sought to understand in all of its aesthetic and technical aspects.

With the passing of Donatella Zari, we have lost an extraordinary person. Her knowledge and skills in the field of conservation-restoration, and her profound intelligence will leave a lasting impact on the many and diverse people she met, taught and worked with in her lifetime. Donatella always created a feeling for the care of beauty, one that included friendship, fun and lasting bonds with all those with whom she came in contact. This circle of colleagues today mourns the loss of a true professional and friend.


ICCROM joins in extending condolences to Donatella’s husband Carlo, to her family, friends and professional colleagues in Italy and all around the world.