Archive for the ‘Renaissance’ Category

Rare portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots, on display

Wednesday, February 20th, 2019

An extremely rare portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots, painted during her lifetime has gone on display at Hever Castle. The oil-on-oak panel painting depicts Mary “en deuil blanc” (in white mourning), wearing gossamer white veils instead of the heavy blacks of full mourning she wore in a later portrait.

It is believed to have been the work of the studio of François Clouet, a miniaturist and portraitist to the French royal family, made in late 1560/early 1561 when Mary was mourning the successive deaths of her father-in-law King Henry II of France (d. July 1559), her mother Mary of Guise (June 1560) and her husband Francis II (December 1560) of France. White had been a popular mourning color in France for centuries by the time Mary donned it. She had unusually bucked that association and worn white for her 1558 wedding to the then-Dauphin of France, only to find herself having to wear white again in its traditional symbolism after his death just two and a half years later.

Another Clouet portrait of her “en deuil blanc” shows her covered from chin to chest in a white pleated gauze “barbe” (beard). The original painting is lost but the image was widely copied. The Hever painting has the same head type as the other Clouet but depicts a less severe white veil with an open collar and tiny buttons down the bust. This may have been a less strict form of mourning worn after a certain amount of time had elapsed from the bereavement.

During her active reign in Scotland from 1561 to 1568, there were few artists of note and even fewer portrait painters of royal quality. If any solo portraits of her were painted during her time in Scotland, none have survived. A double-portrait of her and her second husband Lord Darnley now at Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire, is the only known extant portrait of Mary, Queen of Scots, painted when she was in Scotland ruling as Queen of Scots, ca. 1565.

After her forced abdication and imprisonment in England, she did get some access to court painters. Her caretaker/keeper/jailer George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, allowed her to sit for Nicholas Hilliard, the premiere miniature portraitist of the Tudor court. Copies of Hilliard’s work were distributed at Mary’s behest to her supporters during her lifetime, and after the ascension of her son James VI of Scotland to the throne of England and Ireland in 1603. He commissioned idealized versions of them to enhance his own position as king and the strength of the Stuart claim by depicting her as a martyr and victim of Tudor injustice. It’s those posthumous images of Mary that make up the bulk of her portraiture.

The Hever portrait was in a private collection in France (not Switzerland) for many years. It was thought to be a modified 17th century copy of the more famous Clouet. Dendrochronological analysis of the oak panels found that the wood dated to 1547. Coupled with stylistic examination, the age of the wood confirms that the portrait dated to the mid-16th century and was done in Mary’s lifetime.

Share

Verrocchio’s Putto with Dolphin restored

Wednesday, February 13th, 2019

Putto with Dolphin, a bronze sculpture by 15th century master Andrea del Verrocchio, is undergoing much-needed restoration in time for a landmark exhibition of Verocchio’s work. This is the first scientific conservation the Putto will have ever undergone, which is remarkable considering it spent the first 500 years of its life outdoors.

The polished bronze depicts a chubby winged boy standing on one leg on a half-sphere. In his arms he holds a squirming dolphin. It was commissioned in 1470 by Lorenzo de’ Medici for Villa Medici at Careggi, one of the family’s country homes in the Tuscan hills. Cosimo died there in 1464, and when his grandson Lorenzo, the future Magnificent, took over as head of the family and de facto ruler of Florence in December 1469, he wasted no time in making improvements the Careggi villa and grounds, especially the gardens. The putto was made to top a fountain in the garden, with a spray of water emerging from the dolphin’s rostrum. In 1557, the bronze was moved to the Palazzo Vecchio where it was placed atop the porphyry fountain in the first courtyard. The priceless masterwork remained there until the 1950s, when it was removed from the fountain and put on display as a museum exhibit on the second floor of the Palazzo Vecchio. A replica was installed in its former position on the fountain.

The restoration project began in 2018 in view of the public in a dedicated workspace in the Palazzo Vecchio. A technical analysis of its condition underneath the surface found evidence of deterioration of the bronze. The surface needed extensive cleaning as calcium and water stains had built up over the centuries. There were also residues left by previous attempts at restoration, some of them using harmful substances. Conservators carefully removed those residues and revealed previously unknown details. They were then able to address the biggest threat: corrosion of the bronze. The last step is to cover the surface with gentle, non-invasive treatments to even out the color and protect the bronze from further corrosion. The process has been thoroughly documented through photographs and videos to learn more about Verrocchio’s sculpture and for the benefit of future conservation efforts.

The restored Putto will go on display next month in Verrocchio, Master of Leonardo at the Palazzo Strozzi, the first ever monographic Verocchio exhibition. It will illuminate his working process thanks to a new technical study of his work, and bring together for the first time more than 120 artworks, paintings, drawings and sculptures by Verrocchio and the masters who learned their art in his workshop. The most important artists of the Renaissance — Leonardo da Vinci, Domenico del Ghirlandaio, Sandro Botticelli and Pietro Perugino — all studied under Verrocchio. Together they defined the artistic output of Lorenzo the Magnificent’s Florence between 1460 and 1490. With loans from major museums worldwide, the show will trace the artistic connections linking Leonardo to Verocchio, reconstructing the formation of his style in the interchange between student and master.

The exhibition begins in Florence, running from March 9th through July 14th at the Palazzo Strozzi, with a special section at the National Museum of the Bargello (home of Verrocchio’s David, iconic symbol of Republicanism). It will then travel to the second and last location, Washington D.C., where the National Gallery of Art will host Verrocchio: Master and Mentor, from September 29th to February 2nd, 2020.

Share

Mummy remains studied for rheumatoid arthritis

Friday, February 1st, 2019

The naturally mummified remains of an adult male found in the town Guano, in Ecuador’s Chimborazo Province, is being studied to learn about the spread of rheumatoid arthritis.

The Guano Mummy was discovered after an earthquake struck the town on August 5th, 1949. In the rubble of the Asunción Church, rescuers found the well-preserved remains of a man wedged between two of only three sections of walls that remained of the 400-year-old church. The man was positioned vertically, as if standing, between the walls. He had not deliberately mummified, and neither was the mummified mouse found next to him. It seems the body was sprinkled with lime to speed decomposition but instead the dry, cold conditions preserved his tissues (and those of the unfortunate rodent) in excellent condition. His clothing also survived in remarkably fine fettle. There was a purple scarf wrapped around his jaw (perhaps to keep his mouth from gaping open) and a long white robe covering his body.

After its discovery, the mummy was moved to the town library where it was displayed in less than adequate conditions which caused some deterioration of the organic remains. In 2003, a team of researchers from the US did a thorough study of the mummy, X-raying and carbon-dating it to the 16th century. The date coupled with archival research pointed to a possible candidate for the identity of the mummy: Fray Lázaro de la Cruz de Santofimia, a Franciscan monk who traveled to Guano from Spain to take charge of the religious community there.

Asunción Church was built between approximately 1560 and 1572, commissioned by the Franciscan missionaries who were evangelizing the indigenous Puruhá culture. Later a monastery and cemetery would be built next to the church. Fray Lázaro’s position as the first guardian of the church and monastery could have been the reason he was buried in such an unusual position and location, standing guard over his charges for eternity, as it were.

French pathologist Dr. Philippe Charlier and his team spent two days studying the mummy and taking samples at the laboratory of the National Institute of Cultural Heritage in Quito. One major draw is the evidence of rheumatoid arthritis found in the surviving tissue.

Rheumatoid arthritis was first found in America before the arrival of Christopher Columbus.

Dr Charlier explained: “The mummy of Guano may be the link missing that will allow us to understand how this disease, which was originally American, then became a global disease by hybridisation, by the confrontation between two worlds.”

The examination has found a likely cause of death: a chin fistula that became infected and caused fatal sepsis.

Charlier’s study will also perform a new radiocarbon analysis and DNA analysis (RA is associated with several genetic markers). The dating and genetic testing may help confirm or deny the mummy’s identity. He questions the Fray Lázaro identification because the man was not dressed in the usual Franciscan garb — the textiles are more expensive than the brown homespun of the monk’s habit — nor was he interred with expected Christian accouterments like a rosary and coffin.

Share

Leonardo’s thumbprint found on Royal Collections drawing

Wednesday, January 30th, 2019

A fingerprint believed to have been left by Leonardo da Vinci has been found on one of his drawings in the UK’s Royal Collections. It was discovered by Alan Donnithorne, formerly the head paper conservator of the Royal Collections, who found the thumbprint on a red ink anatomical drawing. Fingerprints have been found on other works by Leonardo da Vinci, but this is the most likely one to have been left by the artist himself on one of the drawings in the Royal Collections.

The drawing, The Cardiovascular System and Principal Organs of a Woman, was made around 1509-1510. Donnithorne found the thumbprint on the left side of the sheet near the subject’s arm. The mark was left in the same dark red ink as Leonardo used to make the drawing. There is also a smudged print left by his left index finger on the back of the sheet.

The UK is going all-out to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death on May 2nd of this year. It is taking the utmost advantage of the Queen Elizabeth II’s 550 works by the master, the largest single collection of Leonardos in the world. Remarkably, they’ve been together as a group since Leonardo died half a millennium ago and have been in the Royal Collection since the 17th century. To mark the anniversary, there will be 12 simultaneous exhibitions of Leonardo drawings across the UK from February 1st through May 6th. Leonardo da Vinci: A Life in Drawing features 12 different drawings on display at each of the 12 museums in Southampton, Bristol, Cardiff, Birmingham, Derby, Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester, Leeds, Sunderland, Belfast and Glasgow. The 144 drawings cover a wide range of interests pursued by the polymath: painting, sculpture, architecture, music, anatomy, engineering, cartography, geology and botany.

The anatomical drawing and its thumbprint will go on display Friday at the National Museum Cardiff. After that, all 144 drawings will join up with a few dozen more of Leonardo’s works from the Royal Collections to go on display at The Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace from May 24th until October 13th. This will be the largest exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci works in 65 years. The exhibition will travel to Scotland next where it will be exhibited at the Queen’s Gallery in the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen’s official residence in Edinburgh, from November 22nd through March 15th, 2020. That will be the largest collection of Leonardo’s works ever shown in Scotland.

In conjunction with the exhibitions, Alan Donnithorne has published a new scientific study of 80 of the Leonardo works in the Royal Collections. Leonardo da Vinci: A Closer Look reexamines those works in the light of the latest analytical technologies, including microscopy, ultraviolet imaging, infrared reflectography and X-ray fluorescence (XRF).

One by one, Leonardo’s processes of creation are revealed, from his choice of paper and the composition of the specialist grounds used for his drawings, to his first touches in chalk, ink or metalpoint, and on to the finished compositions.

Many of these features are of course invisible to the naked eye, and have been so for centuries, ever since Leonardo took his pen from the paper. Infrared images reveal underdrawings unseen for 500 years, published here for the first time. Ultraviolet photography brings back to life now-vanished metalpoint sketches; while spectrographic analysis allows us to explore the origin and precise chemistry of Leonardo’s papers and grounds.

Share

16th c. Greenland mummies had heart disease

Tuesday, January 29th, 2019

Researchers have discovered evidence of heart disease in five mummies from 16th-century Greenland. An international team of anthropologists, medical doctors and technicians examined the mummies with a Computed Tomography scanner in the Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) Shapiro Cardiovascular Center last year. They were looking for arterial plaque, the material that lines the arteries, hardening and narrowing them and creating blockages that can result in fatal heart attacks and strokes.

Atherosclerosis and the cardiovascular disease that result from it is the leading cause of death in the U.S. today. The research team wanted to find out if it was common 500 years ago in Greenland, part of a larger project investigating the heart health of mummified human remains from pre-industrial hunter-gatherer communities.

The mummies of four young adults and one child from the Inuit community in 16th century Greenland were subjected to high-resolution CT scans. The organs were not intact inside the bodies, but even without hearts to explore, researchers were able to detect hardened calcium, ie plaque, in the remains of blood vessels in the chest and neck.

From Egypt to Mongolia and now Greenland, mummies throughout the ages have shown evidence of atherosclerosis. The Greenland mummies were of particular interest due to their diet, which would have primarily consisted of fish and sea mammals.

While increased fish consumption is commonly touted as heart-healthy — which may make the findings of atherosclerosis seem surprising — [associate director of the Brigham’s Cardiovascular Imaging Program Dr. Ron] Blankstein emphasized that scientists still have much to learn about its relationship to cardiovascular health. For example, although it is known that consuming fish rich in omega-3 fats has benefits, some types of fish can also be high in cholesterol and, in the current era, contain toxins like mercury or polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) that may pose risk, he said.

Lifestyle factors, such as exposure to cooking smoke in their dwellings, may have also contributed to the mummified individuals developing cardiovascular disease during their lifetimes, Blankstein said. Given that and the small sample sizes of these mummy scans, he noted that the team’s findings shouldn’t be taken too much to heart, so to speak.

Share

New LED lighting illuminates St. Peter’s Basilica

Saturday, January 26th, 2019

The faithful assembled for Christmas mass were the first to be bathed in the glow of the new LED lighting system which was officially inaugurated yesterday in St. Peter’s Basilica. The product of two years of planning and work, the illumination project hits every possible mark: energy efficiency, unobtrusiveness, brightness, focal points, enabling the latest in video technology.

There are 780 new fixtures installed in the basilica at heights ranging from 40 and 360 feet, all artfully camouflaged. They add up to around 100,000 LEDs generating more than 10 times the light with 80% fewer fixtures. The energy savings are enormous, up to 90% over the previous system. The lighting can be controlled in minute detail by a digital system which will allow different elements to be emphasized on different occasions. It will allow video capture in 4K and 8K for ultra high definition television broadcasts and recordings.

More than 27,000 people visit St. Peter’s every day. These improvements will enhance the experience for the thousands of pilgrims who flock to the basilica to celebrate religious events, making it much easier to get a decent view of the Pope and other concelebrants. An even greater advantage will go to the lovers of art and architecture who also flock to St. Peter’s and wait in its insane lines without the consolation of religious fervor. The architectural and decorative features of one of the masterpieces of Renaissance construction are now visible in a whole new depth. The areas that were lit by the old system, like the main dome, originally designed by Bramante and redesigned and strengthened by Michelangelo, are now so clearly lit that details can be seen which were previously invisible. Places that could not be lit under the old regime are now dazzling, including the octagons and mini-cupolas of the side aisles. You simply could not see the rich mosaics that adorn these features from the ground unaided. Five hundred years ago they were lit by candles, so effectively not lit at all. Now they’re plain as day for the first time in half a millennium.

The photographs look so good I might even brave those insane lines myself next time I’m in Rome, which is saying something because I took one look at them and ran the hell out of there in 2017. I didn’t even attempt it in 2018.

Share

The Dresden Mars returns to Dresden

Friday, January 25th, 2019

A bronze statuette of the god Mars by Mannerist master Giambologna is returning to Dresden almost a century after it was sold away. Its homecoming is so heralded because the sculptor himself sent it to Dresden 432 years ago.

Born Jean Boulogne in Douai, Flanders, in 1529, Giambologna traveled to Rome in 1550 where he was influenced by Classical art and Renaissance masters like Michelangelo and Raphael. He moved to Florence in 1553 where his refined approach to the contortionist Mannerist style earned him a position as the top sculptor at the court of the Medici Grand Dukes of Tuscany by 1560.

The Medici were so protective of their greatest sculptor that they never allowed him to leave Florence out of fear that one of the Habsburg imperial courts would lure him away. His works were so famous they were widely copied. Very few of his sculptures have undisputed documentation of having been produced by his hand during his lifetime. The Dresden Mars is one of them.

It is the earliest cast of the artist’s Mars, made by Giambologna as a personal gift for Christian I, Elector of Saxony (1560-1591). It is the most significant and powerful of his male nudes, the strength of the mythological deity conveyed by his dynamic stride, detailed musculature and intense glare. The usual attributes of Mars — helmet, shield, spear — are absent, with only the hilt of a sword clutched in his right fist standing in for them.

It was made before 1587, the year it arrived in Saxony. Inventory records of the Dresden Kunstkammer note its arrival: “Brass cast portrait of Mars, sent by Giovanni Bologna to His Grace the Elector.” It’s the only Giambologna piece known to have been created for a prince and the sculptor made certain that it was of royal quality. Christian I was keenly aware that it was an exceptional work. In return, the Elector commissioned a hugely expensive necklace from goldsmith Urban Schneeweiss to thank Giambologna for his generous gift. It is believed he was wearing the prized jewel when he sat for a 1591 chalk portrait by Hendrik Goltzius now in the collection of the Teylers Museum in Haarlem.

After three centuries at the Kunstkammer, the masterpiece went into private ownership in 1924, a casualty of the complicated aftermath of World War I. In the wake of Germany’s defeat in 1918 and the abdication of the Kaiser, the last King of Saxony, Frederick Augustus III abdicated as well. The kingdom became the Free State of Saxony, a semi-autonomous state in the Weimar Republic. The new state confiscated the former king’s assets but he refuse to walk away from them as he had the throne. Instead he hired a lawyer and in 1919 sued the Free State of Saxony for illegally requisitioning his family patrimony. He claimed a passel of real estate, millions in cash and securities and 17.5 million marks’ worth of art.

A commission was formed to negotiate a settlement. It took many years of stops and starts, amendments and provisos before the deal was sealed. In 1924, Frederick Augustus got castles, lots of cash and a buttload of art from the collections of multiple museums, including the Kupferstichkabinett Dresden, now the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (SKD).

He was more into the castles and cash than the art. The Dresden Mars was consigned to an art gallery in Berlin which sold it to Theodor Plieninger, General Director of Chemische Werke Griesheim-Elektron, in 1927. Griesheim-Elektron gave it to a member of the board of directors Constantin Jacobi as a retirement present in 1943. Sure beats the usual gold watch. It remained in his family until 1988 when his son and heir Walter Jacobi gave it Bayer AG.

In 2018, Bayer decided to sell Mars at a Sotheby’s auction. The company’s art collection is almost entirely modern, with the Giambologna as its only Renaissance piece and the infusion of millions of dollars from the sale would give them the chance to grow the collection’s contemporary art. Sotheby’s pre-sale estimate was £3-5 million ($4-6.6 million) and it was thrilled to be handling an original Giambologna because they basically never come on the market.

A week before the auction, the SKD, armed with contributions from Free State of Saxony, the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and Media, the Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung, the German Federal Cultural Foundation and the Friends of the SKD, approached Bayer AG offering a private sale. On July 3rd, the day before the scheduled auction, the deal was made and the lot withdrawn.

The Dresden Mars will go on permanent display in the SKD’s Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister when it reopens after refurbishment in December of this year. As of this week, it is going on a Welcome Home Tour through Saxony, beginning at the Stadt-und Bergbaumuseum Freiberg then moving to the Schloss Hartenfels in Torgau and making its last stop on the tour at the Schlossbergmuseum Chemnit.

Share

Bodleian acquires rare medieval book chest

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2019

The University of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries has acquired a rare late 15th century book chest. The Bodleian’s collection of manuscripts and early printed books is one of the largest in the world, but this is its first book coffer and it’s a special one. At 8.5 x 12.6 x 5.5 inches in size, it is one of the largest examples of a book coffer from this period known to survive.

This acquisition gives us greater insight into the ‘everyday life’ of books and print culture more broadly. The coffer provides a link between books held at the Bodleian and cultural objects which were once united, but now usually live apart in libraries and museums around the world.

Dr Christopher Fletcher, Keeper of Special Collections at the Bodleian Libraries, said:

“The Bodleian collects books and manuscripts but also objects which helps us to understand the history and culture of the book – how they were kept, used, moved and understood. The coffer is a remarkable item which is both utilitarian and devotional and preserves an exceptionally rare woodcut in its original context. Among other things, it shows us that our preoccupation with carrying information around with us in mobile devices – including texts and images – is nothing new.”

The coffer is made of leather-covered wood and is lined with red canvas. The cover is wrapped with nine iron bands, hinges and a lock to secure the high-value contents. Also known as a messenger’s box, it has two iron loops on the side through which leather straps would have been threaded through so it could be carried on a person’s shoulders or attached to a horse’s saddle.

A woodcut depicting God the Father in Majesty is affixed to the inside of the lid, one of only four surviving impressions of this print. His presence would have blessed the contents and protected them during their journeys. Other coffers from this time also contain religious prints on the inside lid, and it’s possible they served double duty as portable altars.

It is a version of an illumination in a 1491 Missal by the Master of the Très Petites Heures of Anne of Brittany, a Paris illuminator who was active in the last quarter of the 15th century. He was a versatile artist who created designs for woodcuts, metalcuts, tapestries and stained glass as well as creating illuminated manuscripts for his highest-end clientele. The hand-colored prints found in messenger’s boxes were produced in Paris between 1490 and 1510, which is how we know where and when this coffer was made. These boxes are the only sources of single-leaf French prints before 1500. They are literally the only examples we have of the dawn of printmaking in France.

We have confirmation that these types of lockboxes were used to transport precious books as well as other valuables because depictions of them being used for this purpose have survived, most notably a Rest on the Flight into Egypt made in Antwerp around 1530 which shows a partially open coffer by Mary’s side. At the back is a small book with metal clasps. In front of it are a rosary, a pair of scissors and a brush.

The coffer has gone display at the Bodleian’s Weston Library in a new exhibition, Thinking Inside the Box: Carrying Books Across Cultures, which runs until February 17th. You can see 3D models of the box here.

Share

Teratoma time!

Saturday, January 12th, 2019

I can’t believe it’s been almost four years since my last ovarian teratoma story. Just goes to show how rarely they survive in an archaeological context. Well, if there’s a better way to usher in a new year than with a centuries-old calcified mass of tissue and teeth, I don’t know of it.

Today’s teratoma was discovered in the cemetery of the Church and Convent of Carmo in Lisbon, Portugal, a private burial ground for the religious of the order and its (largely middle class) patrons. It was in use from the 15th century until the 1755 Lisbon earthquake shut it down for good. The cemetery was only recently excavated by Lisbon Archaeological Centre archaeologists in advance of an urban renewal project. During its second dig season in March of 2011, the LAC team encountered skeletal remains with a large calcified mass in the pelvic area. Only the lower half of the body could be recovered at that time. The rest was unearthed in February of 2014, making it possible for all the remains of the individual to be studied.

Osteological examination confirmed the individual was a woman between 5″1 and 5″3′ in height who was more than 45 years old when she died. In her pelvic girdle was a calcified mass that was the same color and texture of her bones. It is small, 1.5″ in length and only a sliver more than that in diameter. Teeth were visible embedded in the inner surface of the base. Researchers cleaned the mass thoroughly and were able to observe irregular, erratic bone formation on the outer and inner surfaces and five malformed quasi-teeth. Four are molar-like, one canine-like. One of the molariform teeth is more malformed than the others, missing any semblance of a root. An X-ray of the teratoma found no further bone structures in the mass.

There’s no way of knowing with certainty whether the mass had an impact on her health or her cause of death. Teratomas are almost always benign and can easily go undiagnosed because they’re not really bothering anyone. Occasionally their shape, size and location can result in organ shifts, infections, anemia, but there is no evidence at all on the bones — no lesions or deformations.

While there is no osteological evidence of what did claim her life, she was buried under a thick layer of lime, unusual in that context. If the people who put her in the grave covered her with lime, it’s likely they thought she had died of an infectious disease.

Share

Discovering Caravaggio’s Saint Catherine

Wednesday, December 19th, 2018

One of the greatest masterpieces in the collection of Madrid’s Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza is Saint Catherine of Alexandria by Michelangelo Merisi, also known as Caravaggio. Commissioned by his early patron Cardinal Francesco Maria del Monte around 1598, Saint Catherine is depicted in luxurious Renaissance garb kneeling next to the spiked breaking wheel that was supposed to kill her, the sword that did kill her after the former broke upon her touch and the martyr’s palm, all symbols of her martyrdom.

This painting and another commissioned by del Monte, The Lute Player, now in the Wildenstein Collection, are set in the same type of rooms as earlier works like The Fortune Teller and The Cardsharps, but the background walls are much more dense and inky tones, the scuro half of the chiaroscuro effect that would become so inextricably associated with Caravaggio’s genius. The strong directional light illuminating Catherine’s face and upper body is the chiaro bit. He upped the contrast in this piece, using the light flesh tones and white blouse to make Saint Catherine stand out in the penumbra, creating dimension and depth.

Saint Catherine has been part of the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza’s collection since 1934 when it was bought at a gallery in Lucerne after one of the Barberini family’s patrimony fire sales. Museum conservators have just completed a complex program of study, cleaning and restoration of the painting, returning to Catherine the full impact of Caravaggio’s mastery of light and shadow.

The primary focus of the work was the removal of many layers of varnish added to the work over the centuries. To ensure that original was preserved, microsamples of the paint were taken and analyzed to identify the materials Caravaggio used and assess their condition. Macrophotographs, raking light examination, X-rays and infrared reflectography were all used to reveal previously unseen details of the artist’s composition and technique. For example, raking light illuminated incisions in the first paint layer, a method Caravaggio used to figure out where to place the volumes (shapes, curves, lines) of the composition.

Conservators also discovered that Catherine’s dress started out red before the artist painted a dark charcoal grey over it. X-rays showed that Caravaggio changed his mind on hand placement too, as the saint’s left hand is veritably bristling with fingers underneath the top layer. The wheel is different as well, but that wasn’t a change in plan. Caravaggio drew the complete wheel first to make sure it would fit before painting over it to create the break representing Catherine’s miraculous destruction of the means of her martyrdom.

The deep blue of the robes was created by combining lapis lazuli, azurite grains, cochineal red, charcoal black, lead white and earth pigments. The lapis in particular was a very expensive ingredient, evidence of the financial support he got from the Cardinal.

Discovering Caravaggio. Technical study and restoration of Saint Catherine of Alexandria is now on display at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza. The restoration is as much of a part of the exhibition as the masterpiece itself.

The show includes X-ray images and infrared reflectograms which illustrate the most interesting aspects of the work performed, explain the methods used, and attest to the excellent quality of the painting. It also features a video of the entire restoration process, the most significant discoveries, and interesting details of the painting.

With this exhibition the Museum, aware of the interest aroused by restoration work, sets out to familiarise visitors with the working methods used by restorers, who are essential to deciding on the most appropriate treatments in each case and a source of important information for art historians. Knowledge of the techniques and materials used by artists is essential to be able to decide on which processes to use to halt the deterioration of artworks. Discovering the most intimate aspects of artistic creation furthermore provides an insight into the artist’s mind and period, as well as better-grounded arguments for understanding the creative process.

The exhibition is a short one, just six months long. It opened December 17th and closes May 26th, 2019.

Share

Navigation

Search

Archives

June 2019
S M T W T F S
« May    
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
30  

Other

Add to Technorati Favorites

Syndication