Restored #2

Following on from yesterday’s post on successful and unsuccessful restoration projects, here are a few more. Let’s start with this example of when a more cartoony, less realistic painting was deliberate rather than the result of a botched job.

Ghent altarpiece restorations reveal the alarmingly humanoid face of the famous mystic lambSmithsonian Magazine
To be fair, the lamb—which features prominently in a panel appropriately titled Adoration of the Mystic Lamb—is meant to represent Christ himself. But perched atop its fluffy woolly-white body, the penetrating, close-set eyes, full pink lips and flared nostrils of the original lamb are, at a minimum, eye-catching, if not alarmingly anthropomorphic. Its “cartoonish” appearance is a marked departure from the serene, naturalistic style characterizing the rest of the scene surrounding it, as well as the other panels, Hélène Dubois, the head of the Royal Institute’s restoration project, tells Hannah McGivern at the Art Newspaper.

For that reason, during the century or so that the painting hung in its full, unadulterated glory, onlookers gazing upon the lamb probably got a more “intense interaction” than they bargained for, Dubois suggests. Perhaps the anomalous nature of this riveting stare was part of the motivation behind a spate of modifications to the painting in 1550, when a second set of artists swapped the lamb’s soul-penetrating gaze for a more “impassive and … neutral” expression, restorers explained in a statement, as reported by Flanders Today’s Lisa Bradshaw in 2018.

As we read yesterday with the Vermeer, these restoration projects can take years…

The restoration of Rembrandt’s The Night Watch begins: Watch the painstaking process on-site and onlineOpen Culture
“It is like a military operation in the planning,” said Dibbets, and it has required the utmost precision and expert teams of restorers, data experts, art historians, and the professionals who moved the enormous painting into the glass case it will occupy during this intense period. The crew of restorers will work from digital images taken with a macro X-ray fluorescence scanner, a technique, says Dibbets, that allowed them to “make a full body scan” and “discover which pigments [Rembrandt] used.”

…but here’s an approach I wasn’t expecting with this painting.

AI helps return Rembrandt’s The Night Watch to original sizeThe Guardian
In 1715, three-quarters of a century after it was painted, the canvas was trimmed – 60cm (2ft) cut from the left side of the painting, 22cm (9ins) from the top, 12cm from the bottom and 7cm from the right – so that the masterpiece might fit between two doors at Amsterdam’s city hall. But using high-resolution photography of what is left of the original, computer learning of Rembrandt’s techniques and a contemporary copy of the full painting by Gerrit Lundens hanging in London’s National Gallery, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam was able to reproduce the work in all its glory.

I’m a big fan of Antony Gormley’s spooky and solemn sculptures on Crosby beach near Liverpool, so I was happy to read that they’re being looked after.

Antony Gormley asks for ‘vandalised’ beach sculptures to be cleanedThe Guardian
Antony Gormley has asked for paint to be removed from his iron men sculptures on Crosby beach after they were embellished with colourful outfits by an unknown artist. At least nine of the famous group of statues, which face out to sea and have been standing naked on the Merseyside beach for a decade, have been brightly decorated in the past week.

Antony Gormley hopes Crosby statues last 1,000 years after resetThe Guardian
One hundred cast-iron statues modelled on Gormley were installed in 2005 at Crosby beach, spread across 3km (2 miles) of the foreshore and stretching almost 1km out to sea. The installation, Another Place, was only supposed to last 16 months in Crosby, and the men were almost sent packing early amid safety complaints including cases of the coastguard being called out to “rescue” them. Sixteen years on, the artwork has become a tourist attraction for the Sefton borough of Merseyside and a beloved local institution. But unnoticed by all but the keenest eye, 10 of the men have been missing in action for the past few years after their concrete support piles disintegrated, plunging them face-first into the mud.

Of course, restoration isn’t just limited to paintings and sculptures. There are people who also want to restore … letters of the alphabet?

Petition · Restore the ampersand as the 27th letter of the alphabetChange.org
The ampersand dates all the way back to 45 AD and Johannes Gutenberg even included it on his first printing press in 1440. During the 19th century, American schoolchildren were taught to end their ABC’s with “X, Y, Z, and per se and” because the ampersand was indeed the 27th letter. But then it mysteriously and inexplicably disappeared from the alphabet. […]

This isn’t just for us. Think of all the uses of the ampersand out there, and all the people and organizations that could benefit from allowing the ampersand back into our alphabet. We’re not asking for much. And to be completely honest, we’re not exactly sure who calls the shots on these sorts of things, but having Merriam-Webster on our side seems like a good start.

For law firms, the ampersand is a character worth savingABA Journal
Paul Hastings, Norton Rose Fulbright, Hogan Lovells, Proskauer Rose, Baker Botts: the list of new BigLaw titles built on the corpses of ampersands is almost endless. All these firms discarded their ampersands as if they were ashamed of them. The BigLaw ampersand now stands on the precipice of extinction. Accordingly, it is up to BigLaw partners and associates to see to its survival. You’re thinking, “But what can I do? I’m only one lawyer among tens of thousands?” You have answered your own question: You are one of tens of thousands. Your voice, added to the voices of your brother and sister lawyers across the land, can be a mighty chorus demanding the restoration of the ampersand to its rightful place in American law.

Restored

It’s nice to see the completion of that Vermeer restoration I mentioned a while ago.

First full image of ‘new’ Vermeer with uncovered Cupid released by Dresden museumThe Art Newspaper
Art lovers get ready to be struck by Cupid’s arrow, as the first image of the completed restoration of Johannes Vermeer’s Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window (around 1657-59) has been released today by Dresden’s Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, fully revealing a hidden image of Cupid. The change to the composition in one of Vermeer’s most famous paintings is so great that the German museum is dubbing it a “new” Vermeer in publicity materials.

A restored Vermeer painting reveals a hidden Cupid artwork hanging in the backgroundColossal
The new restoration—dive into the lengthy process in the video below—is just one of the mysteries that’s surrounded “Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window” since its creation between 1657–59. Originally attributed to Rembrandt and later to Pieter de Hooch, the artwork wasn’t properly credited until 1880. The piece is evocative of another one of Vermeer’s works, “Lady Standing at a Virginal,” though, which similarly features a painting within a painting by showing a solitary figure standing near a window with Cupid on the wall behind her.

There’s something very hypnotic and life-affirming about watching such intricate restorations. Here are a few more.

The Museum of Modern Art: Microscopically reweaving a 1907 paintingYouTube
To ready Paula Modersohn-Becker’s “Self Portrait” (1907) for MoMA’s reopening in October, conservator Diana Hartman tackles the question of how to repair holes in the painting’s canvas. She figures out that a curved needle typically used in eye surgery might allow her to avoid removing the work from its original stretcher. And her inventiveness doesn’t end there: Using an adhesive made from a sturgeon bladder, she secures linen thread to the needle to darn the pieces back together with the help of a microscope.

Tate: Restoring RothkoYouTube
Mark Rothko’s ‘Black on Maroon’ 1958 goes back on public view at Tate Modern on 13 May 2014, following 18 months of intensive work by the Conservation team and colleagues across Tate. The painting, one of the iconic Seagram murals which Rothko donated to Tate in 1970, was vandalised with graffiti ink in October 2012. It has since been the subject of detailed research and restoration by the core treatment team of Rachel Barker, Bronwyn Ormsby and Patricia Smithen.

Baumgartner Restoration: Ex Multis Ad Unum – Restoring a split painting, narratedYouTube
One of the challenges that the conservator often faces is before being able to embark upon the work of restoring the painting the old conservation attempts and materials must first be addressed. That is, before the “do” comes a lot of “undo.” Unknown materials and motives can be frustrating and difficult to address yet with experience and resources these can be overcome.

There seems to be no shortage of examples of restoration going wrong — though I don’t know why it’s Spain so often.

Worshipping at the altar of Beast JesusHyperallergic
Instead of trying to restore the restoration, the people behind the Santuario de Misericordia decided to make Giménez’s bizarre creation work in their favor — something they may have learned from the wise people of Pisa, who never tried to straighten their famous tower.

Botched Spanish sculpture restoration evokes the infamy of Beast JesusHyperallergic
The wooden statue is housed in the town’s St. Michael’s Church. Before-and-after photo comparisons show a badly damaged but tonally subtle and complex sculpture that has been updated with a cartoonish palette. The makeover has not only changed the facial expression of Saint George to a kind of dumbfounded stare, but also obliterated many of the details in his ornate armor, which now resembles that of a toy knight.

15th century Virgin Mary sculpture gets a very special makeoverHyperallergic
“I’m not a professional painter, but I’ve always enjoyed it, and these images really were in need of painting,” María Luisa Menéndez, the local tobacco shopkeeper responsible for this latest painting fiasco said in a statement to the newspaper El Comercio, adding that the local clergy had given her permission. “So I painted them the best I could, with the colors that seemed right, and the neighbors like it.”

How ‘Monkey Christ’ brought new life to a quiet Spanish townThe Guardian
Between August and December 2012, 45,824 people visited the sanctuary. The numbers may have dropped off since then, but Borja still receives 16,000 visitors a year – more than four times the number who came before Giménez picked up her brushes. Not only has the picture’s fame provided jobs for the sanctuary-museum’s two caretakers, it also helps fund places at Borja’s care home for the elderly, a haven for those who would not otherwise be able to afford to live there.

Botched Spanish statue that went viral is lovingly unrestoredThe Guardian
“It’s been a long process because we had to do preliminary tests and take samples to see how we could go about cleaning it and to determine which would be the best materials and methods,” [Carlos Martínez Álava, the head of the Navarre government’s historic heritage department] said. “Today, the statue has the same colours it had before last year’s extremely unfortunate intervention. But we know that we’ve lost part of the original paint along the way.”

Spanish statue bodge-up is a new rival to Borja’s Monkey ChristThe Guardian
What was once the smiling face of a woman next to some livestock has been replaced with a crude countenance that bears a passing resemblance to the incumbent US president, Donald Trump. Or one of the Sand People from Star Wars. Or something from a cheese-induced nightmare. Or, to be honest, pretty much anything you wish to project on to it.

Furniture restorer disfigures Murillo’s 17th-century Virgin Mary—and charges owner €1,200The Art Newspaper
The incident has sparked debate in Spain’s art conservation community, which says the country needs stricter rules on the restoration of art and heritage. “The works that undergo this type of non-professional intervention can end up irreversibly damaged,” says María Borja, one of the vice presidents of Spain’s Professional Association of Restorers and Conservators (ACRE), speaking to Europa Press.

Return of a lost love

From The Art Newspaper, news of a cupid’s return.

Hidden Cupid resurfaces in one of Vermeer’s best-known works after two and a half centuries
On the original canvas, the Cupid “picture within a picture” hung on the wall behind the letter-reading girl. It was detected 40 years ago by x-ray, but scholars had always assumed that Vermeer himself painted over it, says Uta Neidhardt, the senior conservator at Dresden’s Gemäldegalerie. The decision to restore Cupid to the work was taken after recent laboratory tests established beyond doubt that the figure was overpainted decades after Vermeer completed it.

“There was even a layer of dirt above the original varnish on the Cupid, showing the painting had been in its original state for decades,” Neidhardt says. The overpainting was also slightly darker than the colour used by Vermeer in the background of his work, because the later artist needed to compensate for the darkening varnish on the original, she says.

“This is the most sensational experience of my career,” she says. “It makes it a different painting.”

return-of-a-lost-love

As well as restoring the painting, quite a number of art theory re-writes are required now, I think.

Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window by Johannes Vermeer
We know from x-rays images that on the background wall, just above and to the right of the young woman, Vermeer had included a large-scale ebony-framed painting of Cupid (the same one that appears in A Lady Standing at a Virginal). It was later painted it out by the artist himself.

The Cupid would have made it clear that the content of the young woman’s letter was of an amorous nature.

return-of-a-lost-love-1