The Art of Restoring a 400-Year-Old Painting: A Five-Minute Primer

Look­ing to expand your capac­i­ty for art appre­ci­a­tion, with­out spend­ing much in the way of time or mon­ey?

You could play Mas­ter­piece, or check some Sis­ter Wendy out of the library…

Or you could watch con­ser­va­tor Michael Gal­lagher ten­der­ly min­is­ter­ing to 17th-cen­tu­ry painter Charles Le Brun’s Ever­hard Jabach and His Fam­i­ly, above.

Long con­sid­ered lost, the life-size fam­i­ly por­trait of the artist’s friend, a lead­ing banker and art col­lec­tor, was in sor­ry shape when the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um acquired it from a pri­vate col­lec­tion ear­li­er last year.

Gal­lagher worked for ten months to coun­ter­act the var­i­ous indig­ni­ties it had suf­fered, includ­ing a re-stretch­ing that left the orig­i­nal can­vas severe­ly creased, and a Gild­ed Age appli­ca­tion of var­nish that weath­ered poor­ly over time.

It’s a painstak­ing process, restor­ing such a work to its orig­i­nal glo­ry, requir­ing count­less Q‑tips and a giant roller that allowed staffers to safe­ly flip all 9 x 10.75 feet of the mas­sive can­vas. Gal­lagher iden­ti­fies the last step, a sprayed-on coat of var­nish nec­es­sary for teas­ing out the painting’s orig­i­nal lus­ter, as the most nerve-wrack­ing part of the odyssey.

Now that you know what went into it, you real­ly should go vis­it it in per­son, if only to mar­vel at how the major­i­ty of vis­i­tors stream obliv­i­ous­ly past, bound for the gift shop, the cafe, or oth­er more name brand attrac­tions.

(Cer­tain­ly Le Brun, First Painter to Louis XIV, was a name brand in his day.)

Get even more out of your vis­it by bon­ing up on some notable aspects of the work itself, such as the geom­e­try of the sub­jects’ place­ment and the artist’s self-por­trait, reflect­ed in a mir­ror over his patron’s shoul­der.

Gal­lagher and oth­er Met staffers kept a detailed account of the restora­tion process on the Met’s Con­ser­va­tion blog. Read their posts here.

via Devour

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art Puts 400,000 High-Res Images Online & Makes Them Free to Use

Down­load 448 Free Art Books from The Met­ro­pol­i­tan Muse­um of Art

Watch a Japan­ese Crafts­man Lov­ing­ly Bring a Tat­tered Old Book Back to Near Mint Con­di­tion

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

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