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

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

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