Before the restauration

 

Fig. 1. Burned texture resulting from an old restoration

Fig. 2. a, b and c Part of the Virgin’s hair and blue mantel were concealed beneath a layer of orange pigment similar to the original background. Before, during and after restoration

Fig. 3. a, b and c The different colour of the re-touchings was visible throughout the work

The fact that a painting does not attract the viewer’s attention is the clearest sign that it is in need of restoration. The aim of any such restoration is to present the work in a worthy manner, recovering its full meaning and significance and once more revealing the artist’s technical and pictorial skills. However, the various procedures involved in this process should not erase the marks of time, and respect for a work’s history is one of the fundamental guidelines when carrying out the process in question.

The painting’s history

In 1813 The Immaculate Conception of Los Venerables entered the collection of Marshal Soult and was re-lined while in his ownership. Excessive application of heat burned the painting, resulting in shrinkage and blistering (Fig. 1).

An incorrect elimination of old varnishes eroded the paint surface, negatively affecting the top glazes with which Murillo achieved effects of transparency. This damage was treated in the past by repainting almost the entire picture surface, to the point of altering the composition (Fig. 2, a, b, and c).

In 1852 the painting was acquired by the Musée du Louvre. We know that in 1937 Gaston Chauffrey at that museum was entrusted with re-lining it, but he finally opted not do so due to the “poor state of the work”, and the painting was merely “refixé, régénéré et harmonisé”.

In 1941 the painting entered the Museo del Prado. In 1974 it was again the subject of a restoration process regarding which no information is now available but which is evident from the modifications to the varnishes and various re-touchings.

In 1982 the painting was again the subject of treatment, this time to change the stretcher, “adding linen strips to the edges”. In addition, old varnishes and areas of re-painting were eliminated and the “numerous areas of missing pigment and deteriorated zones” were re-integrated. However, the cleaning of the canvas must have been halted when it was noticed that pentimenti became inexplicably visible beneath the areas of re-painting, as well as the fact that the paint surface was extremely worn.

In 2007 the painting again entered the Museum’s Restoration Department (Fig. 3 a, b, and c ). Recent technical studies made it possible to appreciate the extent of the damage and its effect on the painting as a whole. With a full knowledge of the materials used and the artist’s technique it is easier to analyse the effects of time on the painting and to identify the vestiges of previous restorations.

 
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