Technique and Materials Used

 

Fig. 4. The stratigraphic sample reveals that the underlayers of the Virgin’s mantel were painted in white lead, smalt and red lake, while the top layers use lapis lazuli

Fig. 5a. Loose, impastoed brushstroke of the white of the mantel

Fig. 5b. Angels in the upper zone

Fig. 6. X-rays reveal the structure of the stretcher with its double cross-piece that was applied in the 19th century but is now lost

Fig. 7a y b. The x-ray reveals the re-positioning further to the right of one of the angels in the lower zone)

Fig. 8. Infra-red reflectography shows that the positions of the Virgin’s face and hands were altered during the execution of the work

The support

The lining canvas is a thick taffeta weave of a type very similar to the original canvas. On the back is a layer of whiteish coloured priming as well as linen strips added to the lateral edges.

The preparation

Stratigraphic samples revealed that the canvas was covered with a layer of grey-brown preparation made up of earth pigments and small amounts of calcium carbonate, bone blacks and white lead, bound with linseed oil, as in the rest of the painting.

Over this layer Murillo applied a layer of priming that varies in colour between grey-blue, reddish-brown and dark greyish-brown depending on the area to which these colours act as the base. Over this tonal layer he added the colour, which is subtly graduated in some areas to achieve different aesthetic effects. Some areas are more reddish in tone and are visible through the top layer, while others are pinkish in order to reinforce the flesh tones of the angels, painted on top.

Analyses of micro-samples have revealed numerous areas of re-painting in zones of total or partial paint loss, as well as deterioration of some of the pigments, for example, the general darkening of the smalt (Fig. 4.)

The paint surface

The paint layers were applied with a brushstroke of varying dryness depending on the desired result. The lighter areas are the most heavily impastoed and dense, painted with long, firm brushstrokes (Fig. 5). Murillo gave the intermediary planes an ethereal, nebulous effect through the use of large amounts of binder in order to apply superimposed layers of transparent colour (Fig. 5b). The background areas achieve effects of chiaroscuro that are created by allowing the grey-brown priming to show through and hence produce an effect of depth.

Additional X-ray and Infra-red studies allowed the work’s state of preservation to be analysed from other viewpoints. (Fig. 6). These studies show the wear, craquelure, losses to the preparatory layers and the paint surface, and traces of earlier restorations, as well as changes that Murillo made to the composition during the process of execution (Fig. 7, a and b). (Fig. 8.)

 
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