The painting prior to restoration

 

The painting prior to restoration

Cradling added when the work was restored in 1879

Nails of the cradling that oxidised and expanded over time, affecting the painting

Damage to the panel and paint surface from insects

In order to appreciate the alarming state of conservation of the panel of The Purification of the Virgin in the Temple before it arrived at the Museum’s restoration studios, we need to make some reference to the panel’s earlier history and the problems that it suffered. Most importantly, the entire altarpiece of which this panel forms a part was moved and subsequently restored between 1558 and 1560, and was restored again in 1879-1880. In addition, atmospheric and other conditions and circumstances have affected its state.

Problems arising from previous restorations

The panel was broken into three parts when it was moved within the Cathedral around 1558 and was subsequently restored (1558/1560). This restoration aggravated the problems inherent to the panel and consequently affected the paint surface. Restorers at the time were not aware of modern restoration procedures and the cracks in the panel were repaired with the application of hemp and gesso, missing areas of paint were repainted, as were areas of the original paint surface, and the horizontal support beams on the back were removed and replaced with metal ones that prevented the planks from expanding and shrinking in a natural manner. The later restoration of 1879-1870 was also ill-advised. At that date the thickness of the panel was reduced to about 4cm, as it appears today, and the back sanded down, after which a structure of metal slats was attached to it that resulted in numerous and significant fractures in the wood and loss of paint.

Unfortunately, these subsequent restorations did little to solve the basic problems of the panel itself, but rather added new ones arising from the addition of later gesso layers (now extremely hard) introduced by heat and pressure (resulting in distortion), areas of re-painting using oil mixed with coloured varnishes, and very large drips or splashes of varnish or paint that have discoloured the affected area.

Problems arising from environmental conditions

In addition to the problems mentioned above, other arose from the location in which the panel was habitually located in Seville cathedral, where constant changes of temperature and humidity resulted in serious attacks of wood-eating insects, a high degree of environmental contamination (dust, spiders’ webs, candle smoke), and the presence of pigeons and in particular bats, whose excrement has had an extremely corrosive effect on the pigments.

Problems arising from the artist’s working methods

Finally, the particular technique used by Pedro de Campaña has made conservation of this work more difficult. The thick layer of preparation - binding agent (glue) and filler (gesso) was never perfectly mixed, resulting in the fact that it became less adherent over time with consequent areas that had lifted off or lost pigment. The artist’s pictorial technique, based on the application of very fine layers of paint and glazes that left the under-drawing visible, made the restoration and cleaning of this panel an extremely delicate process.

 
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