Rubens. The Triumph of the Eucharist
25.03.2014 - 29.06.2014
- Alejandro Vergara, Chief Curator of Flemish Paintings and Northern Schools at the Museo Nacional del Prado.
25.03.2014 - 29.06.2014
Room A and B. Jerónimos Building
Monday to Saturday from 10am to 8pm. Sunday and holidays from 10am to 7pm.
In 2011, the Museo del Prado embarked on the project to restore the six panels in order to correct structural damage to the works produced by earlier restoration.
The restoration has partly consisted of removing various 18th-century additions to each of the panels in the series. In addition to preventing a correct visual reading of Rubens’s designs, they were also damaging the original panels. In addition, the habitual procedure in the past of reducing the thickness of panels in order to make them flat had caused cracks, distortions and unequal levels on the surfaces.
The modelli are painted on Polish oak panels comprising two or three planks stuck together with glue. At an unknown date, but after 1775, the panels were enlarged and smoothed down to achieve a flat surface.
The present intervention firstly consisted of removing the later additions in order to return to the original composition devised by Rubens. Also removed were later supporting elements that constricted the panels, causing cracks and distortions.
In the next stage, glue was used to fill in various cracks that had opened up and also areas where the panels had completely come apart, respecting the general curvature and re-establishing group’s overall coherence.
Finally, in order to strengthen the supports and allow for the wood’s natural contraction and expansion, a stretcher with springs was applied to the back of each panel. This has incisions in it filled with polyurethane, which increases the panels’ flexibility without weakening them. Springs were then attached to join the stretcher to the panels through a cable inserted into the brass rods stuck to the reverse. The combination of stretcher and springs allows for a balance between strengthening the panels and allowing for movement. A protective backing of lightweight card covers the stretchers in order to limit the panels’ exposure to dust and environmental changes.
The restoration of the pictorial surfaces firstly involved cleaning all the panels, paying attention to the unique nature of each one and to their different states of preservation, with the aim of recovering the visual unity of each composition. The cleaning process consisted of removing old dirt, varnishes and old restoration in order to reveal Rubens’s loose, direct brushstroke in these works, with their masterly combination of pictorial devices.
The restoration of the pictorial surfaces not only involved correcting losses due to cracks but also covering over small abrasions that prevented a correct visual reading of the scenes. The complete reconstruction of some losses was possible due to the extensive surviving historical documentation (copies of these works by David Teniers III, cartoons and the tapestries in the Descalzas Reales).
Finally, the application of a light varnish brought out the intensity of the colours and richness of the textures, while also unifying the brighter areas of the cracks.
Following restoration these paintings have recovered their colour, light and compositional force and can once again be seen as a sequence of episodes linked by their architectural settings.
The catalogue that accompanies this exhibition includes three essays, written by Anne T. Woollett of the J. Paul Getty Museum; Ana García, Curator of the Convent of the Descalzas Reales, Patrimonio Nacional; and Alejandro Vergara, Chief Curator of Flemish Painting and Northern Schools at the Museo del Prado and the curator of this exhibition. It also includes a text by the restorers who undertook this project: José de la Fuente, George Bisacca and Jonathan Graidorge Lamour (restoration of the panels), and María Antonia López de Asiain (restoration of the pictorial surfaces). Finally, there is a technical study of the six panels in the Prado written by Alejandro Vergara which analyses the frames, under-drawing and inscriptions to be found on the paintings and the date of their execution.