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Rubens. The Triumph of the Eucharist

25.03.2014 - 29.06.2014

Around 1625, the Infanta Clara Eugenia, Governor of the Spanish Netherlands, commissioned Rubens to produce a series of twenty tapestries for the convent of the Descalzas Reales in Madrid, where they are all still to be found. All Rubens’s designs, painted on panel, focus on the theme of the Eucharist, the principal dogma of Catholicism which the Infanta promoted. Rubens produced various preparatory oil sketches for this series that can be considered among his finest works of this type, revealing his characteristic expressivity and vitality and his profound knowledge of classical and Renaissance works of art.The Prado’s collection includes six of the panels that Rubens produced in preparation for this project. These large-scale oil sketches, known as modelli, were used by the artist as the basis for the large cartoons on which the tapestries (woven in silk and wool in Brussels) were based. Four of the tapestries, which are among the finest produced in Europe in the Baroque period, can also be seen in the exhibition.
Curator:
Alejandro Vergara

Access

Room A and B. Jerónimos Building

Opening time

Monday to Saturday from 10am to 8pm. Sunday and holidays from 10am to 7pm.

Supported by:
Fundación Iberdrola
In collaboration with:
The Getty Foundation

Multimedia

Exhibition

Restoration

Restoration
The Victory of Truth over Heresy
Rubens
1625-1626
Oil on panel
64,4 x 90,8 cm
Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado

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 restoration of the supports

The restoration of the supports
George Bisacca (The Metropolitan Museum) and José de la Fuente (Museo del Prado)
Placing the secondary support system with springs

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

The restoration of the pictorial surfaces
The painting The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek after the additional parts have been removed
The piece was separated into three parts, a junction and a fissure. Phase prior to the joining of the different segments

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.

Artworks

8

The Triumph of the Church

Rubens (Painter) / Jan II Raes
1626-1633
Tapestry (silk and wool), 480 x 750 cm
Madrid, Patrimonio Nacional, Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales

9

The Triumph of Divine Love

Rubens (Painter) / Jan II Raes, Hans Vervoert and Jacques Fobert
1626-1633
Tapestry (silk and wool), 480 x 480 cm
Madrid, Patrimonio Nacional, Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales

10

The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek

Rubens (Painter) / Jan II Raes, Hans Vervoert and Jacques Fobert
1626-1633
Tapestry (silk and wool), 490 x 600 cm
Madrid, Patrimonio Nacional, Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales

11

The Victory of Truth over Heresy

Rubens (Painter) / Jacob II Geubels
1626-1633
Tapestry (silk and wool), 470 x 670 cm
Madrid, Patrimonio Nacional, Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales

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