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Dürer’s Adam and Eve return to public display at the Prado following their painstaking and complex restoration Thursday, November 25, 2010

Following a lengthy and complex process of restoration of the panels of Adam and Eve, two masterpieces within the oeuvre of Albrecht Dürer, the greatest artist of the German Renaissance, the Museo del Prado is exhibiting the results of this restoration through a special presentation of both paintings in the centre of Room 49. For four months the panels will be shown apart from the other works by the artist in the collection, among which is his celebrated Self-portrait (1498). Adam and Eve are mounted on a metal structure specially designed to allow both the front and back of each work to be seen. In an adjoining gallery (Room 55b) the restoration of the two panels is explained in detail through several text and image panels that include images of reflectographs and x-rays of the works. There is also a video that records key moments during their restoration and explains the work undertaken on the paint surfaces and the supports.

Dürer’s Adam and Eve return to public display at the Prado following their painstaking and complex restoration

Over the course of their history, the paint surfaces of the two panels have undergone successive restorations that accumulated, one on top of the other, and finally concealed Dürer’s original intentions and his exceptionally refined technical skills. These old restorations also affected the panels, particularly that of Adam, which had vertical cracks on the surface that produced distortions and bulging, in turn causing shadows and irregularities on the pictorial surface and thus negatively affecting the forms of Dürer’s composition. For these reasons, the decision was taken two years ago to move the paintings to the Museum’s restoration studio in order to restore them and recover the original enamelled surface of the paint layers, in addition to re-establishing the volumes, the sense of depth and the colour achieved by Dürer in the depiction of the figures.

The restoration of the paint surfaces was undertaken by Maite Dávila, a highly experienced paintings restorer at the Museum. The fragile state of the panels, particularly with regard to the problems of the Adam panel, required a complete process of restoration that has been made possible through the support of the Getty Foundation in Los Angeles, California. The collaboration of that institution in the restoration of the two panels is part of the “Panel Painting Initiative” project through which the Getty committed itself to funding the restoration of both panels. This commitment also involved the participation of George Bisacca of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, who is one of the leading international experts in the restoration of supports, together with that of José de la Fuente, restorer of supports at the Prado, who was in contact with Bisacca throughout the entire process.

In addition and as from today, the new involvement of Iberdrola Foundation as a “protector member” of the Museum’s restoration programme represents an important degree of support that will enable the Museum to continue undertaking as many projects of this importance as are considered necessary for the conservation of its collections, and to subsequently make them known to the public through special installations of the type designed for the Adam and Eve panels, made possible through the new participation of Iberdrola Foundation.

Hidden for being "indecent" for more than 25 years

Despite the undeniable importance of the two paintings presented today, now seen with their original pictorial qualities largely recovered and on display in one of the Museum’s principal galleries, it should be remembered that for 283 years (with the exception of the brief reign of José Bonaparte), since their arrival in Madrid in 1655, both panels were considered to be "nudes" and thus kept in spaces not open to the public.

The very fact that they have survived at all might be considered somewhat miraculous given than in 1762 Charles III’s moral qualms led him to include them on a list of "indecent" paintings to be destroyed. The intervention of the Court Painter Mengs saved Dürer’s panels as he was able to convince the monarch that both paintings "were very useful for his pupils to study." With this didactic purpose in mind, thirty years later the two panels were taken to the Academia de San Fernando where they were stored away and could only be seen without restrictions during the reign of José Bonaparte (1809-1813), when they were hung in the Sala de Juntas. Curiously, the story of the concealment of these paintings did not end with their entry into the Prado in 1827, and until 1838 they were kept in the closed room where nudes were housed, at which date they were finally incorporated into the display of works on view to the public.