Conservation of Spanish Historical Heritage
We started our collaboration with the Prado Museum after signing an agreement on 24 November 2010, granting us the status of Protector Member of the Museum’s Restoration Workshop.
One of the Prado Museum’s main roles is to guarantee the protection and conservation of the Spanish Artistic Heritage assets it houses. A large part of this work is carried out by the Museum’s Restoration Area, made up of 31 specialists from various interdisciplinary departments who work together to carry out the preventive conservation, study and analysis and, when necessary, restoration of the works of art.
In June 2013, we deepened our collaboration with the Prado Museum when we signed a new agreement giving us the status of Benefactor of the Prado Museum supporting new initiatives at the art gallery such as the Lighting the Prado project, without overlooking our support for the museum’s conservation and restoration programme, which is one of the most prestigious in the world.
We also award two restoration research scholarships each year that enable the beneficiaries to further their training at the Prado Museum’s Restoration Workshop. The objective of this initiative, whose first call was in April 2011, is to complete the training of future specialists and encourage research in the field of restoration.
Since our sponsorship of the Prado Museum’s Restoration Programme began, interventions have been carried out on over 2,000 works. In recent years, the most important pieces restored, within the framework of our collaboration agreement, have included:
After fifteen months of restoration work, the Prado Museum has regained the splendour of the work The Fountain of Grace, thanks to our support. It is one of the museum’s most important and enigmatic Flemish paintings due to the different theories about its authorship, origin and meaning.
After a long process of restoration, the Prado Museum was able to exhibit three little known masterpieces by the artist Antonio María Esquivel, one of the most outstanding Spanish Romantic painters.
- Of the three works, The fall of Lucifer, The Saviour and The Virgin Mary, the Baby Jesus and the Holy Spirit with Angels in the Background, only the former had been exhibited previously, and only for a short time, in the Casón del Buen Retiro.
- The three works were restored in the Prado Museum’s Restoration Workshop, paying special attention to cleaning and repairing the wear caused by the passage of time in order to restore the perfect balance in the composition as well as the colour tone and light that characterise Esquivel’s work.
The paintings by the Sevillian artist were restored within the framework of our collaboration with the institution and were exhibited in the museum until 20 January 2019 in a room dedicated to the great works from the 19th century.
- The painter’s religious work does not receive the acclaim it deserves as Esquivel is better known for his portraits, so the exhibition aimed to try to fill this gap.
- The exhibition reflected the main elements of Esquivel’s style, which was influenced by Andalusian Baroque painting and, in particular, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo.
This painting, one of the masterpieces in the Prado Museum, returned to its rooms after restoration work lasting a year and a half. The work, from the Royal Collection, was the only painting by Pieter Brueghel the Elder that was held in Spain until The Wine of Saint Martin’s Day also entered the Prado’s collection in 2011.
It is a moralistic work that depicts the triumph of Death over worldly things, a common theme in medieval literature, and was influenced by Bosch.
The restoration process of The Triumph of Death, a 117 x 162 centimetre oil painting on wooden panels, carried out by María Antonia López de Asiain (on the pictorial surface) and by José de la Fuente (the support), reinstated its structural stability, its original colours, its composition and its highly personal pictorial technique that, with precise brush strokes, achieves transparency in the backgrounds and prodigious sharpness in the foreground.
The four horizontal oak panels on which the work is painted were taken apart, at an unknown time, to plane them and the support was reinforced with a seam system that prevented any natural movement in the wood.
Given the state of conservation of the support, in this action the seaming was eliminated to release the natural movement of the wood and level the cracks and panels, separating the upper panel to balance it correctly in the plane.
Once the restoration of the cracks and joints was completed, a secondary support was built – a beech wood frame – with the exact shape of the curvature that the work adopted once freed from the seaming, to give it stability while respecting its hygroscopic movements.
The frame was joined to the painting using a system of flat stainless steel springs, reversibly glued to the support by golden brass buttons. These springs are inserted in nylon screws that allow tensioning, dilation and contraction movements across 3600 within the plane.
The very conception of the painting conscientiously draws attention to the final profiling of the details which had become hidden under a large number of overpaintings from different previous restorations. These were later masked by coloured varnishes to give it a unity that completely transformed its image into an almost monochrome ochre. The work, therefore, required a complete cleaning that was hampered by the delicacy of the original layer of paint compared to the thickness and hardness of the repainting.
- Removing the general repainting has eliminated the warm-toned veil added in earlier restorations, thus revealing previously concealed details in the original painting.
- The general tone of the painting has changed: it has recovered its intense blue and red tones, the complexity of its composition and the depth of the landscape has been restored.
Thanks to the infra-red reflectography used by the restorers and the copies of the painting made by the author’s children, it was possible to correctly reintegrate the small lost elements erroneously invented in previous treatments.
In 2018, as part of the room remodelling started for the Prado Museum’s 2009-2012 Action Plan, the new display for the Dauphin’s Treasure and the refurbishment of rooms 76 to 84 were inaugurated to present the 17th century Flemish and Dutch painting collections. Both sets are now exhibited on the second floor in the north wing of the Villanueva building, in renovated areas to highlight the richness and variety of these two collections.
The collection is named after the Great Dauphin Louis of France, son of Louis XIV and Maria Theresa of Austria, who gathered together a fabulous collection of “precious glasses” in rock crystal and hard stone (agate, jasper, lapis lazuli, jade), many of them garnished with gold and silver, enamels and precious stones.
The Dauphin was never crowned and his son Felipe V, the first Spanish Bourbon, inherited 169 works known as the Dauphin’s Treasure. They were very popular at the time: costing five times more than a Titian.
- It is the only collection of its kind in Spain, comparable to other great European dynastic treasures, both for its quality and its intrinsic value and beauty. It is also an important example of a European collection of 16th and 17th century decorative arts, which projected an image of royal power and prestige.
- Currently, this treasure is displayed in the circular room that surrounds the dome in the upper Goya Rotunda. This 188-square metre room contains a spectacular curved glass cabinet that is 1.73 metres high and 40 metres long and houses 170 exquisite and refined pieces.
The Prado Museum, with our collaboration, showcased an exhibition dedicated to Italian painting on stone (In Lapide Depictum) to show the public the results of the studies carried out during the restoration of these works. The exhibition was curated by Ana González Mozo, Senior Museums Technician with the Prado Museum’s Restoration Area.
- The carefully selected group of works from the Museum’s collection, together, along with two others from Naples, revealed the new approach to artistic techniques that emerged in the early decades of the 16th century.
- The exhibition also reflected the aesthetic and philosophical concepts of the time: the reproduction of new pictorial effects which entail controlling how the light falls on the painting’s surface; the perception of the natural world as codified in classical texts; the paragone (comparison) with sculpture; and the desire to produce eternal creations.
Although there have been some previous exhibitions of a general nature, the Prado Museum wanted to delve into this phenomenon, studying the theories that stimulated its development and exploring the origin of the technique, its relationship with the classical world and the painting techniques honed by Sebastiano del Piombo, Titian and Daniele da Volterra to achieve different chromatic results. Thanks to the use of these non-traditional supports, the works have reached us in a good state of repair.
For the exhibition, and within our collaboration programme with the museum, restoration was carried out on two works by Titian and one from the Bassano workshop. The pieces underwent lengthy and delicate restoration involving a number of specialists in different areas of restoration (paint, frames and supports), so that visitors can fully appreciate the uniqueness of these works, executed in oil on supports that are both special and rarely encountered in the history of art.
- The two paintings by Titian, which were painted on a stone support for Emperor Carlos V, were in very poor condition due to the large amount of surface dirt and accumulated oxidised varnishes. The restoration of Ecce Homo by Elisa Mora recovered its hidden nuances, revealing how Titian (taking advantage of the dark slate base) used glazes to depict the flesh and volume of Christ’s anatomy and the textures of the fabric mantle. In Mater Dolorosa, transparencies, shades and nuances of colour were discovered in this unprepared painting whose luminosity is due to its white marble support sealed with hot oil.
- The Holy Burial from the Bassano workshop was restored by Alicia Peral, who recovered the volume of each figure and its exact position in the composition, as well as the depth of the landscape. The restoration also revealed touches of gold with which the author achieves the effect of vibrating light, in contrast to the dark, deep surface of the slate support.
The nature of the support and the close relationship established with the classical tradition of polychromed stone has encouraged a collaboration with other disciplines, including natural history, geography and archaeology. This collaboration yielded a greater understanding of the techniques used and of the works themselves, which was reflected in different aspects of the exhibition:
- On the one hand, through the presence of pieces belonging to these fields: works from the classical Roman world and rough stone materials, to help contextualise the selected paintings.
- On the other, in a series of very specific studies, carried out with specific means from the aforementioned disciplines.
This canvas commemorates two events of enormous importance for Felipe II which took place in 1571: the victory at Lepanto (7 October) and the birth of his heir (4 December).
Philip II chose this work to represent his reign and paired it with the portrait of his father, Carlos V at the Battle of Mühlberg, also by Titian. From then on they were always hung together and, in order to display the painting in the Salón Nuevo in the Alcázar, in 1625, he requested that the painting be enlarged to give it the same dimensions as the equestrian portrait of the emperor.
Carried out by Elisa Mora, with our sponsorship as benefactors of the Restoration Program, the restoration recovered the qualities of Titian’s original but it also made Carducho’s enlargements more visible, particularly in the architectural elements. After the presentation, the canvas was put on display with the enlargements made by Carducho hidden from view.
The first known restoration of this painting took place in 1857 when it may have been relined. Almost a century later, in 1953, the AMNP’s records show that the restorers Martín Benito and Lópe Valdivieso worked on Titian Victory at Lepanto. Lay colour, restore, clean and check.
The most recent restoration, which began in January 2016 and concluded in May 2017, was extremely complicated given the painting’s size and state of repair.
- Following analyses undertaken in the Museum’s technical documentation section and chemical laboratory, work began with the removal of surface dirt, oxidised varnishes and old areas of repainting from previous restorations.
- This cleaning, which uncovered some old losses, cracks and infilling with gesso, was undertaken in successive stages until Titian’s original could be revealed with all its characteristic pictorial technique. After cleaning, two large losses that had been repaired with inserts in the past became visible between the table and the King’s left arm.
- The additions made by Carducho were found to be damaged and repainted, particularly in the left part of the sky. After eliminating these hard areas of repainting, significant losses and worn areas became visible. The blue pigments used by Carducho, which were different to those used by Titian and of inferior quality, had aged differently and altered, making his modifications visible, particularly in the Turk’s stockings.
- Once the cleaning was completed, the pigment was fixed in the areas found to be fragile and or with irregularities along the seams of the added areas.
- In order to restore the largest areas of paint loss, silicone moulds were made that reproduced the texture of the canvas and thus the characteristic oscillation of Titian’s surfaces. Areas of paint loss and wear were first reintegrated with watercolour then, after the missing areas were filled in and the painting varnished with natural resin, a final adjustment was made to the colours.
The Prado Museum exhibits a monumental bronze head identified as that of Demetrio Poliorcetes (h 336 – 283 BC). The piece, which was prominently displayed for a number of months in the lower Goya rotunda in the Villanueva Building, recovered for public exhibition after the restoration we sponsored. It is one of the few Hellenistic sculptures of this size and quality still existing. It is not known where the head, which measures 45 cm, was found, but it probably belonged to a monumental statue some 3.50 m tall. The preserved sculpture that is closest in appearance to this one is the Potentate of the Baths (Museo Nazionale Romano), although it was created some 150 years later and is over a metre shorter.
The high quality of this bronze can be seen particularly in the masterly crafting of the hair, with tight curls that loop around the head in a lively fashion, and the mastery of the lost-wax casting.
- In Greek sculpture, this technique was used to cast small pieces, such as heads, torsos, arms and legs, which were then assembled to create a large sculpture.
The piece was previously in the collection of Queen Cristina of Sweden, its first know owner. On its arrival in Spain in 1725, it was kept in the Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso with the collection of Philip V and Isabel de Farnesio and it was added to the Prado Museum’s collection in around 1830.
Through recent investigations, the figure depicted was identified as the Hellenistic general and king Demetrius I, called Poliorcetes because of his outstanding, and successful, sieges of enemy cities (336-283 B.C.). Together with his father, the Diadochus Antigonus I, Demetrius was the first successor to Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.).
The condition of the sculptural portrait of Demetrius Poliorcetes reflected the perilous journey made by the piece over the centuries and the many interventions to which it had been subject. In order to preserve it, these interventions hid the original bronze surface under layers of glue, tar and paint.
The technical studies made prior to the restoration process provided important data on the casting process and the history of this portrait. They also brought to light the stability problems of both the metal itself and the structure, information that was needed to define the goals and the most appropriate treatment for the intervention.
The priorities in this restoration were to give the sculpture back its original surface and colour, making it more legible, and to stabilise and protect the materials that comprise it, especially the bronze. A further priority was to strengthen the internal structure to prevent the structural tensions that had caused cracks, by designing a stable, resistant support that would avoid covering areas of the original surface.
- The restoration process consisted of removing from the bronze surface the resins, glues, protective coatings and tars from previous interventions, as well as relocating some fragments to their original position; then designing new temporary and reversible attachment systems.
- After the restoration of this piece, and to better preserve it, a specific support was designed, lined with a cushioning material that spreads the weight of the sculpture over the support, preventing the supported areas from becoming pressure points. In addition, a system of hidden pads was proposed, which are taken out during transfer and permit the sculpture to be moved safely without the need to directly touch the bronze.
The identification of the figure portrayed was a complicated task because it has no unmistakeable characteristics and the features do not clearly match those in any portrait. Due to its ambiguous typology, the work offers two different messages, depending on whether it is viewed from the front or the side.
- Viewed from the front, the idealised typology Greek art used to depict gods and heroes can be seen, like those created by the classical Greek sculptor Scopas around 340 B.C.
- However, when viewed in profile, the traits of a portrait can be recognised: a bulging, muscular forehead, deep-set eyes, an oblong face and a slightly open mouth.
Alexander the Great, who was seen as a god and a hero, was the first to be depicted using this type of portrait, which was then imitated for the Diadochi, the generals who succeeded him. A marble portrait, found with other portraits of Hellenistic sovereigns in the Villa of the Papyri in Herculaneum, which is interpreted as being a portrait of Demetrius Poliorcetes, shares a similar hairstyle and the same facial features with the monumental head, as does another marble portrait in Copenhagen.
After Alexander’s death in 323 B.C., the diadem, a band knotted around the head that signified his absolute power over Asia, became the most important insignia of the Hellenistic kings. However, this diadem does not appear in the portrait of Demetrius Poliorcetes and other similar portraits. Today, its absence makes it difficult to identify the portraits of the Diadochi. One reason was that after the death of Alexander the Great they did not dare to depict themselves as being like him. In 307 B.C., Antigonus I and his son Demetrius I, who was almost 30 years old, were proclaimed kings by the Athenians, but, according to the Greek writer Plutarch, they both avoided using the name of king as this was a unique regal attribute reserved exclusively for the descendants of Philip and Alexander. A year later, in 306, when Demetrius Poliorcetes defeated the fleet of the Diadochus Ptolemy (367-283 B.C.) in Cyprus, the assembled Macedonian army declared Antigonus I and his son Demetrius I to be kings of Asia and sent them the diadem as the successors of Alexander. According to this detail, the absence of the diadem suggests that the bronze in the Prado was created before this event, in 307 B.C., when Demetrius Poliorcetes and his father Antigonus I were the kings of Athens.
- The collaborations that we establish with the museum also include the exposure of the youngsters on the With a Smile programme to restoration work, as part of their artistic and cultural training.