L U X U R Y T R A V E L E R
The Triumph of the Church Rubens, Oil
on panel, 63.5 x 105.7 cm, c. 1625
THE TRIUMPH OF THE EUCHARIST
Curators: Alejandro Vergara, Chief Curator of Flemish and Northern Schools Painting at the Museo del Prado, and Anne Woollett, Curator, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Madrid - From 25 March until 29 June the Museo del Prado is presenting Rubens. The Triumph of the Eucharist, an exhibition featuring the six panels from this series in the Museum’s collection following their recent restoration. The Eucharist series was one of the most important commissions received by the artist, in which the panels on The Triumph of the Church and The Victory of Truth over Heresy are particularly notable. The exhibition also includes four of the tapestries woven from these designs, which belong to Patrimonio Nacional.
The exhibition will enable visitors to appreciate the complex and painstaking process behind the restoration of this unique group of works, initiated in 2011 with the support of Fundación Iberdrola, which sponsors the Museum’s Restoration Programme, along with a grant from the Getty Foundation as part of its Panel Paintings Initiative. The initiative seeks to train the next generation of conservators of old master paintings on wooden panels. Following its display at the Museo del Prado, the exhibition, a collaboration with the J. Paul Getty Museum, will travel to Los Angeles where it will be on view at the Getty from 14 October, 2014 to 4 January, 2015.
Madrid, March 2014. With the exhibition Rubens. The Triumph of the Eucharist, the Museo del Prado is highlighting the importance of a rigorous and meticulous restoration project, presenting visitors with the results of this initiative in an ideal context.
Introduced by a portrait of the Infanta Isabel Clara Eugenia, who commissioned the project from Rubens, the exhibition consists of the six, recently restored panels from the series and four of the tapestries on which they are based, loaned from the convent of the Descalzas Reales in Madrid.
The exhibition also includes supporting graphic material and texts that explain the importance of this project and the complex restoration process that Rubens’s works have undergone. The recent restoration has enabled the paintings to recover their original freshness and beauty and ensures their correct conservation in the future.
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.
The complete restoration of Rubens’s six panels
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. This project fell within the context of the Prado’s Restoration Programme, for which Fundación Iberdrola is a Protector sponsor.
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.
As with the restoration of Dürer’s panel paintings of Adam and Eve, the Prado has once again benefited from the support of the Getty Foundation. The present project was seen as an outstanding opportunity to train specialists in the restoration of wooden panels, and a grant was awarded to train restorers from other museums in Europe and the USA.
José de la Fuente, the Museo del Prado’s restorer of supports, has directed the restoration of these panels, working closely with George Bissaca from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. María Antonia López de Asiain, one of the Prado’s restorers, carried out the stabilisation and cleaning of the pictorial surfaces.
The restoration of the supports
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 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.
Panel Painting Initiative
Old master paintings on wooden supports, or panels, are among the most important works of art in American and European museum collections, yet there are only a handful of experts fully qualified to conserve these paintings. The Getty Foundation, Getty Conservation Institute, and J. Paul Getty Museum together launched the Panel Paintings Initiative to ensure that the next generation of conservators is in place before the current experts retire. Since 2009, grants from the Getty Foundation have supported training opportunities through the treatment of highly significant artworks.
More information can be found at http://www.getty.edu/foundation.
This initiative promotes collaboration between specialist restorers of the highest level.
In this case it involved collaboration between George Bisacca of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and José de la Fuente of the Museo Nacional del Prado on a project of international importance, namely the six modelli for tapestries in the convent of the Descalzas Reales in Madrid.
The first collaboration of this type took place four years ago with the restoration of Dürer’s paintings of Adam and Eve. For the first time the project involved the participation of a series of trainees at different levels.
Fundación Iberdrola and the Museo del Prado
In November 2010, Fundación Iberdrola, in its capacity as Protector sponsor of the Prado’s Restoration Programme, signed a collaborative agreement with the Museum.
In addition to contributing to the restoration of the present works by Rubens, this agreement also involves Fundación Iberdrola’s support in the form of Training and Research grants within the Museum’s restoration department, encompassing the areas of Painting, Technical Documentation and, for the first time in 2014, Sculpture.
Last year, Fundación Iberdrola strengthened its collaboration with the Museum by becoming a Benefactor Member through an agreement to sponsor the complete updating of the Museum’s lighting system. This ambitious project, which has been given the name of “Lighting the Prado”, involves replacing the present halogen lights with ones using LED technology in all the Museum’s galleries, a change that will improve both the quality of presentation and the conservation of the collections.
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.
THE TRIUMPH OF THE EUCHARIST
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