Virtual travels – conservation stories from Italy. PART II: Firenze

Kate Waldron, Jo Neville and Rowan Frame

Thank you for joining us for the second blog post sharing our experiences of a study trip to Italy in July 2019! Following the format of our itinerary in Rome, this part of the trip involved visits to further renowned schools and institutions of conservation in the city of Florence, meeting yet more lovely and inspiring people who were pleased to share their work with us – and finding windows of extra time to pop into a beautiful church or two. Without further ado we will pick up where we left off, arriving in Florence for a busy, exciting and incredibly hot two days…

Thursday, 18th July 2019

Visit to the Studio Arts College International (SACI) – Jo

On the morning of our third day, we paid a visit to the Studio Arts College International (SACI). SACI is housed in a Renaissance palazzo in the centre of Florence. Stepping into the building, we could hear voices of chattering students echoing through arched hallways. In many ways, this visit offered interesting comparisons to our own department. SACI was founded a year after the Hamilton Kerr Institute, and also offers a diploma course in the conservation of paintings.

Over coffee, we were able to talk to current conservation students, and had lively discussions about their training and projects. It was clear that the SACI diploma course has an international reach, with many students having come from the U.S. We learned that in situ work is a very central aspect of their training, with an impressive range of projects undertaken both in Florentine churches as well as further afield.

Students at the SACI at work on their projects. Photograph © Jo Neville.

We were then given an extensive tour of the studios by the head of department, Dr. Roberta Lapucci. We saw paintings that presented a wide variety of conservation challenges, and discussed similarities and differences to the conservation practices commonly employed at our own studio.  For retouching, we noted the diverse shades of brown on retouching palettes, leading to a fascinating comparison of Italian and British approaches to the question of patina on paintings.  There were also many familiar sights: Rowan and I were pleased to see the reconstructions made by SACI conservation students, which looked very similar to those that we had completed earlier in the year.

To round off the visit, we were given a tour of the archaeological conservation studio with Dr Nora Marosi, and introduced to some of the current projects. This included a very interesting discussion about the central role of the soprintendenza (the Ministry of Arts and Cultural Heritage) for conservation decisions concerning all objects that belong to the Italian State, and about some of the regional differences in choice of materials and techniques for certain conservation treatments. We were also shown some amazing 3D-printed replicas of objects for display (pictured).

Dr Nora Marosi showing us some 3D-printed replicas. Photograph © Kate Waldron.

Visit to the Opificio delle Pietre Dure – Rowan and Kate

In the afternoon, we reconvened at the Opificio delle Pietre Dure e Laboratori di Restauro (OPD). We were greeted by Marco Ciatti, director of the laboratory and of the higher education school of training for conservator-restorers at the Institute, where he is teacher of the history and theory of conservation on the 5-year programme (established in 1978). Marco gave us an engaging introduction to the Institute and its part in the history of conservation in Florence, from the time of Vasari to the catastrophic flood of 1966. It was at the time of the flood that the Opificio relocated from the Uffizi to its present location in a striking building that used to be a military fortress. When the Italian government formed a Ministry of Cultural Heritage in 1975, the restoration laboratory of the soprintendenza was merged with the OPD under the directorship of Umberto Baldini, to form a National Institute of Conservation, and today the Institute receives artworks from all over Italy including paintings, sculpture, textiles, works on paper, mosaics, jewellery, and objects of terracotta and stone.

The Opificio prides itself on being a renowned centre of research as well as restoration and training, and there is a strong specialisation in the conservation of paintings on panel. The enormous building is divided into areas focusing on selected aspects of conservation treatment, with, for example, a whole room dedicated to working on the paint layers. We were given a tour of the institute and moved from painting to painting, in each case hearing from Marco about the analysis or treatment undertaken and enjoying the opportunity to admire the beautiful artwork and discuss the artists. Many of the paintings return to churches so it was interesting to hear about the questions and procedures involved for preparing them for those environments. Like the HKI, Marco emphasised that the OPD is open to researching new methods and technologies under development for conservation treatments and incorporating them into their practice.

One of the most exciting things was to hear about the expert, complex structural treatments carried out on a number of panel paintings in the studio, with techniques that were developed there and are the subject of continuing research and refinement: the OPD remains a centre of excellence globally for the development of solutions for structural conservation and support for paintings on panel.

It was an incredibly hot day, so after our visit we went as a group to enjoy some more gelato! The treat was kindly paid for by the members of Cambridge Arts Society, as a thank you after a visit they paid to the HKI earlier in the year.

Enjoying our ice-creams beneath the beautiful and famous tabernacles of the church of Orsanmichele. Photographs © Jo Neville.

Not forgetting Rupert, Vicky and Adèle!

Friday, 19th July 2019

Visit to the studio of Stefano Scarpelli – Kate

On our final day, we visited the private conservation studio of Stefano Scarpelli. Along a corridor lined with cabinets full of brightly-coloured pigments, we met Stefano and his son in their main studio space, and glimpsed other rooms beyond with forests of frames and paintings. Stefano studied conservation at the OPD and later taught the relining course there. Before that, he trained as a conservator under Professor Edo Masini, the former technical director of the paintings conservation lab at the OPD and a prominent Florentine conservator. Stefano later went on to collaborate with Masini and has worked for major galleries in Florence and elsewhere, and on high profile works of art by artists including Giotto, Masaccio and Caravaggio.

Mostly, Stefano mostly works for private collections and galleries, but the studio has worked for the Uffizi and other public collections. Although they are familiar with contemporary developments in conservation methods and materials, they always start with traditional methods and this is their preference, as they are familiar with the materials and how they age. Stefano and his studio undertake all of their own structural work and lining of paintings, and also the work on frames. It was fascinating to hear about Stefano’s experiences of lining paintings, especially in the context of changing attitudes and approaches to lining in Florence and Italy over the years. We were introduced to several paintings which will be lined in the studio, including a painting that was severely damaged by flooding in the church to which it belongs. We also learned of Stefano’s procedures for retouching: for paintings owned by the Italian State, trateggio (see previous blog post) is the only retouching technique that is accepted. For other works, imitative retouching is done instead, as we are accustomed to doing in the UK.

Some reflections…

We had such an enlightening tour of conservation studios in Italy, augmented by visits to the breathtaking art in some of Italy’s best galleries and churches. At the institutions we visited, I was particularly struck watching students retouching using the trateggio technique. We learn about this in our own training, but I have not ever used the technique myself and I had never seen it in action before. It was much more complex than I could have imagined and I was in awe of the speed and precision with which the students worked. We were also conscious of the differences in material choices between conservators at different institutions, some remaining attached to historical or traditional materials and others being more open to new technologies and methods. However, the constant and resounding message we received from the conservators we met is that it is the skill of application that is perceived as key.

I want to end with a few thoughts from the final excursion of our time in Florence, on the afternoon of our last day before we returned home to the (rainy and cold) UK. We were treated to our very own private tour of the magnificent church of Santa Maria Novella, the main Dominican church in Florence, by Roberta Lapucci. It was my first visit to the church, yet it contains so many artworks that were central to my undergraduate art history studies and imprinted themselves in my memory. Roberta began with Masaccio’s groundbreaking Holy Trinity fresco, and told us about the process by which it was physically transferred from its unknown original location to its present position on the north wall of the nave, as well as other aspects of its conservation history. It was especially wonderful to hear about the technical art history of Giotto’s monumental crucifix, with emphasis on the skill of the carpentry and construction. I was particularly struck by the discoveries about the underdrawing: while the main composition is drawn freehand, the outline for the cross is known to have been provided by the church, and the faces of John the Evangelist and the Virgin Mary are scored out according to ‘mask’-like models, called patroni, that would also have been imposed by the church. As we continued our tour of the church and cloisters, we also learned about some of the complex and devastating ways in which some of the frescoes have decayed over time or been damaged by ill-informed methods of cleaning in the past.

Making our way to Santa Maria Novella. Photograph © Hamilton Kerr Institute.

The visit to Santa Maria Novella served as a reminder to be thankful for every opportunity we have in our lives to experience direct close encounters with works of art. As events this year have shown, one can never know how long it might be before the next opportunity will arise – even if you work with art every day.

Virtual travels – conservation stories from Italy. PART I: Roma

Kate Waldron, Ellen Nigro and  Maria Carolina Peña Mariño

Spending such a long period at home during lockdown made me realise how little I truly appreciated the ability that we had before to travel freely and explore the art and culture of other countries. Each year, a group of students, interns and staff from the Hamilton Kerr Institute go on a short study trip, usually to another country, to learn about paintings conservation in cultures other than our own. Sadly, the pandemic meant that our scheduled study trip to Amsterdam in May this year had to be cancelled. To make up for this, we’ve put together a blog post about our study trip to Italy in July 2019. It has been pleasant indeed to reminisce about this during the difficulties of this year, and we all hope that we will get to travel again before too long. I hope that the accounts below can provide some escapism for readers too.

Stoically undeterred by temperatures of 32°C and above, we packed a lot into the trip. For this reason, I have divided it up into two blog posts: this one will take you through the things we learned in Rome, and the second one will cover what we did in Florence.  As I hope you will see, the trip provided a rich and fascinating glimpse into approaches to conservation (of easel paintings but also many other objects and art forms) in Italy, and what it is like to train as a conservator in the country.

Monday, 15th July 2019

On Monday we had the opportunity to visit the Musei Vaticani. It was so busy that, once inside, it was generally a case of shuffling along with the heaving crowd of visitors, catching glimpses of artworks along the way. But at least in the Stanze di Rafaello and the Sistine Chapel, the paintings were high enough to be visible to all, and we were able to take our time looking at them.

In the evening we visited several churches containing notable paintings by Caravaggio, with Rupert Featherstone, director of the Hamilton Kerr Institute, as our guide. We visited:

  • San Luigi dei Francesi – Contarelli Chapel (1599-1600)
    • The Inspiration of St Matthew (over altar)
    • The Calling of St Matthew
    • The Martyrdom of St Matthew
  • Sant’ Agostino – Madonna dei Pellegrini (1603-1605)
  • Santa Maria del Popolo – Cerasi Chapel (1600-1601)
    • The Crucifixion of St Peter
    • The Conversion of St Paul
The churches were quiet and dark, with coin-operated lights illuminating the paintings. Photograph © Jo Neville.

Tuesday, 16th July 2019

Visit to the Barberini – Ellen

The Palazzo Barberini is one of two sites that house the painting collections of the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica (the other site is the Palazzo Corsini, on the other side of the city). We were greeted warmly by Chiara Merucci, who filled us in on the history of the conservation studio and explained that the sole focus of their work is paintings belonging to the Galleria Nazionale. One of these is a painting of Venus and Adonis by the workshop of Titian, of which several other versions exist – some in the UK – all of which vary slightly. The one at the Barberini was recently cleaned and had technical analysis carried out on it, and as a result of the investigations it is now attributed to Titian’s workshop, rather than a copyist. We were also introduced to a range of other paintings currently in the studio, including a group of beautiful works on copper. We were interested to learn that in contrast to paintings conservation practice in the UK, the conservators at the Barberini are generally not keen on using synthetic varnishes, preferring to use the natural resin dammar for retouching. Another great part of our visit was meeting the conservators of musical instruments in the collections.

We also had a wonderful time meandering through the galleries, which have a range of works from all regions of Italy.  This was very interesting because the collection was formed in the 19th century after the unification of Italy, and many of the aristocratic Italian families donated works to the collection in solidarity with the new nation.  A major highlight (at least for me) was seeing the Pietro da Cortona fresco. It is a wonderfully over-the-top Baroque explosion of a ceiling!

Visit to the Istituto Centrale per il Restauro (ICR)- Maria Carolina

In the afternoon, we visited the Istituto Centrale per il Restauro (ICR), located in Trastevere in the former L’Ospizio Apostolico di San Michele. We were welcomed by the director of the degree courses, Francesca Capanna, and the head of communications and promotion, Anna Milaneschi. This institution, established in 1939 and directed initially by Cesare Brandi, is part of the Italian Ministry of Culture and Tourism and oversees the conservation, restoration, and research of works of art and cultural heritage in the country and also provides professional training in the field.

The program offered is a 5-year theoretical and practical course leading to a Laurea Magistrale in Consevazione e Restauro dei Bieni Cultural. Students attend lectures, laboratory sessions and studio work in the conservation of many types of objects: mural painting and architectural decorated surfaces, mosaic and stucco, paintings on panel, wooden sculpture, paintings on canvas, contemporary art, ceramics, glass, ivory, excavated organics, metals, leather, paper and vellum, textiles, and plaster. The teaching in conservation is given by an inter-disciplinary staff of chemists, physicists, biologists, conservation scientists, historians, art historians, architects, archaeologists, and conservators in different specialities. We were given a tour of several departments and it was incredible to learn about the conservation of so many different materials and in such depth.

The visit started in the mural painting and architectural decorated surfaces studio, where Professor Valeria Massa explained to us the students’ current projects. One of these was the stabilization and treatment of an amazing group of Roman mosaic fragments that remain from il Tempio della Gens Flavia (1st century AD,) excavated in the 1970s underneath the Palazzo del Quirinale. Following that, we visited the panel painting studio, where students were treating paintings from the Museum of Capodimonte in Naples, and they showed us their process of retouching in watercolour and Gamblin using the Italian trateggio technique.1 On a portrait that was exhibiting widespread and persistent flaking, the conservator showed us the painstaking processes by which she had addressed the flaking and was now filling the many minute losses and matching the texture to the painting’s incredibly smooth surface. In the separate studio for paintings on canvas, Professor Carla Zaccheo introduced us to the complex conservation treatment of a double-sided processional silk banner that was exhibiting multiple tears and fabric losses.

Finally, we arrived at the space reserved for treating very large paintings, an extraordinary former 17th-century jail building. Here we were shown the Fishing Pavilion Series (1918) by Humberto Coromaldi treated by the ICR. The paintings were recently the focus of a large-scale project of conservation and research, directed by art historian Laura Agostino and conservator Paola Lazurlo, during which they underwent major structural treatment including tear mending, large inserts to fill gaps in the canvas, strip-lining in polyester sailcloth, and re-stretching with a spring system to aluminium stretchers.

Hearing about the treatment of the Coromaldi paintings in the repurposed jail building. Photograph © Jo Neville.

Wednesday, 17th July 2019

Wednesday was reserved for travelling between Rome and Florence, so we used it as a study day and took the opportunity to explore some of the other museums and galleries in Rome. I visited the Villa Farnesina, with frescoed rooms decorated by Raphael, Sebastiano del Piombo, Baldassarre Perruzzi (who also designed the architectural layout) and other famous artists. It was particularly interesting because there were actually conservators working on some of the frescoes in the Loggia di Galatea when I visited, and as I explored, I followed a display that presented the history of conservation carried out in the villa. In recent decades, a lot of this has focused on tackling issues of vibrations caused by the relentless heavy traffic on the nearby roads, which have posed a severe threat to the frescoes.

Just around the corner was the Palazzo Corsini (the sister gallery of the Palazzo Barberini, housing artworks of the Galleria Nazionale), where I bumped into Rupert and we exchanged thoughts about some of the paintings.

Then it was time to say goodbye to Rome and head to Florence, which will be the subject of the following post. Arrivederci!

Photograph © Elisabeth Petrina.

Grüße aus Wien! Vienna Study Trip 2017

During the final week of May 2017 the students and interns at the Hamilton Kerr Institute travelled to Vienna for our annual study trip. Two members of staff, Morwenna Blewett and Lucy Wrapson, joined us on the trip, and we are very grateful to them for organising all of the interesting visits that we had during our stay. Throughout the week we were able to explore the vast collections of artworks held by the Viennese cultural institutions, whilst also taking a peek behind the scenes through exclusive visits to the conservation studios at the Palais Liechtenstein and the Kunsthistorisches Museum.

The Albertina & Le Palais Liechtenstein 

During our first day of studio visits we spent our free morning visiting the Albertina: a building with original neoclassical interior decoration, which boasts a broad collection of modern art pieces. Whether your preference is Edvard Munch, Pablo Picasso or the less-known works of the German Expressionist Karl Hofer, this museum has something for everyone. Until June 18 2017 the Museum is also showcasing an exhibition of graphic works by the Austrian master Egon Schiele: a must see for those of you who are venturing to Vienna in the near future.

Following a picnic lunch in sparkling sunshine at Park Burggarden we headed off to our first conservation studio visit at the Liechtenstein Garden Palace. To start off our visit we were given a private tour of the palace’s galleries by head of conservation, Dr Robert Wald. I think I speak for all of us in saying that we were blown away by the splendour of the palace’s art collection. With works ranging from Italian quattrocento panel paintings to large-scale tapestry designs by Peter Paul Rubens, the Princely Collection is perhaps one of the most thoughtfully put-together and well-preserved group of artworks that I have had the pleasure of viewing. A particular favourite was the seventeenth-century carriage that is on display in the main entrance hall of the palace, seemingly plucked from the prop selection of Disney’s 2015 Cinderella remake.

After our tour in the galleries Dr Wald took us to see the palace’s conservation studio, situated in a purpose-built adjacent building. Here we were introduced to the studio’s conservation staff and were also invited to take a look at their current treatment projects. It was interesting to note the similarities and differences between the conservation practices of Wald’s studio with those commonly employed at the HKI. A notable difference was their approach to retouching, which makes use of gouache or watercolour base layers, followed by thinly applied glazes using pigments bound in an oil-resin medium. Although this method differs from the HKI’s use of egg tempera and Gamblin colours, we found that the Austrian tradition offered a comparable result, whilst also serving as an example of differing approaches within the western conservation world.

Kunsthistorisches Museum

Our second day included a visit to the conservation studio of the Vienna Museum of Fine Arts. We spent the morning exploring the collection itself, which was developed from the art collections of the Habsburg Family. This colossal collection is one of the largest of its kind and boasts works by Titian, Rubens and Pieter Bruegel the Elder. I particularly enjoyed seeing Bruegel’s The Great Tower of Babel for the first time, a painting that I had long admired since my adolescent years.

Our tour of the Museum’s conservation studio was very interesting as well. Amongst other things, we were introduced to the treatment of a panel painting by Lucas Cranach, as well as a village fête scene by Bruegel the Elder. It was also interesting to observe the consistencies and differences between the conservation approaches of the Museum with those of the studio at the Palais Liechtenstein. A notable similarity is their shared preference for the use of natural resin varnishes, as well as the latter studio’s approach to retouching. Another aspect of the Austrian conservation tradition, which is less-commonly employed in British institutions, is the thinning of old varnishes, as opposed to their complete removal. The opportunity to learn about the conservation practices and traditions of another country was a fascinating experience, teaching us that there is more than one approach when it comes to restoring paintings.

 Institute of Conservation & Akademie der Bildenen Künste

Our final day of visits included tours of the two major conservation schools in Austria. The first was the Institute of Conservation, where we met with Prof. Gabriela Krist. The school offers a variety of conservation specialisms, including textiles, objects and metalwork, as well as paintings and polychrome sculpture. The focus of our visit was the paintings conservation department, although it was also interesting to see the types of objects that are conserved in the other departments as well.

Our second visit for the day was to the Akademie der Bildenen Künste. We were greeted by the head of the institute, Prof. Wolfgang Baatz, who showed us around the conservation studios. Like the Institute of Conservation, the Akademie offers courses in objects, paintings and polychrome sculpture conservation. However unlike the former school, the Akademie also has a wall paintings conservation department, as well as a newly established department that focuses solely on the conservation of contemporary artworks. The issues involved with dealing with contemporary art pieces were a particularly interesting aspect of our visit, as it is a sphere of conservation that we rarely get to deal with at the Hamilton Kerr Institute.

 Our Final Day- Gustav Klimt at the Belvedere

Sad as we were to be leaving Vienna after such a short stay, we decided to make the most of our last full day by visiting the Belvedere Gallery– home to The Kiss by Gustav Klimt, as well as an impressive collection of Austrian art dating from the Middle Ages to the present day. Needless to say, this last visit served as the icing on top of the cake- or the chocolate stamp on top of the sachertorte if you will. My particular favourites included Egon Schiele’s Mother with Two Children, a beautiful, serene painting that I feel displays the artist’s mastery of form and colour, as well as Klimt’s series of square-format flower paintings. The latter paintings are displayed in a room of their own at the Belvedere, in the section preceding the infamous Kiss painting. It was easy to feel completely lost in this room, as the paintings seem to project their subject matter outwards, whilst also drawing the viewer in, demonstrating Klimt’s simultaneous mastery of the surreal and the realistic- it was difficult to ascertain where the paintings ended and the illusion began.

To sum up, we left Vienna with our minds saturated with images of art and our bellies full of Wiener schnitzel, apple strudel and more than a glass or two of white wine spritzer. I would definitely recommend a visit to this gorgeous city to any art-lover, or indeed anyone interested in seeing a city that is full of history, quirky coffee shops and delicious food. Auf Wiedersehen Wien, bis zum nächsten Mal!

Emma Jansson, 1st year Post-Graduate Intern (2016-2018)

About the author

Emma Jansson graduated from the Courtauld Institute of Art in 2016, having completed the three-year Postgraduate Diploma in the Conservation of Easel Paintings. She also holds a BA in History of Art/Archaeology and Japanese Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Emma has experience working in both private conservation studios in London and public institutions. Her most recent placements include internships at the Victoria & Albert Museum and the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, as well as an in situ project at the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Palace. She is also involved in the technical analysis of artworks. Her final-year thesis at the Courtauld Institute focused on the materials and technique of the Impressionist artist Alfred Sisley. Emma is continuing her interest in technical art history at the HKI, where she is involved in several research projects, including a study on the uptake of artificial ultramarine by British artists in the nineteenth century.  

To contact Emma:

Madrid Study Trip

At the beginning of June, the Interns, students and two staff members of the Hamilton Kerr Institute travelled to Madrid for the annual study trip, visiting the cultural highlights of the Spanish capital and some of the major conservation studios. We enjoyed the hospitality and refined culinary traditions of Spain, guided by second year HKI intern Carlos González Juste who lived in Madrid before moving to Cambridge.

Casa de las Conchas

The day after we arrived in Madrid, we travelled out of the city to visit Spain’s oldest University Town, Salamanca, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of the city’s most remarkable buildings is the House of the Shells, or Casa de las Conchas, a late gothic palace covered with stone carved shells. Hidden away in Salamanca’s back streets is the Museum of Art Nouveau and Art Deco that houses a collection of remarkable glassware, furniture, dolls and paintings by Ignacio Zuloaga.

The Crown of thorns

Our first studio visit took us to the headquarters of the Instituto del Patrimonio Cultural de España (Cultural Heritage of Spain), located on the outskirts of the city. The circular building is one of the most remarkable architectural structures of the 1960’s, and is nicknamed “the Crown of Thorns”. After visiting the entrance hall, library and rooftop terrace we were guided around the sculpture and painting conservation departments, as well as the laboratories. We were introduced to the materials and techniques used in the making of traditional Spanish baroque sculptures, like the laying-in of glass eyes, use of ivory teeth and genuine hair in the representation of saints.

Hidden studios

In one of the narrow streets in the centre of Madrid lies the private conservation studio ICONO I&R S.C. We were guided around by co-owner and conservator Rafael Romero Asenjo, specialist on 17th century Spanish still-lives, some of which we admired while touring the studio. At the end of this exciting day, we walked to another hidden gem, the rooftop of the Círculo de Bellas Artes to enjoy a panoramic view of the city.

Back to School

On our third day we visited the Escuela Superior de Conservación y Restauración De Bienes Culturales, where our colleague Carlos trained as a conservator. We were introduced to the four year BA- and one year Master program and guided around the studios housed in a 17th century palace. In the wall-painting conservation studio , a monumental canvas painting was currently being treated. The numerous bullet holes that perforated the painting were a reminder of the violent civil war that raged through Spain in the 1930’s. Other highlights of our visit included a roman pillar with ancient graffiti, traditional Spanish fans, paintings on glass supports and the challenging support treatments in the panel paintings studio.

In his Majesty’s service

Inside the magnificent Palacio Real de Madrid are located the conservation studios and Royal workshop of the King. We walked through a long corridor with a seemingly infinite amount of doors on either side. Behind every door was housed a different studio: clocks, paper and book, painting, metal…

The first room we entered was the studio responsible for the maintenance and repair of the ca.700 clocks, tower bells, music boxes and organ pieces dispersed over the Royal palaces. The specialist skills required for this work takes many years of practice, and has unfortunately become a dying trade.

In one of the studios, we saw a rare piece of royal transport history, the litter used by the elderly Emperor Charles V. After visiting paper and book conservation as well as frame conservation, we arrived at the studio designated for the treatment of small scale paintings. On the easel stood a delightful Madonna and Child by Quinten Massys which was in the process of having its varnish removed. The conservators often work on location for larger pieces, like the treatment of the monumental Crucifixion by Rogier van der Weyden kept at the Escorial Palace. Just next to the Royal Quarters, right on the first floor of the Palacio Real, a painting conservator was finishing the treatment of several large pieces by the neoclassical painter Anton Raphael Mengs, a favourite of Charles III of Spain.

The surface of Guernica 

Spain’s national museum of 20th century art, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, houses a world renowned collection of modern art. The most enigmatic work of its collection is Pablo Picasso’s magnum opus: Guernica. A team of conservators and computer technicians have recently completed an imaging project, scanning the monumental canvas in high resolution. This makes the monitoring and studying of the painting’s fragile surface much easier for conservators and art historians. The team of 22 conservators are mainly involved in the loan requests the museum receives, preparing paintings for transport and assessing their condition. Most treatments are limited to stabilising the artwork and minimal intervention, as modern and contemporary artworks present challenges the conservation world has not fully mastered yet.

Garden of Earthly Delights

The Museo Nacional del Prado is a true garden of delights for the art lover, where the walls are adorned with works by Titian, Van der Weyden, Rubens, Velázquez and Goya. The conservation studios have recently been moved to the museums new extension, the former monastery of San Jerónimo el Real. We were shown some of the panel support systems that were developed by the Panel Painting Initiative, a project that was conducted with the help of the Getty Conservation Institute. After discussing some of the treatments, we moved to the museum’s laboratory. The imaging facilities and analytical techniques employed by the scientists are tailored to answer specific questions asked by curators and conservators. In recent years, the laboratory has conducted ground-breaking work on the analysis of historic materials used in Spanish paintings, especially the composition of ground layers.

*For security reasons, no photos were allowed to be taken during the tour*

Following the studio visit, we went to see the blockbuster exhibition on Hieronymus Bosch, better known in Spain as El Bosco, and an exhibition on the French baroque artist Georges de La Tour.

The Hamilton Kerr Institute at the Bosch Exhibition (© Page)

The ghost of El Greco

On Friday we took the train to the nearby city of Toledo, a medieval stronghold which history goes back to Roman times. The astonishing buildings and structures across the city are a reminder of Toledo’s complex cultural and religious history. The Cathedral of Saint Mary of Toledo houses many 15th century altarpieces and the recently restored Disrobing by El Greco. The artist lived in Toledo for most of his life and many of his paintings have been preserved in Toledo’s churches and monasteries. In the Santo Domingo el Antiguo, the local nun pointed out a hole in the floor, where the artist is supposedly buried. Before we travelled back to Madrid we acquired a few bags of the famous Toledo marzipan, in the hope to make it last until we were back to England.

Our study trip to Madrid, on top of being sunny and full of delicious food, was an absolute delight as there were so many beautiful artworks and buildings to enjoy. The Bosch exhibition was everyone’s favourite, and we would like to encourage people to kill two birds with one stone by going to see it when you visit Madrid, as many of the paintings belonging to the Prado, such as the Earthy Delights, will never travel in order to preserve the condition of these masterpieces.

Sven van Dorst – 2nd year Post Graduate Intern at the Hamilton Kerr Institute

About the author

Sven Van Dorst graduated magna cum laude at the Artesis University College Antwerp (Belgium) in 2012, majoring in painting conservation and restoration. The following two years he worked on several projects at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp and as a freelance conservator and painter. Sven commenced a two-year postgraduate internship at the Hamilton Kerr Institute in 2014. Working on several Dutch and Flemish paintings by Rubens, de Fromantiou and van de Cappelle, as well as an Italian cassone and a quattrocento panel painting.

Recently Sven published an article on the technique of Antwerp flower painters for the catalogue of the exhibition Power Flower: Foral still lifes in the Netherlands at the Antwerp Rockoxhuis Museum. At the moment the results of his research project on the flower painter Daniel Seghers are on display in the Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge, and will be published in the upcoming Hamilton kerr Bulletin 2016. The author has previously contributed articles to Openbaar Kunstbezit Vlaanderen (OKV), CeROArt and the BRK/APROA –bulletin.

To contact Sven: