Reconstructing History to Help Others See Beyond the Image

Last month IU Art Museum painting conservation technician Ellen Lyon attended a week-long technical art history workshop at the University of Delaware, taught by Brian Baade and Kristin deGhetaldi. The workshop was sponsored by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation to highlight the working methods of Early Italian tempera painters. Each participant created a small-scale reconstruction of a 14th century Italian egg tempera painted panel by Giovanni Del Biondo from the Kress Collection at the Museo de Arte de Ponce, Puerto Rico (The IUAM has its own Kress Collection of 14 works, a 1961 gift of the Kress Foundation, many of which are on permanent view in our first-floor gallery.)

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The Biondo panel of the Hebrew Prophet was originally part of The Coronation of the Virgin high altarpiece in the Oratorio di San Lorenzo at San Giovanni Valdarno in Arezzo, in the Tuscany region of Italy. The outer pinnacle on the right wing (outlined in blue) is the Hebrew Prophet featured in this years’ workshop.

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The reconstruction is made to reveal the many layers below the image that are needed to create this type of work. The artist and/or studio began with a sanded and sized wooden panel and each subsequent layer on the reconstruction shows one or more steps in the process:

1. Wood
2. Animal glue sizing
3. Linen
4. Gesso grosso
5. Gesso sottile
6. Scraped gesso
7. Underdrawing with charcoal and then reinforced with black ink/incised lines/red bole
8. Burnished gold and areas of underpainting
9. Finished painting and punchwork added to gilding

Ellen’s reconstruction (photo to the left) shows each of these layers as a vertical band, enabling viewers to see clearly the order in which these materials were applied.

In the fall, Ellen will be sharing her workshop experience, finished panel, and pigment set with Tavy Aherne’s class, Artists’ Materials and Techniques. There are future plans for a presentation to the IUAM docents and a Noon Talk that will be open to the public. Please watch our calendar for the date.

Debra Hess Norris, chair and professor of Art Conservation at the University of Delaware describes the program in this way: “Since 2009, the University of Delaware has been awarded a series of grants from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation to support the design and creation of digital and physical historically accurate reconstructions of selected paintings from the Kress Collection. Use of these didactics and associated lesson plans, as well as sample sets of historic pigments and their raw materials available upon request from the Kress Foundation, will inform and inspire scholars, students, and the general public about the making of art and the value of technical art history.”

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