Texas gets the full picture
Conservators restore hidden figures discovered during cleaning of 17th-century nude
By Emily Sharpe. Conservation, Issue 241, December 2012
Published online: 12 December 2012
The recent cleaning of what was believed to be a relatively straightforward composition of a 17th-century female nude in the collection of the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas, Austin, took a turn of mythic proportions when conservators discovered two additional figures: a putto and a recumbent Zeus. They elevate the painting’s main figure from a mere mortal to Danaë, the daughter of a mythical Greek king and the mother of Perseus, a son of Zeus. Scholars have attributed the work to a follower of the French painter Simon Vouet (1590-1649).
The newly discovered figures had been scraped away and painted over at some point after the artist’s death. “[The alterations were probably] done either to hide badly damaged figures or to make the work more marketable and in keeping with the tastes of the 19th and early 20th centuries,” says Colette Crossman, a curator at the museum, who suspected that the painting had been altered. “The composition did not make sense and the subject matter did not connect to the standard [17th-century] iconography,” she says. After discussions, the curators and conservators decided to remove the overpainting and restore the figures.
“This is an excellent example of how restoration and conservation can shed new light on historical works, revealing new information about attribution, compositional make-up or, in this case, figures that have been hidden for centuries,” Crossman says.
The painting is on display in the museum’s exhibition “Restoration and Revelation: Conserving the Suida-Manning Collection” (until 5 May 2013).
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