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Juan de Pareja
by Diego Rodriguez de Silva Velasquez
Metropolitan Museum of Art/New York

 

 

 

pre restoration
after removal from stretchers
click image to enlarge
after "restoration"
after "corrective"retouching
click image to enlarge
pre restoration
after restoration
click image to enlarge
 

Considered by many to be one of the greatest portraits ever painted ,both today and at the time it was painted,these sequences of photographs illustrate the process the painting was subjected to by so called modern "restoration" techniques.The first four images show the painting pre restoration upon its acquisition by the Metropolitan Museum , after the removal of the painting from the wooden stretcher support, after the harsh chemical cleansing of varnish and delicate glazing layers, and finally after corrective watercolor retouching necessary to conceal the overly aggressive "cleaning". The final two images show side by side the before and after images of the painting ,allowing the viewer to see for themselves the transformation of the once living and vibrant painting into the flattened shadow of its former self.As is typical to most modern restoration,a solvent is applied to the surface of the painting in order to remove the yellowed protective varnish.This varnish was resin based ,usually derived from balsam and fir evergreen trees,although the use of amber was also widespread.As trade increased and markets grew, the introduction of mastic and dammar resins became more common. Most oil painters from the late 16th century onward introduced these resins into their paint as it not only helped to speed the drying time but it also gave the paint more body and texture. As in all oil paint surfaces, the paint film is permeable for a time, as the molecular lattice work that forms the hard surface develops slowly.Resin mixtures speed this process.Often times the artist will, by using the principles of subtractive light , lay glazes of complimentary colors over tacky or dry underlayers in order to create optical richness.These glazes could be nothing more than an application of clear resin with suspended particles of rose madder pigment. Portrait painters even to this day commonly use this technique as a way to put the bloom on flesh ,to invigorate the ruddy checks of sitter, or to optically grey down a "too green" drape.It is terribly important that those which make restoration decisions are intimately aware of this dynamic.Otherwise the result is, as so often is the case, the stripping away of the top layer of varnish and the critically important modulation glazes which the artist applies when they finish the painting.This layer represents the artists final statement as they sum up the impression with the final delicate touches.Sadly this most precious layer of paint/varnish is destroyed by oblivious technicians that apply solvent without regard to this reality.


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