November 17, 2012 -
Antonio Carneo's The Death of Rachel undergoing conservation treatment at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.
The Blanton Museum of Art at The University of Texas at Austin presents Restoration and Revelation: Conserving the Suida-Manning Collection, an exhibition that thoughtfully considers the ethical and aesthetic choices involved in art restoration and conservation. On view November 17, 2012 through September 1, 2013, the presentation puts the preservation of Old Master paintings and drawings from the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries under a metaphorical microscope, underscoring how the convergence of art and science can lead to new knowledge about the works and their makers. Antonio Carneo’s seventeenth- century painting The Death of Rachel, recently restored by the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, serves as the focal point of this in-depth investigation and is showcased alongside several additional Renaissance and baroque artworks, representing a range of conservation issues, from the Blanton’s celebrated Suida-Manning Collection.
“We are excited to share in detail the fascinating conservation process for The Death of Rachel,” said Blanton director Simone Wicha. “This painting alongside other beautifully restored Suida-Manning works provides a peek into the Blanton’s ongoing care of the collection and deep commitment to ensuring it can be studied and enjoyed for generations to come.”
Organized by the Blanton and made possible by a unique partnership with the National Gallery of Canada, Restoration and Revelation features a focused selection of paintings and drawings, all drawn from the museum’s Suida-Manning Collection. Acquired in 1998, the Suida-Manning Collection comprises approximately 650 European paintings, drawings, and sculptures — predominantly Northern Italian from the late sixteenth to the mid-eighteenth century.
At the center of the exhibition is a masterwork by Carneo, The Death of Rachel, which depicts a scene from the Book of Genesis in which Rachel, the wife of Jacob, dies giving birth to her son, Benjamin. Carneo used a limited yet emotive palette to capture the drama of the subject. When the Blanton acquired the work in 1998, the canvas had severe structural issues and a pattern of paint loss indicating that it was likely rolled and folded at some point in its history. A previous restoration attempted in the mid-twentieth century was left unfinished, and the painting was in need of repair to safeguard it from further deterioration and restore its visual integrity.
The conservators at the National Gallery of Canada, led by Chief Conservator Stephen Gritt, first had to technically examine the painting, clean its surface, and fill in areas of paint loss. It took several months to reconstruct the forms in The Death of Rachel, and the whole treatment — which took more than 500 hours — was documented through video and photography that accompany the dramatic, and successful end result on view.
A range of conservation issues — and the techniques used to address them — is examined through other works in the exhibition. Luca Cambiaso’s drawing Saint Benedict Enthroned between Saint John the Baptist and Saint Luke, for example, was created with iron gall ink, a popular medium from the fifteenth through the early twentieth centuries that, over time, corrodes paper and creates holes. In Pacecco de Rosa’s Saint Agatha, issues particular to panel painting, such as moisture absorption, are addressed. Also on view is a seventeenth-century canvas by a follower of the artist Simon Vouet selected for this exhibition because of a startling discovery made while it was being cleaned.
Restoration and Revelation: Conserving the Suida-Manning Collection is organized by the Blanton Museum of Art and made possible through support from the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.
Funding for the exhibition is provided by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation and Cathy and Giorgio Borlenghi. Conservation for Antonio Carneo’s The Death of Rachel is made possible by Alessandra Manning-Dolnier and Kurt Dolnier and donors who contributed to the 2011 Annual Fund.