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News Art conservation and a mysterious landscape

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​Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (WUDPAC) Fellow Jennifer Myers consolidates loose and lifting paint flakes with an adhesive and sets them down using a heated tacking iron. (Photo: Julianna Ly)

​A second-hand store for household goods is an unlikely place to find a 17th-century Italian painting, but that is exactly what College of William and Mary art history professor Miles Chappell thought he’d found when he spotted a framed painting so darkened with grime and old resins that it was difficult to see the unsigned landscape scene painted below. Chappell, a specialist in Italian Renaissance and Baroque art, purchased the painting and later sought a full technical examination and conservation treatment from the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (WUDPAC) to test his theory.

This fall, the painting, which shows a house, people, animals, and a river, became a treatment project for WUDPAC Fellow Jennifer Myers following completion of a condition report and treatment proposal by her classmate, WUDPAC Fellow Yan Ling Choi. Yan believed the frame was not original and found evidence of earlier attempts to restore the painting. Visiting expert Dr. Melanie Gifford found Prussian blue pigment in the sky which could contradict Chappell’s hope that the painting was created by an Italian artist influenced by the Bolognese circle of artists including Annibale Carracci (1560-1609), Gaspard Dughet (1615-1675), and Claude Lorrain (1604-1682). Prussian blue was not available until the 18th century, but the painting does appear to have been carried out in the Classical Italian landscape tradition.

​Left: Mechanically removing the failing glue-paste lining on the reverse of the painting from a prior restoration. Center: Before-treatment detail of flaking paint and fabric loss. Right: Linen thread bridges applied to the reverse of the painting using a modified Heiber method, to support an area of loss in the fabric support. (Photos: Julianna Ly and Jennifer Myers.)

​The painting shown in raking light, before treatment (left) with visible bulges and flaking paint, and during treatment (right) after consolidation and bringing into plane on the hot table, with cleaning in progress.

​Jennifer is continuing the analysis, but had much work to do before the nearly black painting could be cleaned so that the landscape could be further studied. Her first step was to consolidate large areas of flaking paint so the canvas could be turned over without losing any of the loose flakes on its surface. She then was able to pull out the tacks, lift the stretcher away from the painting, and carefully peel away brittle, glue-soaked old linen that has been used as a lining.     

She has now mended a small hole, using a tiny piece of fabric from the painting’s tacking edge. To attach the fabric to the hole, as well as to bridge smaller gaps and tears, she used parallel thin linen threads with a sturgeon glue/wheat starch adhesive.  She has further consolidated the flaking paint on the vacuum hot table and is now testing cleaning strategies. She will then line the canvas with a stronger, more stable support fabric and restretch it onto a new, tailor-made stretcher. She looks forward to telling Professor Chappell what has been learned during the treatment.

A printable PDF version of this story is available here. Previous stories on projects from the Department of Art Conservation are archived and available here.

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Was a painting found in a second-hand store created in the 17th century? The unsigned landscape is currently undergoing conservation treatment by WUDPAC Fellow Jennifer Myers.

​Was a painting found in a second-hand store created in the 17th century? The unsigned landscape is currently undergoing conservation treatment by WUDPAC Fellow Jennifer Myers.

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  • The Department of Art Conservation
  • 303 Old College
  • University of Delaware
  • Newark, DE 19716, USA
  • Phone: 302-831-3489