The painting is called Ecce Homo, which is Latin for “Behold the Man,” the phrase uttered by Pontius Pilot at Christ’s trial. Though the artist (or artists, as it appears to have been done by more than one hand) is unknown, the work is similar in style and theme to other 17th-century paintings by prominent Spanish artists. Tracy, who did pre-program work at the Princeton University Art Museum while earning her PhD in chemistry at the University, found in her analysis that the pigments present could date from the 17th century. Indeed, nails in the stretcher are pre-industrial as well.
After consolidating the painting’s friable surface,
much of Tracy’s treatment focused on extensive cleaning to remove
layers, and possibly centuries, of dirt, grime, varnish and overpaint.
She also puzzled over numerous mysterious splotches of a non-soluble
paste-like material on the painting’s reverse side that did not
correlate to any particular damages in the painting itself.
out to the conservation community online to inquire whether the apparent
palette knife scrapings could have cultural or historical significance.
Conservators in Spain and Latin America suggested that removal was
ethically acceptable, so Tracy carefully removed the splotches with a
Before returning the painting to the owner, Tracy will
mend a small tear, line the painting to give further support to the
brittle canvas, fill losses, and carry out retouching. Although she
cannot provide the owner with a more definitive answer as to who might
have painted it or when, her treatment will help ensure that the
painting has a safer and more secure life in the future.