My goals for this project are varied. Not only am I hoping to gain a
better understanding of the materials and techniques used by Fra Angelico to
create this gorgeous and striking work, but I’m also working to understand the
original dimensions of the panel, the orientation of the panels within the
altarpiece, and whether any of the interventions should be reversed. Thus far
Gianfranco, the Assistant Curator Nat Silver, and I have decided to remove the
19th-century gilded border to recover hidden original paint visible
in the x-radiograph. Luckily, this added border of thin gesso and gilding
softens readily with moisture and can then be reduced mechanically without
damaging the original paint underneath. Although it is exciting to recover more
of the original composition, these newly exposed areas will be seen only in
images of the unframed painting and during this exhibition. The Museum’s
policy, based on Mrs. Gardner’s will, is to display her collection of artworks
in the same manner in which she herself chose to display them. This means that
while it is in the galleries of the house, the painting will be returned to its
old frame that covers this border.
I have been working with XRF (x-ray fluorescence spectroscopy) elemental mapping, pXRF (identifying elemental composition of individual sites with a portable phaser), infrared reflectography, ultraviolet images, and x-radiography. My research and treatment are in preparation for an upcoming Fra Angelico exhibition hosted at the Gardner and Museo di San Marco during which the altarpiece will be reunited for the first time. The panels in Florence will also be treated and researched; I'm looking forward to collaboration with Italian conservators on this project.
I owe a great deal to my fantastic WUDPAC paintings conservation supervisors Dr. Joyce Hill Stoner, Matt Cushman, and Richard Wolbers who armed me with a solid foundational knowledge of treatment and research approaches. I never would have been able to treat the paintings I have this year or establish the research projects I have embarked upon without the background they provided to me in Delaware and their continued support.
The next half of my third year should be quite the adventure if it's anything like my past five months. I'm looking forward to upcoming treatments in both studios as well as to traveling around New England to work on additional mural projects. I really cannot imagine a better place for me to round out my graduate studies in paintings conservation and am so grateful for this opportunity!
— Alexa Beller, WUDPAC Class of 2017