What is the difference between a "copy" and a "reconstruction" of a painting?
can be learned by copying the great paintings of the past, and the act
of copying an artwork can be both a rewarding and a humbling
experience. This site is not, however, concerned with copying. A copy
of a painting aims to emulate surface effects as they now appear today,
complete with degraded/yellowed varnish, overpaint, and discolored or
faded pigments. A copyist is generally not restricted by historic
processes: e.g. the unforgiving, coarse nature of azurite, the extremely
slow-drying properties of cold-pressed linseed oil, and the demanding
task of creating a uniform gilded surface. Finally, the act of copying
is generally a solitary educational experience, benefiting the
individual as opposed to a larger audience.
A reconstruction of a
historic painting aims to precisely replicate the exact materials and
layering structure used by the original artist to the degree possible.
This means that the pigments and binders used to create the
reconstruction must be of the same chemical and physical composition as
those available to Giotto, Tintoretto, or El Greco. Technical
information gained through the collaborative efforts of art historians,
scientists, and conservators can also inform us of historical painting
practices. Infrared reflectography can reveal an artist's underdrawing,
x-radiographs can show how a panel was constructed, and analysis using
x-ray fluorescence is often used to confirm the presence of certain
pigments. Finally, cross-sectional “cut-aways” leave a visual record of
the layers and processes used in the creation of a painting, allowing
viewers to visually participate in each step of the painting process.
material presented here is a testament to some of the fruitful
collaborative efforts between art historians, conservators, and
scientists. Such partnerships have uncovered information related to
historical painting materials and techniques, workshop practices, and
attribution. It is easy to overlook the importance of materials;
however, reconstructions may help us to develop a newfound respect for
the pigments that have been transformed into masterpieces.