The Final Restoration of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (F. Bissolo)

This restoration was sponsored by the New York Chapter of the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums. The restorers would like to especially thank the Chapter Leader, Ms. Donna D’Urso.

The historical documented data that restorers retrieved and collected on this work is rather limited. The label is testimony to the origins of the donation, in 1912 to Pope Pio X, which has connections to his personal and private collecting history. In 1926 the painting presented in the inventory of the Painting Gallery, as also shown in the photograph of the Alinari catalog, has cracks in the support that are visible in the central part. Until the restoration, it has been on exhibition in the Vatican Pinacoteca.

In 1963, Gianluigi Colalucci noticed that the work showed poor conditions, and he completed a restoration in 1969. The Vatican Laboratory for the Restoration of the Works of Art also tracked the short permanence of the work in the Laboratory in 1984, Fig. 1.

Fig. 1

The Technique

For a better understanding of the executed technique of the painting, Bissolo worked for a long time in the workshop of Bellini, assimilating the operational part and the iconographic motifs. The flourishing commercial activity and the contact with numerous artists from Flanders, Venice (and the Bellinian atelier) took place between the second half of the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th century. It was among the first locations to embrace Flemish painting, and it was certainly even before the arrival of Antonello from Messina, the moment when Vassari understood the origins of this technique in Italy.

In the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, the support (cm 91,5 x 62,5) consists of two planks in poplar wood with a tangential cut, placed horizontally and glued along the thickness with the method called “sharp edges,” without the overlap of a camottatura (gluing of a thin strip of canvas) that can cushion the movement. The wood was poor quality, with numerous knots and irregularities in the course of the fibers. (Fig 2)

Fig. 2

The State of Conservation and the Restoration Intervention

The Support

The work visibly showed previous restorations, which are not in some documentation. A greater part of the relative information of the construction methods on the panel were not accessible. The wooden support was thin, presenting a maximum thickness of 7 mm. Work is probably necessary following an extensive insect attack.

This operation does not allow us to assess whether, during the gluing, there were pegs or pins. The only information still visible is the presence of thin butterfly dowels glued between the plank. Their small thickness indicates their presence before the substrate thinning operation, but the restorers cannot say whether these are original.

The restorers can affirm that the current state of conservation is from the damage deriving from previous restorations: the reduced thickness of the boards, the numerous constraints caused by the parquet that is no longer suitable, and the exposure of the painting in environments with unsuitable hygrometric parameters. There are problems that, over time, have caused numerous cracks and color lifts, causing the support to lose its correct flatness until it assumes a warping deformation with a curvature arrow greater than 0.5 cm. (Fig. 3)

Fig. 3

During the restoration work, the restorers removed the parquet, which allowed the painting to undergo a natural and homogeneous deformation process. A gradual extraction of the cross pieces and constant control of the planking guarantees the stability of the pictorial layers. (Fig. 4)

Fig. 4

At the end of the operations described, the restorers treated the reverse of the painting with a brush based anti-woodworm treatment and finally with beeswax for protective purposes. (Fig. 5)


The Frame and the Clima-frame:

At the same time, restorers worked on the wooden frame, which, after the anoxic treatment, they consolidated and cleaned in order to eliminate altered restoration patinations. They filled the holes, and made an aesthetic revision. Finally, the restorers applied a protective layer.

The Painted Film:

The removal of the thick paint did not present particular problems since it was a mastic-like resin, soluble in a wide-spectrum of solvents. (Figs. 6 and 7)

Fig. 6

Fig. 7

With these premises, the second phase of the intervention took place gradually to recover the underlying original and to avoid harming the damaged surface and completely removing the reintegrations that could help reconstruct the lost parts. Gradually the child’s face changed, and the tone of the complexion became similar to that of the mother. The reintegration, carried out in glazes with watercolor and varnish colors, included the treatment of gaps and abrasions, especially on the profile of the child’s head, where the movements of the preparatory drawing were visible and gave it a deformation effect. (Fig.8)

By the end of the intervention, the painting retook the peculiar characteristics – the light and the intense coloring typical of the Venetian painting. Time had dulled and deteriorated the old restorations.

Fig. 8

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