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Courtesy of Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf, 2015.

This Painting by Zurbarán Conveys Its Powerful Message Again After Conservation

Conservators utilized various techniques adapted to individual sections of Zurbarán’s ”Saint Francis” in this extensive conservation at the Kunstpalast, supported by the TEFAF Museum Restoration Fund

The Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf was founded as the municipal art museum in 1913. The museum proposes a journey through an international art history, starting with paintings, sculptures, applied arts, prints, and drawings dating from the medieval and early modern periods and further encompassing classic works of the 20th century and today. Francisco de Zurbarán’s (1598–1664) Saint Francis of Assisi in Meditation (circa 1630–1635) is part of the museum’s permanent collection and is one of only five authentic paintings by Zurbarán in German public collections. The condition of this painting was severely compromised and required an extensive conservation, for which the TEFAF Museum Restoration Fund granted support in 2015.

The conservation work realized on Saint Francis of Assisi in Meditation aimed to create a more homogenous surface, improving its aesthetic appearance to convey its powerful message once again. The condition survey of the piece was based on macroscopic and microscopic observations under normal light, raking light, UV-light, and infrared light. To learn more about the painting’s composition and changes during the working process and over-painted areas, an x-ray examination was necessary. Thanks to these experiences, specialists were able to determine that the painting has previously been restored with various materials. The shrunken canvas support and the infiltration of foreign material under the craquelure raised additional challenges. Conservators encountered difficulties in predicting in which way distinct areas would react to treatment.

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Francisco de Zurbarán, Saint Francis of Assisi in Meditation, circa 1630-1635. Oil on canvas. 124.5 x 163.5 cm (49 x 64.4 in.). Before and after restoration. Courtesy of Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf.

Therefore, the treatment was adapted to each section. Among other things, the discolored varnish layer, unsatisfactory in-fills, and discolored retouching were removed. The lacuna was filled in and an intermediary layer of varnish was applied. Thanks to this restoration project, this masterpiece was on display for an impressive exhibition on Zurbarán, organized in autumn of 2015 by the Kunstpalast.

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Francisco de Zurbarán’s Saint Francis of Assisi in Meditation (circa 1630-1635) exhibited at the Zurbarán exhibition at the Kunstpalast in 2015. Photo: Horst Kolberg. Courtesy of Kunstpalast, Düsseldorf.

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