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Conserving History

The most astounding thing about going to any art museum is how wellpreserved the centuries-old artwork is even today. This is thanks to the
efforts of Art conservators! Art conservation is a complicated and
diverse field combining scientific, artistic, and historical research.
Click on the sections below to learn a bit more about what it is that art
conservators do!

Unveiling the Past

Cracking the Code

Revealing the Head of Goliath


This painting is
David and the Head of
Goliath (1640). The Museum
acquired this work in 1947 as
a gift of Mrs. Harry Turpin.

When first received, the


painting was in rough shape.
Not only was it showing
clear signs of aging and
damage, but conservators
noticed disparities in the
paints, suggesting that there
was much more to this work
than meets the eye.
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Here is the painting


as it was received in
1947.
The age of the work
was most visible in
the yellowish tint it
was cast in. This
type of color
distortion doesnt
come from
alteration or fading
of the paints
themselves, but
from alteration and
fading of the clear
glaze coating the
surface of the work.

Glazes are
applied by artists
to protect their
paintings and to
create a more
finished look.
If a glaze is made
incorrectly, or is
not regularly
cleaned over
time, the glaze
can color and
alter the
paintings
appearance.

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There were also a


number of cracks in
the paintings
surface. These
types of cracks are
known as
craquelure, and are
caused by age or
damages.
With this work, the
most noticeable
cracks were along
the edges of the
painting. This
indicated that the
canvas had been
removed from its
frame and restretched onto a
new one.

Conservators
then found
that an
additional
strip of newer
canvas had
been added to
the bottom of
the painting to
accommodate
the new frame,
which was
larger than its
original.

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Due to
discrepancies in the
paintings surface,
conservators
concluded that a
large amount of
overpainting had
been applied to the
work.
Overpainting is when
someone paints over
the pre-existing paint
on an artwork.
Artists will
sometimes overpaint
their own work to
make changes to the
composition or
coloring.

However, it is not
unusual for
overpainting to
occur after the
fact by restorers
to repair
damages, or by
sellers to
improve the
work to their
preference.

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The most
predominant
overpainting
with David
was in his
red cape by
his right
elbow.

Not only were there


inconsistencies in the
craquelure and surface
texture here, but the
shade of red used in the
overpaint had altered
over time. This change
in pigment revealed a
pentimento a faint
outline of something
painted underneath.
With this evidence,
conservators knew that
they needed to
investigate the work
much more thoroughly.
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X-Ray:
David and the Head of Goliath
While doctors x-ray us to
show the inside of our bodies,
conservators use x-rays to
show the layers of paint
underneath the surface of a
painting. The x-rays interact
with paints differently based
on the materials they are
made with.
For example, most white paint
used before the 19th century
contained lead, which reacts
to x-rays by showing up as
especially bright.
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The x-ray of David and Goliath showed


conservators just where the later
additions to the painting were. This
included the new strip of canvas at the
bottom and it showed the areas of
overpainting, which were mainly
applied to repair places where there
had been paint loss and cracking near
Davids face and right wrist.

The most obvious detail revealed by this x-ray,


however, was the head of Goliath.
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Why would anyone want to cover up such an


important feature of this painting?
It was fairly common
for less scrupulous
sellers cover up any
features of a work
which might make it
less consumer
friendly.
In this case, its a
safe bet the seller
knew that most
potential buyers
would probably
prefer not to have a
painting of a
dismembered head
hanging on their wall.

Still, grisly or not,


the head of Goliath
is an important part
of this painting.
Not only does it
help identify both
figures, it fills in the
composition so
that David is no
longer staring into
empty space. Now
he is instead
contemplating the
head of his
defeated enemy.
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The head of Goliath


was discovered in
August of 1986, yet
the removal of the
overpainting wasnt
begun until March of
1999. Why wait over
a decade to restore
this painting?
The truth is,
controversy exists
surrounding art
restoration. Some
people argue that
it removes the
history of a work.

Those against art


restoration assert
that, although the
effects of time and
later alterations were
not the intent of the
artist, these factors
are a part of the
works history.
Also, restoring an
artwork may
endanger it, or may
even involve
overpainting itself,
and therefore would
alter the original work
in its own way.
HOME

Those who support


art restoration
contend that the
alterations of history
are indeed important,
but that they should
be documented in the
records of the work,
and then removed.
They argue that the
original intent and
finished product of
the artist should take
precedence over the
history of the object.

This debate makes it


tricky when deciding
how or if to restore a
work, so it calls for
careful consideration
and planning to
undertake
especially with a
change as drastic as
with David.
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Ultimately, the Museum made the decision to restore the work


to what the artist originally intended it to be.
Through a slow and delicate
process, the overpainting was
removed and Goliaths head
was revealed.
The painting was also carefully
cleaned so that the
discoloration in the glaze could
be removed. Conservators
removed the added strip of
canvas and repaired the area
with a strip of different canvas
carefully selected to match the
existing work. They backed the
painting with a polyester lining
to help support its structure
and then returned it to a frame
of its original size.

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All of this conservation


not only returned the work
to de Belliss original
vision, but it helped
stabilize the work so that it
would be less likely to
sustain damage and
deteriorate over time.

However, conservators
remain aware of the
concerns against
restoring a work of art.

HOME

Modern conservators are


now much more
conscientious of what
they do to a painting.
Whenever a conservator
needs to add something
to a painting like an
overpainting or a new
patch of canvas they
do so in a way that could
be easily removed or
reversed. That means
that any alterations made
do not permanently alter
the artwork.
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CRAQUELURE
Conservators work very
hard to keep paintings in
good shape, and thanks
to them, artworks remain
in breathtaking condition
even when theyre
centuries old.
Still, youve probably
noticed that a lot of
paintings, even ones in
otherwise good shape,
will have networks of fine
cracks going across the
surface. These cracks are
known as craquelure.

Some craquelure comes


from damages, but
general craquelure is
something that is very
difficult to avoid once
works reach a certain
age. It may seem like
theres not much to the
tiny cracks in a paintings
surface, but there can
actually be quite a bit to
be said.
For now, however, here
are a few different
categories.
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Damage Craquelure
As mentioned, some cracks occur from external damage. Paintings are
very delicate, and if something bumps into a painting, or even just touches
it, it can cause cracks.
Here are two easy types of damage craquelure that you can recognize.

Spiral Cracks

Spiral cracks come from impacts


with a paintings surface. They can
be subtle or very pronounced
based on how hard the painting
was hit, but they always show up in
an almost spiral pattern radiating
from the central point of impact.

Feather, or Herringbone
Cracks
Feather cracks usually occur
when a painting is scraped
somehow from the back.
These appear as a cluster of
cracks ranging from small to
large, which all originate
around a central axis. This
axis is the path the damaging
scrape took.
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Drying Craquelure
When artists apply layers of paint that have have different drying
times, or they apply layers at very different thicknesses, this causes
the layers to dry unevenly. When this happens, two layers may not be
able to grip together, and this leads to cracking.
This type of cracking can be recognized by a few features.
1. The pattern can be erratic, as it
often corresponds to individual
brushstrokes.
2. The cracks are almost rounded in
shape so that it looks more like the
top layer of paint is pulling apart.
3. You might even be able to see
peeks of the paint layers
underneath through the gaps the
cracks create.
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Aging Craquelure
Even when a painting
manages to avoid
any damage or
drying cracks, it
often cant avoid the
wear of age.

Most paintings are painted on either


canvas or wood. Both of these
surfaces are likely to fluctuate
minutely in size over time, and paint
is not nearly as elastic.
When the tension of a canvas
changes, or a wood panel swells or
shrinks based on humidity, it puts
stress on the surface tension of the
layers of applied paint. This stress
leads to craquelure.

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Due to the fact that this stress takes place


across the entirety of the painting, age
craquelure often covers most of the paintings
surface area in a fairly uniform pattern.

These patterns can be affected by a


number of things including the technique
the paint was applied with as well as the
composition of the paint itself.
This actually means that due to the
consistency of paint materials and
technique across specific areas and time
periods the pattern of craquelure can
be used to identify when and where a
painting was made.
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Scholars have managed to create four categories of craquelure


patterns that have shown to be fairly consistent.
Click below to learn how to spot these patterns!

Italian
14th15th
Century

Flemish
15th17th
Century

Dutch
17th
Century

French
18th
Century

HOME

Scholars have managed to create four categories of craquelure


patterns that have shown to be fairly consistent.
Click below to learn how to spot these patterns!

Italian
14th15th
Century

Flemish
15th17th
Century

Dutch
17th
Century

French
18th
Century

HOME

14th15th Century Italian Craquelure


1. These cracks often have a
predominant direction; the major
cracks usually run fairly
perpendicular or parallel to each
other.
2. The crack pattern usually has small
to medium sized islands (spaces
between the cracks), and the islands
are fairly rectangular or square in
shape.
3. The cracks are mostly jagged rather
than smooth.
4. The pattern can have a broken
network. This means there can be
cracks trailing off and picking up
with gaps left behind.
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15th17th Century Flemish Craquelure


1. These cracks nearly always have a
clear and predominant direction.
2. This pattern generally has small
islands (spaces between the cracks)
which are fairly square or
rectangular in shape.
3. Flemish craquelure is smooth and
tends to travel in straight paths
either perpendicular or parallel to
one another.
4. The networks are usually very
orderly and mostly unbroken.
Some 17th century Flemish craquelure can look similar to 18th
century French craquelure at first, but when you look carefully you
can see that the pattern has a much less erratic directionality than
French craquelure.
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17th Century Dutch Craquelure


1. Dutch craquelure usually has a
predominant direction with the
orientation following the longest
side of the painting.
2. The islands (spaces between the
cracks) are mostly small or
medium with vaguely rectangular
or square shapes, but
occasionally with a few curved
edges.
3. The cracks tend to be fairly jagged
but consistent in thickness.
4. The pattern is usually mostly
unbroken.

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18th Century French Craquelure


1. French craquelure usually
doesnt have a predominant
direction, and can appear fairly
erratic.
2. This pattern tends to have large
islands (spaces between
cracks), but the islands vary
slightly in size and shape
3. The cracks are generally
smooth and they usually have a
curved path.
4. French craquelure usually has
an unbroken network with
cracks going uninterrupted
until it meets another crack in
its path.
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Obviously, even with these categories, its


extremely difficult to predict the paths
cracks will take; conservators have even
created complicated math equations to try
and figure out how the patterns will form.
Whats more, even different workshops
or artists in the same time and place
may have used slightly different
materials and techniques, and so they
wont easily fit into the categories.
However, even though craquelure isnt a
perfect way to identify paintings, it can
be fun to spot in the galleries.
Using what youve learned, try your hand at identifying the era and
place a painting is from based on the details of craquelure you see!

Craquelure Identification Game


HOME

What type of craquelure is this?

A.) Italian 14th15th Century


B.) Flemish 15th17th Century
C.) Dutch 17th Century
D.) French 18th Century

HOME

What type of craquelure is this?


A.) Italian 14th15th Century
B.) Flemish 15th 17th Century
C.) Dutch 17th Century
D.) French 18th Century
This is the French painting Portrait of a
Lady by Marie-Guillemine Benoist from
ca. 1799.
The clothing and hairstyle of the
woman may throw you off, but this
style was all the rage in Paris during
this time. Women were looking to
emulate the female figures they so
admired from the Classical times.
Next Question

HOME

What type of craquelure is this?


A.) Italian 14th15th Century
B.) Flemish 15th 17th Century
C.) Dutch 17th Century
D.) French 18th Century
This is the French painting Portrait of a
Lady by Marie-Guillemine Benoist from
ca. 1799.
The clothing and hairstyle of the
woman may throw you off, but this
style was all the rage in Paris during
this time. Women were looking to
emulate the female figures they so
admired from the Classical times.
Next Question

HOME

What type of craquelure is this?


A.) Italian 14th15th Century
B.) Flemish 15th 17th Century
C.) Dutch 17th Century
D.) French 18th Century
This is the French painting Portrait of a
Lady by Marie-Guillemine Benoist from
ca. 1799.
The clothing and hairstyle of the
woman may throw you off, but this
style was all the rage in Paris during
this time. Women were looking to
emulate the female figures they so
admired from the Classical times.
Next Question

HOME

What type of craquelure is this?


A.) Italian 14th15th Century
B.) Flemish 15th 17th Century
C.) Dutch 17th Century
D.) French 18th Century
This is the French painting Portrait of a
Lady by Marie-Guillemine Benoist from
ca. 1799.
The clothing and hairstyle of the
woman may throw you off, but this
style was all the rage in Paris during
this time. Women were looking to
emulate the female figures they so
admired from the Classical times.
Next Question

HOME

What type of craquelure is this?

A.) Italian 14th15th Century


B.) Flemish 15th17th Century
C.) Dutch 17th Century
D.) French 18th Century

HOME

What type of craquelure is this?


A.) Italian 14th15th Century

This is the Italian painting Madonna of the


Roses by Pseudo Pier Francesco
Fiorentino from 14851490
In this classic motif, the figures have
shining halos gilded in gold leaf. However,
the scene has a more naturalistic
background of plant life as opposed to the
gilded golden background of earlier
Renaissance and Medieval works.

B.) Flemish 15th17th Century


C.) Dutch 17th Century
D.) French 18th Century
Next Question

HOME

What type of craquelure is this?


A.) Italian 14th15th Century

This is the Italian painting Madonna of the


Roses by Pseudo Pier Francesco
Fiorentino from 14851490
In this classic motif, the figures have
shining halos gilded in gold leaf. However,
the scene has a more naturalistic
background of plant life as opposed to the
gilded golden background of earlier
Renaissance and Medieval works.

B.) Flemish 15th17th Century


C.) Dutch 17th Century
D.) French 18th Century
Next Question

HOME

What type of craquelure is this?


A.) Italian 14th15th Century

This is the Italian painting Madonna of the


Roses by Pseudo Pier Francesco
Fiorentino from 14851490
In this classic motif, the figures have
shining halos gilded in gold leaf. However,
the scene has a more naturalistic
background of plant life as opposed to the
gilded golden background of earlier
Renaissance and Medieval works.

B.) Flemish 15th17th Century


C.) Dutch 17th Century
D.) French 18th Century
Next Question

HOME

What type of craquelure is this?


A.) Italian 14th15th Century

This is the Italian painting Madonna of the


Roses by Pseudo Pier Francesco
Fiorentino from 14851490
In this classic motif, the figures have
shining halos gilded in gold leaf. However,
the scene has a more naturalistic
background of plant life as opposed to the
gilded golden background of earlier
Renaissance and Medieval works.

B.) Flemish 15th17th Century


C.) Dutch 17th Century
D.) French 18th Century
Next Question

HOME

What type of craquelure is this?

A.) Italian 14th15th Century


B.) Flemish 15th17th Century
C.) Dutch 17th Century
D.) French 18th Century

HOME

What type of craquelure is this?


A.) Italian 14th15th Century
B.) Flemish 15th17th Century
C.) Dutch 17th Century

Here is the Dutch work Portrait of a Girl by


Nicolaes Maes from 1664.
This may not seem like a young girl based
on her clothing and how shes holding
herself, but during this time, children were
painted in the same ways that adults were
painted; they would be shown in the same
poses and they would be painted with the
same status symbols such as clothing
and jewelry.

D.) French 18th Century


Next Question

HOME

What type of craquelure is this?


A.) Italian 14th15th Century
B.) Flemish 15th17th Century
C.) Dutch 17th Century

Here is the Dutch work Portrait of a Girl by


Nicolaes Maes from 1664.
This may not seem like a young girl based
on her clothing and how shes holding
herself, but during this time, children were
painted in the same ways that adults were
painted; they would be shown in the same
poses and they would be painted with the
same status symbols such as clothing
and jewelry.

D.) French 18th Century


Next Question

HOME

What type of craquelure is this?


A.) Italian 14th15th Century
B.) Flemish 15th17th Century
C.) Dutch 17th Century

Here is the Dutch work Portrait of a Girl by


Nicolaes Maes from 1664.
This may not seem like a young girl based
on her clothing and how shes holding
herself, but during this time, children were
painted in the same ways that adults were
painted; they would be shown in the same
poses and they would be painted with the
same status symbols such as clothing
and jewelry.

D.) French 18th Century


Next Question

HOME

What type of craquelure is this?


A.) Italian 14th15th Century
B.) Flemish 15th17th Century
C.) Dutch 17th Century

Here is the Dutch work Portrait of a Girl by


Nicolaes Maes from 1664.
This may not seem like a young girl based
on her clothing and how shes holding
herself, but during this time, children were
painted in the same ways that adults were
painted; they would be shown in the same
poses and they would be painted with the
same status symbols such as clothing
and jewelry.

D.) French 18th Century


Next Question

HOME

What type of craquelure is this?

A.) Italian 14th15th Century


B.) Flemish 15th17th Century
C.) Dutch 17th Century
D.) French 18th Century

HOME

What type of craquelure is this?


A.) Italian 14th15th Century
Here is the Italian painting Saint Catherine
of Siena by Sano di Pietro from 14501460.
Catherine was a nun in a Dominican
Christian sect. She is easily identified in
most paintings by the fact that she is
always wearing the typical black and white
nuns habit. She is also often shown with
white lilies and a book.

B.) Flemish 15th17th Century


C.) Dutch 17th Century
D.) French 18th Century
Next Question

HOME

What type of craquelure is this?


A.) Italian 14th15th Century
Here is the Italian painting Saint Catherine
of Siena by Sano di Pietro from 14501460.
Catherine was a nun in a Dominican
Christian sect. She is easily identified in
most paintings by the fact that she is
always wearing the typical black and white
nuns habit. She is also often shown with
white lilies and a book.

B.) Flemish 15th17th Century


C.) Dutch 17th Century
D.) French 18th Century
Next Question

HOME

What type of craquelure is this?


A.) Italian 14th15th Century
Here is the Italian painting Saint Catherine
of Siena by Sano di Pietro from 14501460.
Catherine was a nun in a Dominican
Christian sect. She is easily identified in
most paintings by the fact that she is
always wearing the typical black and white
nuns habit. She is also often shown with
white lilies and a book.

B.) Flemish 15th17th Century


C.) Dutch 17th Century
D.) French 18th Century
Next Question

HOME

What type of craquelure is this?


A.) Italian 14th15th Century
Here is the Italian painting Saint Catherine
of Siena by Sano di Pietro from 14501460.
Catherine was a nun in a Dominican
Christian sect. She is easily identified in
most paintings by the fact that she is
always wearing the typical black and white
nuns habit. She is also often shown with
white lilies and a book.

B.) Flemish 15th17th Century


C.) Dutch 17th Century
D.) French 18th Century
Next Question

HOME

What type of craquelure is this?

A.) Italian 14th15th Century


B.) Flemish 15th17th Century
C.) Dutch 17th Century
D.) French 18th Century

HOME

What type of craquelure is this?


A.) Italian 14th15th Century
B.) Flemish 15th17th Century

This Flemish painting is Queen Henrietta


Maria of England by Anthony van Dyck,
painted 16361638.
The Queen looks very beautiful in van
Dycks portraits, but a journal entry by
her niece, Sophia of Hanover, states that
the Queen had teeth sticking from her
mouth like guns from a fort.

C.) Dutch 17th Century


D.) French 18th Century
Complete!
HOME

What type of craquelure is this?


A.) Italian 14th15th Century
B.) Flemish 15th17th Century

This Flemish painting is Queen Henrietta


Maria of England by Anthony van Dyck,
painted 16361638.
The Queen looks very beautiful in van
Dycks portraits, but a journal entry by
her niece, Sophia of Hanover, states that
the Queen had teeth sticking from her
mouth like guns from a fort.

C.) Dutch 17th Century


D.) French 18th Century
Complete!
HOME

What type of craquelure is this?


A.) Italian 14th15th Century
B.) Flemish 15th17th Century

This Flemish painting is Queen Henrietta


Maria of England by Anthony van Dyck,
painted 16361638.
The Queen looks very beautiful in van
Dycks portraits, but a journal entry by
her niece, Sophia of Hanover, states that
the Queen had teeth sticking from her
mouth like guns from a fort.

C.) Dutch 17th Century


D.) French 18th Century
Complete!
HOME

What type of craquelure is this?


A.) Italian 14th15th Century
B.) Flemish 15th17th Century

This Flemish painting is Queen Henrietta


Maria of England by Anthony van Dyck,
painted 16361638.
The Queen looks very beautiful in van
Dycks portraits, but a journal entry by
her niece, Sophia of Hanover, states that
the Queen had teeth sticking from her
mouth like guns from a fort.

C.) Dutch 17th Century


D.) French 18th Century
Complete!
HOME

Now that you know more


about craquelure and
youve had the chance to
try your hand at identifying
it in paintings, take a look
around the galleries.

While you admire the


beauty of the paintings
themselves, keep an eye
out for craquelure as well
and see what you can find!
HOME