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Thursday, May 31 • 4:00pm - 4:30pm
(Paintings) Unusual activities between image and panel: a sixteenth-century painting of St. Catherine in the Yale University Art Gallery

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In his 1916 catalogue of the James Jackson Jarves collection, the art historian Osvald Sirén considered a small painting of St. Catherine of Siena and remarked that the picture “...has lost a good deal of its pictorial bouquet.” His sympathetic but dismissive words are one of the only published statements on this painting, which dates to sixteenth-century Siena and after a series of attributions is now being reconsidered as a late work of Sodoma. Overlooked by the mid-twentieth century cleaning campaign that affected the majority of the Italian paintings at Yale, the painting remained understudied until the fall of 2016, when it was pulled from storage for conservation treatment and analysis. The resulting project uncovered an unusual relationship between the image formed by the paint film and the support beneath it, which in turn became a determining factor in the treatment the painting received. Questions concerning how the image layer relates to the support immediately arose when examination of the painting began. X-radiography, followed by computerized tomography (CT) scanning, confirmed that worm tunnels had been filled with a radio-opaque material from the front of the panel, not the reverse. This observation establishes that the painting was either transferred to its present support, painted on an old, previously worm-eaten piece of wood, or painted on paper then mounted to old wood. The possibility of a transfer seemed, initially, most likely: no trace of paper has yet been found, the ground varies markedly in thickness as it extends across the panel, and certain areas of paint appear to rest directly on a thick, glue-like layer. However, the CT scan also confirmed that all but two of the largest disruptions to the surface of the painting correspond directly to knots in the present panel. Such connections between panel and paint film indicates that the support has long induced damage to the image it holds—an observation in tension with the aforementioned indications that the two materials were not always attached to one another. The working provisional explanation for the fraught relationship between image and panel is as follows: at a date prior to the painting’s purchase by Jarves in roughly 1850, the image layer was temporarily separated from the panel. The exposed face of the panel was coated with the observed radio-opaque material, and the image layer was re-glued to its original support, in what could be named an “auto-transfer.” The paper will explore this possibility alongside others. Precedents within the transfer literature will be described, including a little-discussed 1751 reference to an auto-transfer technique. Since the potential St. Catherine auto-transfer has a terminus post quem of 1850, this example could complicate the prevalent notion that nineteenth-century restorers considered the essence of the work of art to reside only in the image layer. 


Annika Finne

PhD student, Institute of Fine Arts New York University
Annika Finne received a M.A. in Art History and an M.S. in the Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, with a speciality in paintings conservation, from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, in 2016. She is currently a Robert Lehman Fellow for Graduate Study in the... Read More →

avatar for Irma Passeri

Irma Passeri

Senior Conservator of Paintings, Yale University Art Gallery
Irma Passeri is Senior Paintings Conservator at the Yale University Art Gallery. She received her degree in the Conservation of Easel Paintings from the Conservation School of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, in Florence in 1998. Prior to working for the Yale Art Gallery, she worked... Read More →

Thursday May 31, 2018 4:00pm - 4:30pm MDT
Texas Ballroom A Marriott Marquis Houston
  6. Specialty Session, Paintings