What's more challenging than treating a painting? Treating a double-sided painting! Keep reading to find out more about this special conservation project and its challenges.
Restoring a painting usually means applying treatments to the paint layer and, if necessary, also to the backside. Typical treatments of the paint layers are consolidation and filling. Treatments for the backside of a painting can include structural reinforcements, like mist lining, bridging and applying local interleafs. But what if the backside is another painting? In that case, how do you treat losses and structural deficiencies? We've encountered this specific case with a banner from Baarlo in Limburg created by an unknown artist. It belongs to the Brotherhood of Saint Anthony and Saint Urban and is possibly from the XIXth century. It is a double-sided painting stitched inside a textile. The banner was carried around during processions.
When the banner came to the SRAL studio, it was in a deteriorated condition. Poor storage and an unstable environment damaged the object severely. The weight of the canvas and possibly extensive use of the banner have resulted in tears along the stitching between the canvas and the textile. In fact, tears were found throughout the painting, most noticeably a large cross-shaped one in the center. Also, multiple losses and flaking paint were observed. In total, it was an unstable object and not safe to handle. SRAL proposed a full conservation treatment of this object, consisting in stabilizing the paint layers, tear mending, filling and retouching as well as a conservation treatment to stabilize the textile. The latter was done in collaboration with private textiles conservator Doortje Lucassen.
How do you structurally treat a double-sided painting? SRAL paintings conservator Joanna Strombek specialized in exactly this treatment. Last year Joanna attended a professional workshop at Centro Conservazione e Restaurodei Beni Culturali La VenariaReale in Turin, Italy. During the two-week workshop she learned methods and practical application for suitable materials for this kind of treatment. Her knowledge was put to practice right away in the conservation project of the banner from Baarlo. The first thing Joanna did was to consolidate the paint. After that the painting was flattened with weights and tension, providing special attention to creases in the painted structure. As it was not possible to apply a patch at the back of the painting - remember that it's a double-sided painting- Joanna did a thread-by-thread tear mending. The cross- shaped tear in the center of the banner was challenging to fix. First, the damaged threads were organized in the direction they are supposed to be. Then, a new thread was added by adhering it to the end of the original one. The next step was re-weaving and reconstructing the warp and weft structure of the textile. This was executed under the microscope with specific tools. It needs a stable hand and patience to get all the threads in the right order, but the result was successful.
Double-work. After the structural treatment of a double-sided banner, it was time for the aesthetic treatment of the artwork, including filling and retouching. The characteristics of the object and its materials determined the approach. In fact, every step had to be considered from two perspectives, as there are two paintings back-to-back. What did this mean for filling and retouching? The fillings had to be built up in two layers on each side. The recipe for the lower layer was adjusted. In that way it was made more resilient and durable, serving as additional reinforcement. Also, the retouching had to be done twice – for each composition.
The result of the completed conservation treatment was satisfying. The double-sided painting is stabilized and can again be appreciated in its full glory. To make sure that the object is preserved as long as possible, SRAL advised the Brotherhood of Saint Anthony and Saint Urban to store the banner appropriately and resign from using it for processions.
Quote from Joanna Strombek: “The double sided paintings are fascinating artworks that require very careful and targeted methods and materials for the treatment. It is a challenging and unique experience to treat this type of artworks.”
Capture picture 1: The banner arrives at SRAL and is inspected by our staff
Capture picture 2: Detail of the banner
Capture picture 3: Detail cross-shaped tear after treatment
Capture picture 4: Detail cross-shaped tear during treatment
Capture picture 5: Detail cross-shaped tear before treatment
Capture picture 6: St. Anthony during treatment before retouching
Capture picture 7: St. Urban during treatment before retouching
Capture picture 8: Banner after treatment (St. Urban)
Capture picture 9: Banner after treatment (St. Antonius)
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