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Exhibitions and Projects
Revelations | 4 May 2023 – 31 May 2023

Revelations: Restoration of Francesco Pittoni's Painting

Christian Love

The painting Christian Love by the Venetian Baroque painter Francesco Pittoni is one of the pair of paintings acquired for the National Gallery's collection a few years ago. The two works originate from the Planina Mansion near Rakek, which was burnt down during the Second World War. After the fire, most of the works of art were sold to antique dealers in Trieste. Francesco Pittoni depicted the personification of Christian love dressed in a red cloak and surrounded by three children representing the triple power of love.

When it was acquired, the painting was in worse condition than its counterpart Caritas Romana and posed a particular challenge for the conservation-restoration specialists. Due to numerous damages to the canvas support and missing parts of the canvas, the painting was later glued to a wooden panel, so the original support and the sustained damage to the canvas were not visible to the naked eye. The extent of the damage was determined only after several detailed investigations, which also revealed the condition of the preserved original paint under the overpaintings. As a surprise, the author's changes in the composition (so-called pentimenti) were also revealed on the X-ray image: the changed position of the child's hand in the lap and the position of the child's head. During the search for compositional solutions, an artist could change parts of the painting. When these changes, due to chemical processes in the material or mechanical damage, become visible over time, we ask ourselves what to do? Do we cover them up, as the author wanted, or do we reveal the backstory? The author's original intention was not to show his painting process, but his corrections in the composition are still extremely interesting, both for viewers and art historians.

During the investigations, we also confirmed that the original pattern of the folds of the cloak the central figure is wearing is completely different from the folds in the later overpainting, changing the overall understanding of the painting and obscuring the original softness of the artist's technique. Due to inconsistent retouches and overpaintings that do not correspond to the painter's original painting strokes, the authorship of the work may remain unrecognizable, so the transfer of information between the restorer and the art historian about the findings during the conservation-restoration intervention was crucial. As a rule, decisions on what to preserve and what not, do not solely rest with a conservator-restorer. In our case, too, an expert commission was assembled, which unanimously approved the removal of subsequent overpaintings and the preservation of visible pentimenti.

The present investigations of the support and the paint layer have enabled the conservation-restoration specialists to see, recognize and reinterpret Pittoni's distinctive painterly expression.

Andreja Ravnikar

Presented: Thursday, 4 May, 6 p.m.

4 May – 31 May 2023
National Gallery of Slovenia
Prešernova 24
1000 Ljubljana