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Reconstructing a 14th-Century Painting

/ Slideshows - Staff Updates

In mid-July, Assistant Curator of Education for Visitor Engagement Kristi McMillan attended a weeklong workshop at the University of Delaware to reconstruct The Hebrew Prophet, a 14th-century painting by the Florentine artist Giovanni del Biondo. The Hebrew Prophet was one of several panels that together made up the high altarpiece for the church of San Giovanni Valdarno in Arezzo, a town in the Tuscany region of central Italy. The panel, now separated from most of its original companions, is owned by the Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico.

A “reconstruction” differs from a reproduction or copy in that a reconstruction follows, as closely as possible, the artist’s original materials and creative process. A reconstruction also reveals a visual record of the layers and techniques used, allowing viewers to participate in each step of its creation.

The University of Delaware is home to one of the few art conservation training programs in the country. Faculty and students there have offered the workshop for the past two years thanks to the generosity of the Kress Foundation, which continues the legacy of Samuel H. Kress (1863-1955). Mr. Kress, owner of a successful chain of “five-and-dime” retail stores, collected Old Master paintings and other European art that he then donated to institutions around the country. Institutions with a Kress collection, including the BMA, were invited to participate in the workshop to create a reconstruction that will aid in educating visitors about historical painting materials and techniques.

This fall, the reconstruction will provide the centerpiece for a new learning station in the early Renaissance gallery at the BMA. The station will explore how 14th- and 15th-century Italian artists built up paintings on wooden panels from animal glue, linen, ground gypsum, charcoal, ink, egg yolks, naturally occurring pigments, gold leaf, and other unlikely materials.

To learn more about historical materials and techniques, the science of art conservation, and the Kress Reconstruction Project, visit UD’s Technical Art History website here. To learn more about The Hebrew Prophet and how the BMA’s reconstruction was made, click here.

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