Study of Materials and Techniques in Painted Ceiling Panels from a Palace in Cremona (Italy, 15.Sup.Th.Sup. Century)

Article excerpt

Authors: Marco Malagodi [1,2]; Tommaso Rovetta (corresponding author) [2]; Maurizio Licchelli [1]

Introduction

Aesthetic sensibility for interior furniture was of great importance from the 15[sup.th] century onwards and structural elements such as walls and ceilings were also decorated in order to embellish the interior of buildings. Wooden ceilings represented an important and widespread art form in Italy [1]. Skilled craftsmen operating in several notable ?ateliers?, mainly located in northern Italy, decorated ceiling panels with subjects inspired by the artworks of famous painters, for instance Andrea Mantegna, Vincenzo Foppa or Giovan Pietro da Cemmo. Painted wooden panels were mainly produced to enhance the ceilings of aristocratic homes and churches [2]. Today these panels represent an important source of information about 15[sup.th] and 16[sup.th] century customs and traditions as the subjects of the decorations were typical of the Renaissance [3]. At that time, the wooden ceilings had a typical structure with central beams and lateral rafters with the presence of a console along the vertical faces. The surfaces of the beams were painted and decorated and small wooden panels were hung between the beams and the console [4]. These artworks were given a ground layer which provided the base for painting. Although a lot of these paintings have been lost over the centuries, some of them can still be found in Italian museums or in the original buildings, as for example the painted ceiling panels depicting knights which adorn the ground floor of a building in Vittorio Veneto (Treviso) dating back to 1476, or the palace of Giovanni degli Onesti in Udine [5]. This artistic technique was commonly used in Lombardy and examples of these panels can be seen all over the region. The panels are usually square shaped and depict various subjects such as bust-length portraits of noblewomen or gentlemen, historical, mythological or allegoric episodes, as well as portraits of kings or emperors. Mantova, Brescia, Cremona and Pavia were the most important towns in Lombardy for the development of these decorations [6]. From a technical point of view, Spruce was the main source of wood for the panels due to its ease of workability and soft color. At that time, light-colored wood was commonly treated with pigments, organic dyes, gums, natural resins or oil varnishes in order to give a transparent rosy color to the wood surfaces, conferring to wood a pleasant effect [7]. Moreover, some of the most commonly used pigments for these kinds of paintings were azurite for bleu colors and cinnabar for red, as confirmed by historical sources [8]. The ceiling panels analyzed in this study are part of a group of panels that probably come from a stately home in Cremona which no longer exists and belong to the ?Musei Civici? in Cremona. The paintings are portraits of fashionable dames, with rich jewels and fancy headdresses, who were probably the aristocratic owners of the palace. The panels seem to be quite well preserved and no restoration has been documented in the past. Nothing is known about the binders, primer layers and pigments and it is unclear if paintings were made by the same or different workshops and/or artists of the town. A scientific evaluation performed by means of various diagnostic methods is required in order to assess the level of degradation of the painted panels and their materials. Moreover, the analyses of the paintings? components may provide useful information about the painting techniques [9]. The analyses performed on micro-samples taken from characteristic points of different pattern colors enabled us to study the stratigraphy of the ground layer and paint layers. The samples were studied with an optical microscope, ?FT-IR micro-spectroscopy and Scanning Electron Microscopy with EDX spectrometer (SEM-EDX). The characterization of these materials represents a first step in determining the artistic techniques used to make these particular kinds of artworks during the Italian Renaissance period. …