Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Layered in Mystery In-Depth Analysis of Five Renaissance Paintings Reveals Original Artwork and Copies

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Layered in Mystery In-Depth Analysis of Five Renaissance Paintings Reveals Original Artwork and Copies

Article excerpt

In a single gallery at Carnegie Museum of Art, sacred and scandalous stories unfold.

"Faked, Forgotten, Found," which runs through Sept. 15, reveals how five Renaissance paintings were altered and documents the twisted paths each artwork has traveled. Four of the works belong to the museum.

On one wall is Isabella, an Italian princess from the Medici family who took multiple lovers before her powerful brother and husband plotted to have her strangled. To add insult to murder, a Victorian-era restorer painted over Isabella's portrait to make her face prettier and her hands daintier. Thankfully, this picture has undergone cleaning, and museumgoers will be able to appreciate the full character of her distinctive face.

In two nearly identical paintings hung side by side, an angel hovers near the Madonna and Christ child. If you cannot decide which scene is the work of Francesco Francia and which is a masterful copy, don't fret. For 150 years, many art historians believed the masterful copy was an original work by Francia. They were crestfallen to learn that it was painted by two Italian men who had studied the techniques of Renaissance artists.

In a room filled with religious symbols, a painting shows St. Elizabeth giving birth to St. John the Baptist while Mary, the Virgin, cradles the child in her arms. This picture, which once belonged to German Jews who perished in the Holocaust, is now the subject of a German court case begun by descendants of its former owners.

Based on careful laboratory analysis and years of research, this exhibition offers a scientific look at Renaissance art. Graphic explanations, augmented by video and sound clips, show the surgical approach to conserving art plus the diligent scholarship and detective work that frames the daily lives of curators and conservators.

Organized by Louise Lippincott, the museum's curator of fine arts, and Ellen Baxter, the full-time paintings conservator, this show is also a dramatic demonstration of how time, light, improper handling and overly enthusiastic retouching can lower the value of art.

"These older paintings have been through the mill. Many museum visitors do not understand this fact," Ms. Lippincott said. "The condition of an artwork or object greatly influences how scholars see it. We also hope people will handle their own paintings more carefully."

Three layers of paint are visible on a portrait of Sir George Nevill, who held the title of Lord Bergavenny and, as a skilled jouster and member of the Order of the Garter, was part of English King Henry VIII's inner circle. The portrait may have been painted in the 1500s by Hans Holbein the Younger or a member of his circle.

"The painting will be displayed as a patchwork," Ms. Lippincott said. "People will see the original layer, the turquoise over paint and the green muck. …

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