Conservation gives new life to Colonial paintings
Matilde Rubio discusses the next steps in the conservation process with TMA staff in the Tohono Restoration studio.
Earlier this year the museum received a gift of four Colonial paintings on canvas from conservator and art historian Gloria Giffords. These canvases are an important addition to TMA’s collection of Latin American art, but being roughly 300 years old they’re not quite ready for the public eye.
Before going on view next year in the Kasser Family Wing of Latin American Art, each painting from the Giffords gift is undergoing extensive conservation to bring it to the best condition possible and ensure that it remains stable. TMA enlisted Timothy Lewis and Matilde Rubio of Tohono Restoration to do the work, beginning with the largest painting in the group—a depiction of the Madre Dolorosa, the sorrowful Virgin Mary in a state of mourning.
Madre Dolorosa in the TMA vault prior to the start of conservation work.
While the edges of the canvas show signs that the Madre Dolorosa was previously framed, later in its life the canvas was rolled, resulting in a painted surface that was buckled, warped and cracked. There were some small tears in the canvas, and sections of paint had flaked away. Lewis and Rubio put together a conservation plan that includes:
Relining: A process used to strengthen, flatten or consolidate oil or tempera paintings on canvas by attaching a new canvas to the back of the existing one. Tohono Restoration uses rabbit skin glue, a material employed by oil painters since the Renaissance. Relining of the Madre Dolorosa is complete, and the now-smooth surface is ready for the next steps.
A palette of pigments that will be used for inpainting—filling in areas where the original paint is lost.
Cleaning: This painstaking work involves using cotton swabs and gentle solvents to remove layers of surface dirt, one tiny section of the painting at a time.
Inpainting: A process where missing parts of the painting are filled in to present a complete image. This work does not cover original paint (a process called overpainting), but instead covers only areas of loss. Inpainting is done with pigments and mediums that might be easily removed in any future treatment of the canvas.
The conservation of the Giffords gift has been generously funded by Stevie Mack and Mike Grassinger, with further commitments by TMA’s Latin American Art Patrons.
Timothy Lewis and Matilde Rubio of Tohono Restoration (left) in the studio with Stevie Mack and Mike Grassinger, whose gift is funding the conservation efforts.
Sorrowful Mother (Madre Dolorosa), Mexico, 18th century, oil on canvas. Gift of Gloria Giffords. 2020.5.1.
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