This is how El Prado's masterpieces are restored - La Provincia

An x-ray revealed that, before 'The Countess of Chinchón', Goya He had painted two male portraits on the same canvas. When removing varnishes from 'The spears', a leaden sky appeared in the work of Velázquez. And a chemical analysis of a tiny fragment of 'Adam' from Dürer Betrayed that the black of the background was actually a repaint made centuries later on the original table of the artist. Findings thus stimulate the meticulous daily anti-aging work of the restoration team of the Prado Museum, one of the most select in the world, formed by chemists, biologists, art historians and, of course, restaurateurs, mostly women who this year have received in team the National Award for Restoration and Conservation of Cultural Property.

Encased in their black robes, they look for the formula of renewed youth in the works of the great masters. "The health of the paintings in the national art gallery is generally enviable," said Enrique Quintana, responsible for the restoration brigade of the museum's paintings, all of them obliged to occasionally pass their particular ITV in search of the original pottery . Tensioning canvases, removing dirt, removing varnishes or reintegrating lost pigments are some of the treatments in which the expert hands of the ten members of this key department of the pinacoteca strive.

An expansion space

The clinic attended by Velázquez, Tizianos, Goyas, Grecos € is in the Jerónimos building, the expansion space designed by the architect Rafael Moneo, in a bunker in which state-of-the-art devices coexist for the realization of infrared radiographs and reflectographies with a laboratory and a more traditional workshop, full of brushes, pigments, scalpels and easels.

"It is exciting to talk with the cadre to understand their ills and find the right treatmentor "he explains Lucia Martinez while he takes the pulse of 'The stigmatization of San Francisco de Asís', an altar canvas painted perhaps in 1750, very damaged. In front of this oil painting by José del Castillo, a work by Elena Brokmann, 'Step of a procession through the cloister of San Juan de los Reyes', recovers the luster stolen by a false fog that turns off the colors of habits and weakens the light that penetrates between the gothic arches.

Little by little the faces of the saint, the friars and the altar boys are recovering contrast. These are now the two 'patients' of Lucia Martínez in a huge and bright workshop overlooking the old Cloister of the Jerónimos. Every 20 minutes, powerful fans renew the air of the room, vitiated by the toxic gases of the solvents used to remove the layers of old varnishes that cloud the paints.

Messages from the best artists

"Like us, the paintings oxidize and age," explains this restorer determined to understand the scope of the implicit messages of the best artists in the West. Paints must undergo a cleaning process every 70 or one hundred years, although from now on washing will stand the test of time more, since the new LED bulbs in the Prado rooms are less harmful for fabrics.

Near Lucía Martínez, his partner Almudena Sánchez, who has been in the department for 37 years, scrutinizes with special glasses the five scenes of the prelude of 'The Annunciation' by Fran Angelico to return to this 600-year-old masterpiece the vividness of his color and gold.

Sánchez touches the Tuscan artist's painting with a very fine brush, as I did with the Renaissance table of the main scene, a mythical image, a symbol of the museum. He gets excited every time he faces the challenge of recovering a masterpiece. "It is a privilege –proclaims– that demands a deep knowledge of both the painting and the author before acting".

At the bottom of the study, 'La Nevada' by Goya expects to be discharged after a year of touch-ups. The canvas of almost three meters long will go down to the showroom in a huge forklift designed to support more than 9,000 kilos and transport even the largest frame of the Prado, 'Hamlet (last scene)', an oil painting of more than seven meters wide by Salvador Sánchez Barbudo that is currently not exposed.

Tuning in an armored basement

The set-up of a painting begins in the armored basement of the Jerónimos, where the restaurateur Laura Alba radiographs the pictures Y Art historian Jaime García-Máiquez subjects them to infrared reflectographs, a technique that allows you to see the superposition of carbon strata, the element that betrays any paint, because there is no pigment that does not carry it in its composition.

The two experts work with technical teams envied by the best art galleries in the world. This department has passed since Picasso's 'Guernica' - when he arrived in Spain in 1981 - until 'The Lunch' of Velázquez that keeps the Hermitage, or a replica of 'Mariana de Austria' that the Louvre exhibits.

The x-ray plates reveal hidden secrets behind the layers of paintings of works such as 'Las Lanzas', 'The Portrait of Innocent X' or 'The Countess of Chinchón', painted by Goya on other drawings, as was usual at the time.

The technical analysis of tables as requested by visitors as'Las Meninas'o'The garden of delights' They are performed at night in their own rooms. "There are works that have to be permanently exhibited", justifies Immaculate Echeverria, coordinator of the lightning team, leaving the basement to the laboratory.

There, chemistry Dolores Gallo looks through an optical microscope a particle torn from the 'Adam' by Alberto Durero. "That black color of the background is a repinte", dictates the person in charge of the chemical analyzes of the materials that restorers and conservatives of the Prado send to him.

The quality of Velázquez's pigments

The Velázquez are the best preserved Thanks to the very good quality of the pigments used by the Sevillian genius, Gallo certifies.

There are still other techniques to get into the pictures. The biologist and restorer Maite Young he uses dendrochronology, the science that, among other things, finds out the age of trees, to study biological processes and, on their evolution, date the works. "We can celebrate that in this museum there are no fakes - he says -. The Boscos are Boscos; the Rubens, Rubens; and the Velázquez, Velázquez", insists next to a gas chromatograph that he uses to deface the composition of the old varnishes that they overshadow the works.

"It is true that these lacquers were used to protect the paint from dust, nourish and intensify," notes Lucia Martinez, "but over time the canvas oxidizes and ages," he reiterates, still looking at 'The stigmatization of San Francisco of Assisi '. "This painting has done everything and nothing good," he laments, and then praises the "good judgment" that the Prado has always pampered his collection since Fernando VII appointed, in 1819, two hundred years ago, to José Good first restorer of the art gallery.

The painters of the court patched the paintings based on intuition, until, In the 1970s, schools specialized in restoration emerged. "We have the best professionals to guarantee the quality of life of these paintings," he concludes, absorbed with 'La Nevada' Enrique Quintana. It is the architect, along with Clara Quintanilla, of other complex restoration, that of 'The executions', the terrible scene with which Goya, only this year and until last October, has overwhelmed 2,680,875 visitors.

Tuning in an armored basement

The set-up of a painting begins in the armored basement of the Jeronimos, where the restorer Laura Alba radiographs the paintings and the art historian Jaime García-Máiquez he submits them to infrared reflectographs, a technique that allows us to see the superposition of carbon strata, the element that betrays any paint, since there is no pigment that does not carry it in its composition.


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