The restoration of The Annunciation by Fra Angelico in the Prado Museum

The restoration of The Annunciation by Fra Angelico in the Prado Museum

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The main objective of the restoration of The Annunciation by Fra Angelico, Realized by Almudena Sanchez at Prado Museum Restoration Workshop that has the Iberdrola Spain Foundation as a Protector member, has been the recovery of the rich, brilliant color and intense light that envelops the sceneCharacteristic elements of this painting and of all the work of this great artist, which with the passage of time had been veiled under layers of dirt and pollution accumulated on the surface.

Equally necessary have been, on the one hand, cleaning the gray layer of dirt that darkened the surface and on the other, the removal of oil repaints from ancient interventions, concentrated on the union of two of the four wooden panels that form the support of the painting to hide a fracture.

In the past the work had structural problems when the second and third panels were separated, coinciding with the figure of the angel, which was divided into two. The instability that it caused in the pictorial layer caused losses along the joining line of the two panels.

This gave rise to various restoration interventions, of which we only have documentary evidence of the last one, made in the Prado Museum by Jerónimo Seisdedos between 1943 and 1944.

The purpose of these restorations was repair the damage and ensure the conservation of the workHowever, in some of the older ones, in addition to restoring the losses that had occurred on both sides of said junction, large areas of original paint were repainted, These touches mainly affect the figure of the angel and the lapis lazuli mantle of the Virgin..

These repaints have degraded over time, becoming stains on the surface that altered the image of the work and prevented the artist's original composition from being understood.

The repaints applied to the entire crack, they left entire elements of the composition hidden. From the upper edge of the work they covered much of the architecture, and on the angel, they changed the shape of the wing, arm, and pink robe, continuing to the lower edge of the painting.

It is necessary to highlight the old intervention that covered the front wing of the angel, which hid its original shape and radically transformed her, creating an obvious asymmetry with your partner.

While the rear wing was curved, that of the first term appeared straight and sinuous, following the vertical shape of the loss of gold that had caused the fracture of the panels.

By removing the wing repaint original gold elements were uncovered that provided the necessary information for their restitution. First, a gold particle appeared that marked the starting point of the wing from its base, and secondly, as the removal of the repaint progressed, the original incision in the gold appeared that accurately showed the curve of the wing designed by Fra Angelic.

Recovering the drawing of the original wing of the Archangel Gabriel constitutes one of the most important moments of the entire restoration process, due to the great prominence of this figure in the scene and the situation of this recovered element in the center of the composition.

New cleaning methods for restoration of The Annunciation by Fra Angelico

The success obtained in both cleaning and repainting removal processes has been achieved thanks to the technical and human resources offered by the Prado Museum.

The availability of new cleaning methods, the product of the latest research in the field of restoration, has made it possible to carry out the cleaning required by the work with a full guarantee for the painting. The elimination of the dense layer of pollution intensely adhered to the surface has been achieved through the use of a silicone gel, which acts as a vehicle for the aqueous medium, protecting the paint while allowing it to act on the layer of dirt, removing it until its total elimination. .

On the other hand, the repaints mentioned, very old and made in oil, have demanded slow and prolonged action, with which it has been gradually eliminated until the full recovery of the original painting.

With cleaning, Fra Angelico's work has recovered its original luminosity, practically unknown until now. A light with which it creates and modulates the volume of each element of the composition. An almost supernatural light that floods the porch with a glow without producing shadows, unlike the room in the background illuminated naturally by the light that enters through the window and reflects off the wall.

The removal of the gray veil has also exposed the preciousness of the grandmaster's technique and the wonderful colors of lapis lazuli, red lacquer or malachite green.

The following phases of the restoration have consisted of stuccoing the color faults to level them to the surface, and their chromatic reintegration, first with watercolor and finally with varnish pigments.

This process has required great meticulousness in its execution given the technical feature of Fra Angelico, made with great subtlety and precision, typical of the miniaturist artist that he was at the beginning of his career.

The good conservation of this painting has allowed that very fragile elements of the composition have reached today, made with a brush with very few hairs and with hardly any pictorial matter, such as the eyelashes of the Virgin or the angel, the beard of Adam or the Tiny letters of the book resting on the lapis lazuli mantle of the Virgin.

Via NdP Prado Museum

Video: Fra Angelico blue pigment extraction