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Immaculate Conception washed away by Furniture Restorer

BY   CATHERINE  COSTANZA

On June 22nd, there was another report of a failed attempt at painting restoration. The owner of the classic work of Spanish painter Bartolomé Murillo sent out the painting to be cleaned and restored. What he received back was not what he expected. The owners says that they paid $1,400 to have the work cleaned, but it was cleaned by a furniture restorer.

This seems to be a common issue within the restoration community. Anyone without the proper training can say that they can clean or restore a piece of work, only to end up destroying it. Experts want regulations to be put in place to help preserve historical art.

It takes skill and practice to properly clean and restore historical paintings. To completely clean a painting takes a lot of time and is a painstaking detailed job.

It includes removing many years of old varnish and any restoration that was previously done to reveal the original painting. Someone can easily remove too much and ruin the painting.

It has been recently found that the Mona Lisa has had her eyebrows removed accidentally by previous restorations. In November 2017, there was a viral video by art dealer Philip Mould when cleaning the Medieval Painting Lady in Red and it made many experts nervous.

The video was not meant to be a tutorial or how-to, but many people could take matters into their own hands. The clip shows a dollop of a gel-like substance on the face of the woman and then scrubbing with a cotton stick.

Rob Proctor, a conservator of Whitten & Proctor Fine Art Conversation in Houston, recalls his reaction to the clip, “When I saw this video for the first time, after about 10 seconds, I just had to turn it off because I couldn’t watch it anymore. You can hear him scrubbing. It’s a beautiful, old, culturally important painting.”

The video misrepresents the real process of cleaning these paintings. If the conservators are not careful, they can ruin the painting by over cleaning and removing underlying paint.

There is an instance of a conservator severely damaging the Leonardo da Vinci painting Salvator Mundi.

After the Lady in Red video hit the internet, many wanted to same transformative cleaning for the Mona Lisa. Unfortunately, this will never be done. The risk is too high. Leonardo da Vinci was very experimental in his painting technique. Though there were techniques established during his time to ensure quality and longevity, da Vinci did whatever he wanted.

In their attempt of restoration in 1809, they stripped off the varnish which typically is the top layers of the painting.

They also mistakenly stripped off the top paint layers of the painting itself leaving the painting looking more washed out than when da Vinci painted it.

The Mona Lisa is a glazed painting, which means an under painting is painted, usually in shades of gray or brown, dried, and layers of thin glaze applied to the surface. The Mona Lisa has many layers of glaze layers and to note that Leonardo never officially finished painting it.

If they did try to restore it, they would end up removing too much of the painting and would have to repaint it. It would no longer be a da Vinci painting. There has been a restored a copy of the Mona Lisa which was painted by one of da Vinci’s students. We can see what the restoration could be, but we will never truly be able to see what da Vinci’s version would be.

Art restoration needs more regulation and certification so works of art do not get destroyed by the hands of amateurs. No one wants a repeat of “Monkey Christ”.