FALVEY MEMORIAL LIBRARY

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A Collection Reunited

  • Posted by: Kristin de Ghetaldi
  • Posted Date: September 9, 2014
  • Filed Under: Conservation

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The Triumph of David is one of several works of art belonging to Princess Ruspoli’s collection, once an incredibly rich and vast group of paintings, furniture, sculpture and other artworks that were housed in her castle located in Nemi just outside of Rome.  Research on the history of the collection has revealed that the Princess feared for the safety of her precious collection as the world became engulfed in the turmoil of the Second World War.  In a moment of great haste, three crates were filled with select pieces of art and shipped back to the United States; two were sent to her family in Oak Hill, Georgia, and one to New York City where the Princess had an apartment.  Ultimately these artworks would become the last surviving pieces of her vast collection, as the war left much of her castle in ruins with the German forces destroying the remaining artifacts as they were forced to retreat from the town of Nemi.

Years later, Princess Ruspoli befriended Father Falvey who was making plans to build a new library at Villanova University (today known as Falvey Memorial Library).  She decided to donate several of her paintings to adorn the walls of the new library and to be enjoyed by future generations of students, faculty, and the general public.

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While the Triumph of David (attributed to Pietro da Cortona) has remained on the wall of the library since its arrival in 1950, the University has not had sufficient space to display all 30 paintings donated by the Princess. This past week, however, recent efforts were made to re-unite this small collection, bringing many of the works out of storage for examination for the first time in several decades.

Many of the paintings were delivered, both from storage and from various locations around campus. Upon their arrival, the conservation team was tasked with documenting each of the works, as well as constructing a suitable temporary storage space within the Old Reading Room in Falvey Library. The cage seen above is very similar to storage space in many museums, as the paintings can be safely positioned once they are fitted with the proper hanging hardware. Other paintings are currently being stored vertically in wooden recesses lined with Volara ® (a closed cell plastic foam made from polyethylene), protected with pieces of foamcore that have been cut to size.

The conservation interns and volunteers have created new records for each of the paintings, including information relating to construction and condition, evidence of past restoration work, visible evidence of damage, and other details that could help with future provenance research.

High-resolution photographs were taken of each of the paintings and notations have been made to indicate areas of loss, damage, and repair that can be seen in visible light.  Oftentimes un-original areas can be easily identified in raking light, which can be achieved simply by looking at the painting from one side, parallel to the plane of the canvas. Areas that have been repaired or heavily overpainted can reflect visible light differently than the original surface.  The paintings were also observed under ultraviolet (UV) light, which can often indicate locations of previous restoration.  Oil paint and/or overpaint applied in recent years can appear very dark under UV light while aged oil paint and varnish tends to auto-fluoresce.  Some of the pieces were also viewed using an Infrared camera (as seen in the photo below) which can be used to reveal underdrawings or preliminary changes beneath the visible paint layers.  All of this information has been compiled into separate documents for each painting in the collection and will remain accessible to future generations of scholars and students.

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A basic overview of each painting’s current condition is crucial in order to preserve the collection. Documentation will prevent items from being lost even if they are not displayed in the same location, and condition reports can indicate which works might benefit the most from being treated by a conservator, and whether a painting can be safely put on display.

Many of the works are in excellent condition, and the conservation team is especially excited about a few of the pieces. Most notable is an eight foot high oil painting depicting “Madonna of the Rosary,” that is currently attributed to Cosimo Daddi, which can be seen in the overall photo at the top of the page.  Other works of interest are the Sassofferrato portrait of the Madonna, shown to the left of the Daddi, a Flemish oil on panel triptych, and a large oil on copper, shown below.

1950.RUS.27_004_(edited)1950.RUS.4_002_(edited)

Students at the University are encouraged to come see the new collection pieces, and research on any of the works is highly encouraged. Princess Ruspoli donated her art with the intention that it be studied, and the reunion of the works is the first step towards achieving that goal once again.

 

 

 

Allison Rabent

Conservation Intern

Examining Preliminary Sketches and Compositional Changes using Infrared Reflectography

  • Posted by: Kristin de Ghetaldi
  • Posted Date: August 12, 2014
  • Filed Under: Conservation

IR-Mosaic-for-Blog

Pietro da Cortona and other artists of the seventeenth century would often sketch objects, landscapes, and figures during the initial stages of oil painting.  Most preliminary sketches (whether they are done using a wet medium like oil paint or a dry medium like charcoal) are not evident to the naked eye as they are often covered by several paint layers.  Through the use of infrared reflectography (IRR) the conservation team was able to reveal portions of the preliminary sketch and compositional changes in Pietro da Cortona’s Triumph of David.

The IRR analysis was a collaborative effort between Washington and Lee University and Villanova University.  In order to examine this large-scale painting, a series of IRR images were collected using an Indium Gallium Arsenide (InGaAs) instrument which is sensitive within the 900-1700 nm range (near infrared).  When exposing the paint surface to infrared light, certain pigments appear partially or completely transparent. Carbon blacks will still appear dark in IRR because these pigments readily absorb infrared light.

The depth to which infrared light penetrates depends on the type of paint, the thickness of the paint layers, and the wavelength of infrared exposure.  In some cases, underdrawings or preliminary sketches may not be visible using IRR, as is the case when an underdrawing has been done using white/red chalk or paint that is not rich in carbon black.  For this reason, additional imaging techniques – such as multi/hyperspectral imaging and X-radiography – can contribute to the analysis of a painting’s underdrawing.

Once the IRR images are collected, they must be imported into image processing software and manually stitched together.  The product of these stitched images is referred to as an infrared reflectogram mosaic.  Below are images showing the mosaicing process for the Triumph of David.  When completed, this mosaic will be a compilation of 220 IRR images

 

King-Saul-IR

King Saul’s crown was initially placed much higher and the contours of his mouth, beard, and face have been altered (originally, Saul was depicted in profile).

Abner-IR

Abner’s helmet was originally placed much lower and was embellished with a very large feather plume.

David-IR
David’s hand had been placed higher on the sword (above where the guard presently resides).  The sword guard and pommel are especially prominent as they contain a significant amount of carbon black pigment.

 

 

Keara Teeter

conservation intern

 

 

 

van Asperen de Boer, Jan R.J. “Reflectography of Paintings using an Infrared Vidicon Television System.” Studies in Conservation 14 (1969): 96-118.

Bomford, David, ed.  Art in the Making: Underdrawing in Renaissance Painting, National Gallery London Publications; Yale University Press, 2002.

MacBeth, Rhona. “The Technical Examination and Documentation of Easel Paintings.” In The Conservation of Easel Paintings, edited by Rebecca Rushfield and Joyce Hill Stoner, 296-300. Routledge: London and New York, 2012.

Recent Developments in the Technical Examination of Early Netherlandish Painting: Methodology, Limitations and Perspectives (M. Faries and R. Spronk, eds), Brepols Publishers.

Real, William A.  “Exploring New Applications for Infrared Reflectography.”  The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art 72 (1985): 390, 392-412.

Saunders, David, Rachel Billinge, John Cupitt, Nick Atkinson, and Haida Liang.  “A New Camera for High-Resolution Infrared Imaging of Works of Art.”  Studies in Conservation 51 (2006): 277-290.

Taft, W. Stanley Jr., and James Mayer. The Science of Paintings. Springer: New York, 2001.

Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad, Dollar Princesses?

  • Posted by: Amanda Norbutus
  • Posted Date: August 5, 2014
  • Filed Under: History

      On March 2, 1901, the New York Times announced that Miss Jennie Berry Bruton of Oak Hill, Georgia made a smart marital match when she wed Prince Enrico Ruspoli of Rome, Italy.[1] During the Gilded Age (roughly from 1870-1914), America was not only the land of opportunity for domestic and foreign laborers seeking high-wage, industrial jobs, but also poor royal immigrants who were willing to trade their noble titles for the dowry of an American heiress. The Dollar Princesses, as they were known at the time, were usually the daughters of millionaire businessmen who ran industries vital to the age of Industrialism, such as iron and steel manufacturing, oil production, and shipbuilding. Many dollar princesses, including Consuelo Vanderbilt (the wife of Charles Spencer-Churchill, 9th Duke of Marlborough) and Lady Randolph Churchill (the mother of British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill), possessed elite social status as the daughters of millionaires, and often they married princes, dukes, and earls to attain the ultimate form of social respect by becoming European aristocracy.[2] Jennie Berry became Princess Eugenia Ruspoli, but unlike many dollar princesses she married with the intention of gaining international prominence and competing against male socialites as an avid art collector and philanthropist of great personal wealth.            

      During the Gilded Age there were many names for women like Jennie Bruton who were worth millions, but married into the aristocracy: Gilded Age Heiress, Buccaneer, Title Hunters and Dollar Princess.[3] Unmarried, dollar princesses wanted a royal title because in an American society where nobility status never existed, such a title signified social eminence on an international scale.  These women read pamphlets that identified several European men as royal bachelors and sought out self-help guides that educated dollar princesses about the etiquette of the aristocracy.[4] On the other hand, several European nobles, like Don Enrico Ruspoli, inherited a royal title, but they did not have the money American heiresses possessed so they travelled to America to find a spouse. While America was economically prosperous from 1870-1914, Europe saw an economic downturn because it had not fully transitioned from an agriculture-based economy to an industrialized one.[5]

            Jennie Berry may not have been the daughter of a multi-millionaire businessman, but she was a dollar princess. In the first place, all dollar princesses inherited their wealth from a male relative in the Gilded Age. In 1892, Berry became an affluent widow when her husband, Henry Bruton, died from an ulcerative colon at the age of forty-two. At the time of Bruton’s death, Jennie inherited millions from her husband who was a business partner in the Nashville-based, tobacco company, American Snuff Manufacturing.[6] The second characteristic of a “buccaneer” was that she practically “auctioned off” her dowry to the most notable, but impoverished prince she could find, resided in Europe, and then willingly paid for all of their marital expenses in exchange for the title of princess. When Jennie wed the poor prince Enrico in 1901, she moved to Rome and used her own money to purchase all their necessities, including the 85-room, Castle at Nemi where they resided together for eight years until Enrico died of an unknown illness at the age of 31.[7] Even after Enrico’s death Eugenia sought to marry the most prominent nobleman she knew because in 1913 she became engaged to (but never married) 69-year-old spendthrift, Don Filippo Orsini, the eighteenth Duke of Gravina, Italy.[8] Even though the Ruspolis did not have any children of their own, Jennie still took advantage of her privilege by passing down the title of princess to her adopted daughter (in actuality, her niece) Maria Theresa (1923-2004) who later reaffirmed the royal status Jennie gave to her when she married Russian prince, Alexis Droutzkoy (1898-1976) in 1945.[9]

       Unlike many other dollar princesses, Princess Ruspoli was deeply interested in art collecting and philanthropy. Eugenia shrewdly managed her wealth and assets like a businesswoman. Throughout Ruspoli’s life she maintained her finances well by not overspending and going into debt. Eugenia also made financial investments in stocks, real estate, and prized European art that would have yielded millions if she sold them. With five locations to store her artwork (the Castle of Nemi, two American residences, a New York art salon, and Lincoln Warehouse in New York), Princess Ruspoli was able to house many paintings, large and small, that could decorate entire walls.[10] Eugenia’s art collection consisted of a majority of religious paintings produced by mostly Italian and Flemish painters from the fourteenth to the eighteenth centuries. Although historians are unsure of how many paintings Eugenia owned, we do know that many of her paintings initially resided in the Castle of Nemi, along with some Italian furniture and sculptures.[11] Besides being an art collector, Princess Ruspoli was also a philanthropist. Like many famous art collectors, Eugenia believed in making art accessible to the public by donating several of her paintings to churches, universities, and museums. She strove to foster some kind of education and appreciation for Baroque and Renaissance art in church parishioners, students, and museum-goers.[12]       

      As a dollar princess, Eugenia Ruspoli created a name for herself as an art collector and philanthropist during the male-dominated Gilded Age. When multi-millionaire businessmen such as John D. Rockefeller, Andrew W. Mellon, and Henry Clay Frick flaunted their wealth to the world via purchasing residential estates, acquiring countless paintings, and donating artwork to non-profit organizations, Princess Ruspoli did the same.[13] Eugenia ambitiously worked to make financial agreements and create political alliances with individuals who enabled her to increase her social status domestically and abroad. First, Ruspoli’s royal marriage afforded her the opportunity to meet and buy a castle filled with valuable European paintings from the famous Orsini family in 1902.[14] Then Eugenia used her personal wealth to purchase private homes in America and collect other artwork over the span of thirty-two years.[15] And lastly, Princess Ruspoli gave countless paintings and Italian furniture to museums, colleges, and churches she deemed worthy of owning treasured items from her private art collection. Furthermore, Eugenia wanted more than a royal title to enhance her elite status; she desired to compete with the male millionaires of her time who were favorably portrayed as big spenders and philanthropists. Overall, as a woman, Ruspoli proved to the world that millionaire American women could not only be as wealthy, cultured, and philanthropic as men, but also more cunning than these businessmen because they married European royals in order to be forever remembered as aristocrats in America and Europe.

 

Menika Dirkson

Graduate Student

History Department

Villanova University

 


[1] “DON ENRICO RUSPOLI WEDS.; Is Married in Washington to Mrs. Bruton of Nashville, Tenn,” The New York Times, (Washington, D.C.), (March 2, 1901), accessed March 13, 2014, http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F6071FF73B5D12738DDDAA0894DB405B818CF1D3&action=click&module=Search&region=searchResults%230&version=&url=http%3A%2F%2Fquery.nytimes.com%2Fsearch%2Fsitesearch%2F%3Faction%3Dclick%26region%3DMasthead%26pgtype%3DHomepage%26module%3DSearchSubmit%26contentCollection%3DHomepage%26t%3Dqry326%23%2Fruspoli.

[2] Ruth Brandon, The Dollar Princesses: Sagas of Upward Nobility, 1870-1914, New York: Alfred A. Knopf Inc., 1980.

[3] The History Chicks, “Shownotes-Episode 9: Gilded Age Heiresses”, The History Chicks.com, posted 2 June 2011, accessed March 13, 2014, http://thehistorychicks.com/?tag=gilded-age-heiresses.

[4] Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace, To Marry An English Lord, New York City: Workman Publishing Company, 2012.

[5] Stephen E. Ambrose, Nothing Like It In The World; The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863–1869, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000.

[6] Ancestry.com, Tennessee, City Death Records, 1872-1923 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA, accessed January 23 2014, ancestry.com

[7] Mary Alsop King Waddington, Italian Letter’s of a Diplomat’s Wife, January-May, 1880, February-April, 1904, New York City: C. Scribner’s sons, 1905.

[8] “La Marquise De Fontenoy”, Chicago Daily Tribune, (June 27, 1913), Newspapers.com, accessed March 24, 2014, www.newspapers.com/image/#28633639.

[9] “Deaths Elswhere: Italian Princess Dies in New York,” The Miami News, (Jan. 27 1951), GoogleNews.com, accessed March 13, 2014, http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2206&dat=19510127&id=F6IyAAAAIBAJ&sjid=IewFAAAAIBAJ&pg=4820,6538404.

[10] International Foundation for Art Research, “Nothing But Empty Frames,” Stolen Art Alert 5.4 (May 1984): 1-28. 

[11] George T. Radan and Richard G. Cannuli, OSA, Villanova University Art Collection, Villanova: Villanova University Press, 1986.

[12]Rita H. DeLorme, “The princess, a painting and a Georgia Church,” Southern Cross, (Dec. 22, 2011): 5, accessed, Oct 22 03:35 EDT 2013, diosav.org/sites/all/files/…/A%2012-22-2011%20CROSS%205.pdf‎.

[13] Collecting in the Gilded Age: Art Patronage in Pittsburgh, 1890-1910, Pittsburgh: Frick Art & Historical Center, 1997.

[14] “Biography: Eugenia Ruspoli; Italian Countess,” Berry College Memorial Library, August 29 2013, accessed Oct 22 02:16 EDT 2013, http://libguides.berry.edu/content.php?pid=426504&sid=3489581.

[15] DeLorme, “The princess, a painting and a Georgia Church”‎.

Generous Support from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation Allows Conservation Team to X-Ray “Triumph of David”

We are most pleased to announce that, in May 2014, the project Conserving a Giant: Resurrecting Pietro da Cortona’s “Triumph of David” was awarded a substantial grant from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. These funds will be utilized in a number of ways, to help both produce and disseminate further information knowledge about Villanova University’s large canvas – and no doubt about seventeenth-century Italian painting more broadly – to in a number of arenas and in a variety of audiences, both general and academic. 

The Kress foundation praised the interdisciplinary nature of the project, which has involved thus far a number of department and offices at Villanova, and the participation of scholars and students of art conservation, chemistry, history, and art history. We are very happy that this support will be used to further specifically interdisciplinary investigations, and that it will continue to allow Villanova faculty to engage this painting in both teaching and research, with both undergraduate and graduate students, and with both the public at large and the wider academic community.  This grant will allow us to involve even more students, professors, and departments on campus, and it will enable us to develop further cooperation with art historians of Roman Baroque painting, art conservators, and scholars at institutions with connections to the painting and its donor. 

Most immediately, the Kress funding will allow for technicians from General Electric to perform X-radiography and other technical analysis on the gigantic canvas, and other early modern paintings in Villanova’s collection. Several large canvas paintings by Pietro da Cortona were examined using X-radiography during a technical study in 1997-8, revealing characteristic unique to the artist’s working method.  X-radiography of the Villanova painting will allow the conservation to establish a dialogue with other scholars and art historians who are more familiar with Pietro da Cortona as well as artists related to his circle.

With this grant, members of the Conserving a Giant conservation team and Falvey Library will collaborate with Villanova University’s Computing Sciences Department and with UNIT (the IT Department) to create a “webexhibit” exploring the Triumph of David. This website will enable members of the conservation team as well as chemistry and art history faculty and students to compile, organize, and share their research with a wider audience. The “webexhibit” will remain a permanent fixture on Villanova’s server, thus providing an attractive and interactive site for prospective students, outside scholars, and the general public, and moreover, serving chemistry and art history courses for years to come.

Funding from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation will allow members of the team at Villanova to travel to Rome in spring of 2015, to view a number of frescoes and canvas paintings by the artist, and by important members of his workshop, to gain further insights about his painting methods.  We will be meeting with art historians and conservators who have worked on seventeenth-century painting, to learn from them and, with what we have discovered through conservation and research undertaken at Villanova, to share our own experiences and knowledge. The grant, together with support from Villanova University, will additionally fund an international, interdisciplinary symposium investigating Pietro da Cortona’s workshop in seventeenth-century Rome. This symposium will involve a number of scholars and students from various fields who have contributed to the Conserving a Giant project, and we will be able to invite eminent scholars of Baroque painting. The symposium will serve as both a culmination to the multi-year conservation project, and at the same time a new beginning, with new knowledge and insights shared among and between established and emerging art historians, scientists, and conservators, and, indeed, with all of the Villanova community.    

 

– Tim McCall

Professor of Art History

Villanova University

 

 

 

Pentimenti in “The Triumph of David”

  • Posted by: Ellen Nigro
  • Posted Date: April 11, 2014
  • Filed Under: Conservation

Pietro da Cortona ran a prominent workshop and supervised a large group of assistants. Since Pietro was also a fresco painter who was in high demand, he would often have to leave behind his studio assistants to complete commissions and other projects.  This may explain why so many of Cortona’s oil paintings possess several compositional changes.  Assistants may have struggled with certain sections of a painting and when their master returned Cortona himself may have altered details or large areas of the canvas.  These changes made during the painting process are known as pentimenti, and Pietro’s workshop is particularly known for them.

Throughout the cleaning stage of this treatment, the conservation team revealed details previously hidden by layers of degraded varnish and thick overpaint, including evidence of pentimenti.  There are several ways conservators can tell there are pentimenti present under the final paint layer.

impasto

Above: Impasto that suggests pentimenti.

Often brushstrokes in the paint layers do not appear to match up with the visible image.  If a thin layer of paint is applied over thick paint layer containing texture, brushstrokes from the layer beneath can often be seen up close and in raking light (light shown across the surface at an oblique angle).  The image of Abner’s hand demonstrates brushstrokes that are perpendicular to the direction of his fingers, most likely an earlier manifestation of his red drapery.  The hand was not painted thickly enough to hide the texture from the previous paint layer, and therefore, evidence of the drapery remains.

pentimenti

Top: A change in foot position.
Bottom: Plumage above Abner’s helmet.

Earlier compositional elements can show through the final paint layer as well.  As oil paint ages, the paint film becomes transparent due to crosslinking and the formation of metal soaps.  After hundreds of years, the viewer may be able to see evidence of underlying forms peering through the paint on the surface.  Pentimenti can sometimes reveal how an artist would adjust certain compositional elements like hands, feet, and faces.  Several figures in The Triumph of David appear to have extra feet because of this phenomenon.  For example, a ghost-like foot became more visible after removal of the degraded varnish, indicating the artist’s initial position of the foot before it was repainted (what we see today).  Similarly, swirly white strokes above Abner’s helmet suggest that it originally possessed a feathered plume before it was covered over with the background architecture.

pentimenti blue

Above: Areas of abrasion that reveal changes in the blue robe.

Areas of abrasion can also provide evidence of pentimenti.  If the top paint layer suffered from over-cleaning or flaking over the course of the painting’s life, the viewer eventually sees the color of the initial paint layers beneath.  For example, the blue robe of the crouching woman in the image to the right appears to have been completely redone by the workshop.  The dark blue paint exposed in the losses throughout the pink robe and along the outer left contour tells us that the blue portion of the robe was originally much higher and extended out to the left.

Pigment Discovery with Electron Microscopy

  • Posted by: Kristen Watts
  • Posted Date: March 6, 2014
  • Filed Under: Chemistry

As we (slowly) move towards spring, the science team has been working on the microsample cross-sections from Triumph of David using our suite of analytical instrumentation.  As we noted in our previous entry, if a sample is going to be removed from a painting, we are going to try to get the most amount of information from it as possible. To investigate questions of pigmentation beyond the color profiles seen with bright-field microscopy, we move on to a new technique called scanning electron microscopy paired with energy-dispersive x-ray spectroscopy (SEM/EDS).

 

Photo of an SEM

Photo of a SEM

Harkening back to the science blog post describing how we use fluorescent X-rays to noninvasively image and characterize the painting, SEM/EDS utilizes a similar method to analyze pigments in our cross-sections. XRF is useful in giving us a general idea of the elemental breakdown of inorganic pigments in an area of the painting; however, because of the high penetration power of the x-rays, and the fact that it is a non-invasive characterization method, we have no way of telling whether the elements we are finding in an area is a part of the ground layer, pentimenti, or a restoration campaign. SEM is a form of microscopy in which the sample is bombarded by a high energy electron beam, which can give very precise images (up to 50,000 times magnification!) based on the collection of the scattered electrons that have bounced off the surface. We can then use these images to collect elemental maps of the layers using EDS software. EDS detects fluorescent x-rays, just like XRF instruments, but with much higher spatial precision.

 

Location of an SEM image on the overall cross-section

Location of an SEM image on the overall cross-section

The particular sample we’re discussing today was mentioned at the end of the last science blog post, taken from the red cloak of the heavily overpainted soldier on the left-hand side of the painting (see image to the left). With the enhanced magnification capability of the SEM we can get precise information concerning the inorganic materials down to the individual pigment particles. This particular SEM image, the black and white image in the photo to the left, was taken at 450x magnification, and provides a wealth of information concerning the sample.

 

 

In the main SEM image, it’s pretty clear to see that there’s at least 5 layers of paint in this one subsection. By combining this SEM image with elemental mapping data, we can see the general elemental breakdown for each of these layers. The bottom layer, with most of the calcium, silicon, potassium, and aluminum is probably some sort of clay-based ground, as seen in the image below.

Comparison of the Silicon (Si) elemental map with the main SEM image

Comparison of the Silicon (Si) elemental map with SEM/BSE image

There then appears to be a layer of vermilion (as evidenced by the presence of mercury and sulfur–HgS) before a thin layer of organic material (the thin dark layer in the SEM image) was applied, shown below.

Comparison of Mercury (Hg) elemental map with SEM/BSE image

Comparison of Mercury (Hg) elemental map with SEM/BSE image

The layers above the organic layer are where the cross-section becomes incredibly more complex, including a mixture of vermilion, aluminum-based lakes, lead white, and even some Naples yellow, as seen by the spectral evidence below.

 

An example EDS spectrum showing the presence of lead (Pb) and antimony (Sb) in one particle--indicating the presence of Naples yellow

An example EDS spectrum showing the presence of lead (Pb) and antimony (Sb) in one particle–indicating the presence of Naples yellow

As you can see, there’s a lot of information to be gleaned from such a small sample, and there is still a lot that is unknown and up for interpretation. But we’re analyzing everything piece by piece and can hopefully provide more answers in the future. Until next time!

 

Introducing American Royalty

  • Posted by: Maggie Bearden
  • Posted Date: February 10, 2014
  • Filed Under: History

In 1950, Princess Eugenia Ruspoli, an American-born woman who became an Italian noble through marriage, donated Pietro da Cortona’s Triumph of David painting to Father Daniel P. Falvey of Villanova College as one of many artistic gifts to decorate the walls of the newly established Falvey Library. Throughout Princess Ruspoli’s life she was not only an art lover, but also a collector of rare, eloquent, religious paintings.[1] In fairytales, young women who marry princes live happily ever after, but Princess Ruspoli’s story was nothing of that sort. Princess Ruspoli’s family came from old money, and they were prestigious militarily and notorious politically. Eugenia’s prince chased after her, yet he likewise took advantage of her financially. Prince Ruspoli unexpectedly died in the prime of his life, and in his will ousted Eugenia from the majority of their marital property.[2] Princess Ruspoli had her wealth, fame, and share of legal woes, but one mystery about Eugenia remains – was it egoism or her Catholic faith that led her to give much of her prized art collection to churches, colleges, and museums during her lifetime?

The life of our philanthropist began on October 19, 1861 when Princess Ruspoli was born Jennie Enfield Berry to Frances Rhea (1838-1926) and Thomas Berry (1821-1887) on her family’s Turkey Town Plantation in Etowah County, Alabama.[3] The eldest of eight children, Jennie came from two socially-prominent family lines. Her mother was the daughter of affluent plantation owners in Alabama, while her Tennessee-born father was a first lieutenant in the Battalion of Georgia Mounted Volunteers during the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) and a captain in the Confederate Alabama Infantry during the Civil War (1861-1865).[4] To add more glory to her family’s name, Jennie Berry’s paternal grandfather, James Enfield Berry (1790-1857), was the first mayor of Chattanooga, Tennessee (the fourth largest city in Tennessee today) when he occupied the position for one year in December 1839.[5]

By 1870 Jennie Berry was documented in the U.S. Federal Census as living in Rome, Georgia on her family’s estate, Oak Hill. At this time, Berry’s father was a merchant who worked with a group of business partners (including two of his brothers) in Berrys and Company, an entity that functioned as a grocery wholesaler and buyer and seller of cotton. Berry’s family was so well-off that the family now lived in a Greek revival home with two live-in servants. Also, Berry’s mother held $1,000 in real estate while her father held $4,500 in real estate and had $15,000 in personal estate; in today’s figures, the Berry family’s total property wealth would be $372,000! Furthermore, Berry had a stable family life and throughout her youth her parents cultivated a cosmopolitan sensibility in Jennie by sending her to study in Europe.[6]

At the age of 27, Berry wed for the first time on May 7, 1889, to the Dublin-born tobacco manufacturer Henry Bruton, in Nashville, Tennessee.[7] Bruton was a partner in the American Snuff Manufacturing Company along with his brothers and businessman Martin J. Condon – until his death from “outer colitis” (simply put, an ulcerative colon) on December 5, 1892.[8] After Bruton’s death, Berry inherited millions and became an American socialite in her own right. By 1901, she had met the Italian noble Don Enrico Ruspoli, a 23-year-old prince associated with the Italian embassy in Washington, D.C. who came from a “financially poor” branch of the Roman Ruspoli family. Berry and Ruspoli parted ways, yet Ruspoli later followed her to Georgia to ask for her hand in marriage.[9] On March 2 of that same year, the couple was married by Monsignor Martinelli before the Nuncio of the Holy See in Washington, D.C., and Jennie became an Italian citizen and princess. The Ruspolis later moved to Italy and took up residence in Rome.[10]

By 1902, she solidified her status as a princess by changing her name and religious affiliation and by acquiring historic and artistic treasures. First, Jennie renamed herself “Eugenia,” which means “well-born” and is also the name of two famous Christian saints, Saint Eugenia of Rome (d. 258 AD) and Blessed Eugenia Smet (1825-1871). Second, she converted to Catholicism to coincide with the faith of her husband. And third, Princess Ruspoli bought from the Orsini family the 85-room, Castle of Nemi (located in the province of Rome, overlooking the famous lake of the same name) with her own funds, but the purchase was filed under Prince Ruspoli’s name.[11] After obtaining the castle, Princess Ruspoli collected several rare paintings created by Italian and Flemish Baroque artists including as Giambattista Pittoni (1687-1767) and Pieter Neeffs I (1578-1656).[12]

On December 4, 1909, Eugenia became a widow again when Prince Ruspoli died in Nemi Castle after suffering from a long-term, unknown illness.[13] Not long after the prince’s death, Princess Ruspoli learned that her husband had left most of their marital property, including the castle, to his siblings. Thus began a prolonged legal dispute over the castle where she resided and housed her art collection. The quarrel ended seven years later, at which time Eugenia was granted the castle she had originally bought with her own money.[14] By 1931, Eugenia regularly travelled from Italy to the United States and she maintained her own art salon in New York City. During that same year Ruspoli also began to donate her art collection, including what seems to be a sixteenth-century copy of Correggio’s altarpiece known as Il Giorno, or the Madonna of St. Jerome (originally for Parma’s church of Sant’Antonio Abate but now in the town’s Galleria Nazionale), which was granted to Father Joseph Cassidy of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Rome, Georgia.[15]

By 1942, with World War II raging, Princess Ruspoli resided in the United States, having fled Italy under the fascist dictatorship of Benito Mussolini. She soon encountered further troubles when the Castle of Nemi was “requisitioned” by the Italian government and “turned over” to the German Luftwaffe. Her family would later claim that the Nazis looted and/or destroyed “over a million dollars in art treasures, paintings and the like and only five pictures were salvaged.” These paintings, with Pietro da Cortona’s canvas among them, were shipped to the U.S. once the war was over.[16] As late as 1949 (five years after the Germans vacated the structure), it was reported that sixteen, bombed-out refugee families were still living in the castle as squatters. Even though Princess Ruspoli was never absolutely certain who extensively damaged the castle, she went after the Italian government for over $1,000,000 in compensation for her war-torn castle.[17]

Despite the various legal disputes troubling Eugenia Ruspoli late in her life, she continued to donate her art treasures. In 1949, she granted two paintings to Villanova University, and in the following year additional works, including Pietro da Cortona’s Triumph of David.[18] On the night of January 26, 1951 – at the age of 89 – Princess Ruspoli died in her New York City apartment. Before her death, she wanted to continue giving, and she planned, once pending litigation was settled, to donate the Castle of Nemi to the Holy See, to be used as an American-Italian educational center.[19] A few years later, in memory of the generous Eugenia, her family her family paid $900 ($7,600 in today’s figures) for the framing and conservation of Pietro da Cortona’s The Triumph of David, and they and donated additional early modern European paintings to Villanova.[20] In the end, no one knows exactly why Princess Ruspoli gave Villanova so many valuable artworks. Historians are currently not aware of any journals or letters she authored that may provide insight into her motives for making charitable donations to the university. Therefore, the reader of her tale must weigh, did Eugenia donate those paintings just to receive accolades from local newspapers and her peers, or did Ruspoli give them away in her old age to educate young college students?  Overall, it can safely be said that Princess Ruspoli, a millionaire and a Catholic convert, chose to donate her collection because she did not need it financially, and she wanted a Catholic educational institution to treasure the religious paintings as she once did.

By Menika Dirkson

 


[1] Rita H. DeLorme, “The princess, a painting and a Georgia Church,” Southern Cross, (Dec. 22, 2011): 5, accessed, Oct 22 03:35 EDT 2013, diosav.org/sites/all/files/…/A%2012-22-2011%20CROSS%205.pdf‎.

[2] La Marquise De Fontenoy, “Wills Relatives His Wife’s Money: Don Enrico Ruspoli Makes a Pauper of His American Wife,” The Time Dispatch (Richmond, VA), (Dec. 25, 1909): 6, accessed Oct 22 03:49 EDT 2013, http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85038615/1909-12-25/ed-1/seq-6/.

[3] “Biography: Eugenia Ruspoli; Italian Countess,” Berry College Memorial Library, August 29 2013, accessed Oct 22 02:16 EDT 2013, http://libguides.berry.edu/content.php?pid=426504&sid=3489581.

[4] “Biography: Capt. Thomas Berry (1821-1887): Soldier, Farmer and Merchant, Father of Martha Berry,” Berry College Memorial Library, January 23 2014, accessed Oct 22 02:16 EDT 2013, http://libguides.berry.edu/content.php?pid=426504&sid=3489581.[3] “Biography: Eugenia Ruspoli; Italian Countess,” Berry College Memorial Library, August 29 2013, accessed Oct 22 02:16 EDT 2013, http://libguides.berry.edu/content.php?pid=426504&sid=3489581.

[5] “Biography: James Enfield Berry (1790-1857): First Mayor of Chattanooga,” Berry College Memorial Library, January 23, 2013, accessed Oct 22 02:16 EDT 2013, http://libguides.berry.edu/content.php?pid=426504&sid=3489581.

[6] Washington, D.C., National Archives, U.S. Census Bureau, 1870 US Census, accessed January 22, 2014, http://www.ancestry.com.

[7] “Biography: Eugenia Ruspoli; Italian Countess.”

[8] Ancestry.com, Tennessee, City Death Records, 1872-1923 [database on-line], Provo, UT, USA, accessed January 23 2014, ancestry.com

[9] “Titled Husband Wanted the Dot: Rich Georgia Woman Contest Will of Enrico Ruspoli That Made Her a Beggar,” The San Francisco Call, (Feb. 26, 1910):43, accessed, Oct 22 03:53 EDT 2013, http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85066387/1910-02-27/ed-1/seq-43/.

[10] “Mrs. Jennie Barton Will Wed Don Enrico: Wealthy Southern Widow and Son of Italian Prince to Be Married at Washington,” The San Francisco Call, (Mar. 2, 1901):2, accessed, Jan 23 13:11 EDT 2014, http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85066387/1901-03-02/ed-1/seq-2/.

[11] “Biography: Eugenia Ruspoli; Italian Countess.”

[12] George T. Radan and Richard G. Cannuli, Villanova University Art Collection: A Guide, Villanova: Villanova University, 1986.

[13] Mary Alsop King Waddington, Italian Letter’s of a Diplomat’s Wife, January-May, 1880, February-April, 1904, New York City: C. Scribner’s sons, 1905.

[14] “Biography: Eugenia Ruspoli; Italian Countess.”

[15] DeLorme, “The princess, a painting and a Georgia Church.”

[16] Sanford Schnier, “Caught in Italian Red Tape: Russian Prince Wants His Castle Returned,” The Miami News, (Oct 27, 1957): 15A , accessed, Jan. 23 2014 15:14 EDT, http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2206&dat=19571027&id=EJQzAAAAIBAJ&sjid=neoFAAAAIBAJ&pg=2376,4592300.

[17] George Bria, “Castle Squatters a Problem for Italian Government,” St Petersburg Times, (Dec. 13, 1949):18, accessed, Jan. 23 2014 14:57 EDT, http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=888&dat=19491213&id=NBxPAAAAIBAJ&sjid=ek4DAAAAIBAJ&pg=5011,2097931.

[18] Radan and Cannuli, Villanova University Art Collection, 39.

[19] “Deaths Elsewhere: Italian Princess Dies in New York,” The Miami News (Jan. 27, 1951):7A,accessed, Jan. 23 2014 15:44 EDT, http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2206&dat=19510127&id=F6IyAAAAIBAJ&sjid=IewFAAAAIBAJ&pg=4820,6538404.

[20] “McClees Galleries Frame Receipt June 26 1956,” Ardmore: McClees Galleries, 1956.

Cleaning a “Giant”

  • Posted by: Maggie Bearden
  • Posted Date: January 6, 2014
  • Filed Under: Conservation

CleaningBlog1    How to remove unoriginal varnish and overpaint from a 17th-century oil painting?  Step 1: Obtain a graduate degree in art conservation; Step 2: Carefully perform cleaning tests using a range of organic solvents, gel systems, and aqueous methods; Step 3: Choose a system that can be safely administered without causing harm to the underlying original paint layers.

The removal of degraded coatings and discolored overpaint has long been a  controversial topic in the history of restoration.  Today, conservators have access to a wide range of materials and solvents and are equipped with a substantial background in chemistry.  Restorers of the past were limited by what they had access too, which unfortunately included the use of harsh chemicals and concentrated acids and bases (such as lye and ammonia).  Modern professionals have access to a wide range of materials and solvents, and conservators are armed with a substantial background in chemistry.

cleaning blog2     Concepts such as pH, conductivity, and solubility are always taken into consideration during testing.  Problematic pigments and other components can also be sensitive to different cleaning procedures.  So PLEASE think twice before grabbing your bottle of Windex® when you are thinking about cleaning a painting!!

The cleaning process has really involved two major steps, removal of the yellow varnish followed by the removal/reduction of discolored overpaint.  Blues, whites, and lighter tones tend to suffer the most dramatically when covered with a thick, yellow veil of varnish as demonstrated in Figure 1.  Below the varnish, the conservators also encountered multiple layers of restoration “glazes” that had been hastily applied across the entire surface.  Several other figures had been treated in a similar manner during previous restoration campaigns, notably the standing solider on the left side ofthe painting.  In Figure 2, it is possible to get a sense of how broadly the overpaint had been applied; in many areas the original drapery pattern and the folds of the cloak were entirely hidden or poorly misinterpreted by past restorers.

While some areas possessed large amounts of varnish and overpaint, others simply suffered from blanched varnish.  “Blanching” occurs when the varnish has become significantly degraded and no longer exists as a continuous film.  Microscopic air pockets begin to form within the film and between the varnish and the paint.  This makes it difficult to read the paint beneath as the varnish is no longer effectively saturating the surface.  Conservators decided to leave small areas of the blanched varnish intact for students, scholars, and visitors to get a sense of how degraded the varnish had become (see Figure 3).   By December, the conservation team had been able to successfully clean the bottom half of the painting, moving onto the top half after the New Year.CleaningBlog3

Peeling Back the Layers

  • Posted by: Kristen Watts
  • Posted Date: December 6, 2013
  • Filed Under: Chemistry
Amanda Norbutus and Kristen Watts discuss sampling locations with Emily Wrozenski taking notes.

Amanda and Kristen discuss sampling locations with Emily taking notes.

The chemistry team has been busy this past month sampling and preparing cross-sections for analysis from The Triumph of David. As mentioned last time, x-ray fluorescence (XRF) is a technique that allows us to get a broad overview of what inorganic elements are present in a particular area of a painting. Usually, XRF can be  incredibly useful in getting an idea of what pigments may be present in the area being analyzed. However, since the x-rays can penetrate all the way through to the canvas of the painting, we have no way to tell in which paint layer the detected elements are present by XRF alone. In order to determine which layer the pigment is located, we need to take a sample and prepare a cross-section. Cross-sections are beneficial for our research in that they not only allow us to visualize the different layers of paint present in an area, but also, with new developments in microscopy, we can determine which inorganic materials and binding materials are present in each layer as well.

Example of a cross section taken from King Saul's red cloak.

Example of a cross section taken from King Saul’s red cloak.

Sampling  from a 17th century painting isn’t quite as scary or taboo as it might seem at first. While the removal of anything original to the painting is not ideal, sometimes a sample is necessary in order to get the most accurate idea of the make-up of the painting. Conservators and scientists will take micro-samples, often no bigger than the period at the end of this sentence.  We micro-sample from areas of pre-existing loss: meaning areas where the paint has already started to flake away. In the case of The Triumph of David, there were innumerable areas of loss from which we could sample. Obviously, we couldn’t and didn’t want to sample from every area of loss; so, we chose our sampling locations partially based on where the XRF gave intriguing results and partially in areas of interest to the conservators–namely, areas that appeared to be heavily overpainted or areas where it was difficult to distinguish pentimenti from later restoration campaigns. The micro-sample is then embedded in a plastic and cut and polished until the cross-section is exposed as in the figure above.  This single exposed cross-section can be examined using a vast array of microscopic techniques which will be expounded upon in future blogs.

Sampling location of aforementioned cross section

Sampling location of aforementioned cross section

This sample in particular was taken from the red cloak on King Saul, and the image above was taken at 80x magnification. We took a sample in this location because we were curious to see if Saul’s cloak had been repainted and also to see if the red pigments matched other red pigments seen throughout the painting. As shown in the full size cross section above, there are obviously very different paint layers present in this one cross-section. The bottom two tan/brown layers are called ground layers. A ground layer is present in any painting and serves as a preparatory layer, creating a uniform surface on which to paint. Layer 1 appears to be made with less finely ground particles than layer 2, as you can see from the bigger particles present in layer 1. This means that layer 1 provided an initial ground layer to size the canvas, whereas the second layer created a uniform paint surface. Layer 3 is the first intentionally pigmented red paint layer that provides the coloring for Saul’s cloak. Finally, Layer 4 is the 1956 re-varnish present on the entire painting that the conservators are actively removing. Varnish serves the purpose of bringing more saturation to a painting as well as providing protection for the paint underneath. It is this varnish that has degraded over the years and has accumulated dirt which can be seen in the cross-section.

 

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Cross section taken from the left side soldier’s overpainted red cloak.

However, not all cross sections are this straight forward to interpret. A good example is the cross-section, shown to the right, taken from a soldier’s red cloak, an area that may have been re-painted more than once during previous restoration campaigns. Cross sections, especially with a painting of this age and indefinite history, can be incredibly complex and often yield more questions than answers. Frequently, it becomes difficult to tell which layers are original and which are from subsequent restoration attempts. Cross sections like the one above require more than just a visible light micrograph in order to fully interpret the image. Techniques that go beyond what our eyes are capable of seeing, such as fluorescence microscopy and scanning electron microscopy, are incredibly useful as they can help us understand the binding materials and inorganic pigments used in each layer. So stay tuned as we keep unraveling the mystery of Pietro da Cortona’s The Triumph of David.

 

Until then, Ciao!

-Kristen, Amanda, and Anthony.

 

Heck of a Find

  • Posted by: Rachel Godat
  • Posted Date: November 18, 2013
  • Filed Under: History

Very little is known about the painting: not when or why it was painted, where it was originally located (perhaps Castle Nemi, perhaps not?), or even who exactly painted it. A large part of my research will be to unearth key stylistic and technical practices of Pietro da Cortona that will solidify the attribution and help us to situate the painting within the artist’s oeuvre. Additionally, better knowledge of Cortona and his workshop’s practices helps us reconsider what the painting originally looked like.

It is already known that Cortona had a large workshop, meaning that at any given time he had several apprentices learning from him by doing much of his work. Unless otherwise dictated in the contract, an artist would make the preliminary sketches and plans for a commission, hand it over to his apprentices to do much of the work and only come in to contribute to the more important figures. In the case of Villanova’s work, it is currently assumed that Cortona would have worked on Goliath’s head and possibly David and the central figures that support Goliath’s head on the pike. In ascertaining how he managed his workshop for other commissions, I will be able to develop a hypothesis of how much apprentices worked on the painting and which apprentices would have been studying with Cortona at the time. Doing this will aid the conservators should they come across areas that do not match stylistically with the rest of the painting.

Pietro da Cortona, The Triumph of Divine Providence and the Fulfillment of her Ends under the Papacy of Urban VIII, 1633-1639, Palazzo Barberini, Rome

Pietro da Cortona, The Triumph of Divine Providence and the
Fulfillment of her Ends under the Papacy of Urban VIII,
Fresco, 1633-1639, Palazzo Barberini, Rome

Pietro da Cortona is best known for his frescoes and architecture (such as the celebrated fresco pictured here), which is where scholars have typically focused their attention. Using these sources causes problems because fresco requires a different skill set and approach to preparations than oil painting does. That being said, I can still investigate stylistic choices and information about who worked with him during these projects through articles and books that discuss his frescoes. With such limited sources, I have to get creative. For example, there is only one comprehensive book on Cortona, and it’s in Italian,which I fortunately can read. In this book, in fact, I discovered that he painted a Life of David cycle for the Sacchetti family, one of his major patrons. One of them, Triumph of David, is very similar visually to our Triumph of David, with a few compositional changes. This is a recent discovery, so I am still in the process of searching for other references to this project.

Next Page »

 


Last Modified: November 18, 2013