The Letters


















Second Discovery






While removing the discolored surface films and former restoration paint, the letter “m” appeared from out of the “darkness” just below and to the right of the lower basket of fruit and flowers. The below images document the area during and after cleaning.
























Normally, artists sign their work along the bottom edge and it was hoped a signature might be discovered to formalize a precise attribution for the painting. Further cleaning brought out the letter “u” next to the “m” and then an “o.” No additional letters were revealed, although it seemed as though another letter was partially visible and partially hidden under the basket. Former damage and loss further complicated visual analysis.

In the below after-treatment image, letters have been placed appropriately under each known letter along with a question mark indicating an area that likely contained an additional letter.









Detail After Treatment








Awareness of the above letters suggested that other letters may be present that were previously overlooked. This turned out to be true. Visible within the sprig of roses was a vertical stroke on the left, a very clear “r,” a circular bottom of a letter that seemed to be partially hidden by the rose, and then a “t” on the far right. What was earlier thought to be part of the sprig turned out to be distinct letters.  As above, question marks have been placed indicating areas that likely contained additional letters.










Detail After Treatment







Further inspection revealed a potential third set of letters near and under the bowl of oysters. What was originally perceived as a handle for the bowl was now a very clear “o.” Other letters under the bowl could not be ascertained with any certainty.










Detail After Treatment


The below after-treatment image documents three sets of letters, as if they represented three individual words.




After Treatment Known Letters




The discovery of these letters was confusing. Why were they there? What did they mean? Why did the artist paint over them? Would it be possible to retrieve an understanding of the partially visible letters and the ones that were completely overpainted? To offer a possible solution to this last question, two investigative procedures were undertaken: infrared photography and x-ray analysis.



Infrared Photography

Infrared photography can be used to “see” into the layers of a painting, offering information not visible to the human eye such as under-drawings, variations in composition, and hard-to-read inscriptions. (16) The below infrared image of the left set of letters revealed a “t” between the “o” and the “u.” It also brought out the lower stem of the first letter. The upper part of this letter was previously damaged and was now lost. Therefore, the first word appears to be “?otum” and the sequence of letters suggested a possible Latin origin.










After Treatment



Infrared


The infrared of the sprig clarified one additional letter with the possibility that other letters existed. The circular bottom of the letter that was partially hidden by the rose seemed to connect to an upper circle, implying that the letter was a g.” Remnants or “ghostings” of two additional letters are represented below with question marks. Based on letter spacing, a third question mark has been placed under the rose itself.










After Treatment



Infrared


The oyster bowl infrared offered no definitive information, although bits and pieces of potential letters were visible and are represented below as question marks.









After Treatment



Infrared












X-ray Analysis






X-rays allow conservators to understand certain aspects of a painting's condition history. They can detect holes, tears, and areas of former restoration work. They can also reveal drawing and design changes. These changes are referred to as pentimenti, the Italian word for “repent” or “change your mind.” Because oil paint becomes somewhat translucent as it ages, allowing the viewer to see “into” the work of art, drawing changes are often visible on an oil painting. The changes can also be completely concealed underneath subsequent paint layers. X-rays often enable the conservator to view these hidden changes.

X-rays will pass through most objects but are blocked by dense materials. These areas appear white on x-ray film. The heavier or denser the atoms of a substance, the more resistant they are to x-rays. Bones are denser than flesh, allowing the medical field to use the technique for diagnostic purposes. Similarly, pigments that contain heavy metals will block x-rays. The white paint in most older paintings is a lead-based pigment, known as lead white. An artist's use of this pigment can be seen in an x-ray whether it is visible when viewing the painting or not. X-rays show all of the layers of a painting superimposed as one layer. Their revelations can sometimes be quite remarkable.

The Hoyt Sherman Place painting was x-rayed through the courtesy of the Radiology Department at Elmhurst Memorial Hospital, Elmhurst, Illinois. (16) The below x-ray of the first word provided no additional information, for the damage to the upper portion of the first letter was clearly defined. The fact that the infrared and the x-ray revealed no lower remnant fragments strongly suggested that the letter was originally an “I” or a “T.” The word thus becomes “Iotum,” or “Totum,” the latter is the accusative singular masculine case of the adjective “totus,” meaning “whole” or “entire.” The known letters have been placed into their proper positions, whether readable or not
on the x-ray.














After Treatment



Infrared



X-ray












The x-ray of the second word documented the unknown second letter as an “r.” It also suggested that the letter fragment of the next to last letter was originally an “a.” The second word now read “Irr?gat.” From Latin construction, the missing letter must be a vowel, and only one letter--“i”--offers a known Latin word, “irrigat,” the active-voice, third-person-present singular indicative tense of the verb “irrigo,” meaning “to water.” The i has been placed into position on the x-ray.














After Treatment



Infrared



X-ray













The x-ray of the third group of letters was a welcome surprise, for all of the letters were clearly visible as “Orbem,” the masculine case of the noun “orbis” meaning “world” or “earth.”














After Treatment



Infrared



X-ray












The inscription, recreated below, thus reads “Iotum Irrigat Orbem” or “Totum Irrigat Orbem.”














Inscription Recreation












Dr. Clifford Ando and Dr. Peter White, professors in the Department of Classics at the University of Chicago, were contacted for clarification and input. Dr. White stated, “The first word should be 'totum.'” (17) “Iotum” was not seen as a possibility. Dr. Ando confirmed that “Totum Irrigat Orbem can be found everywhere from Seneca the younger on including many Renaissance natural histories.” (18) The full inscription translates as "Waters the Entire World."  Dr. White added, “What's obviously missing from your phrase is a subject.” (19)














"Waters the Entire World"












The question remains: why would the artist paint over the inscription? Possibly, he wanted the finished painting to “speak” more broadly and not have its meaning constricted to three Latin words. In the end, we will never know, but clearly the inscription--the second discovery related to the painting--must have initially related to the composition in some way. This hypothesis will be reviewed later in this Case Study. For now, other, more fundamental questions remain: who did the painting and what are the painting's underlying themes? The first question will be examined on the following page.




Page 8--Attribution/Third Discovery
























Page 1--Introduction,   Page 2--History of Hoyt Sherman Place,   Page 3--Adopt a Painting/First Discovery,
Page 4--Provenance,  Page 5--Examination,   Page 6--Treatment,   Page 7--The Letters/Second Discovery,
Page 8--Attribution/Third Discovery, Page 9--Ut pictura poesis, Page 10--Final Thoughts/PBS Video












Footnotes


16. The author wishes to thank radiologists Mr. William Wallin and Ms. Angela Favia from Elmhurst Memorial Hospital for their gracious courtesies. The painting was X-rayed at 45 kilovolts and 20 milliamps/sec. on 6/16/17.
17. E-mail from Dr. White 7/31/17.
18. E-mail from Dr. Ando 7/31/17.
19. E-mail from Dr. White 7/31/17.




















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Barry Bauman Conservation
Contact: Mr. Barry Bauman
1122 N. Jackson Ave., River Forest, IL. 60305
Ph.(708)771-0382  Fax.(708)771-1532
e-mail:barrybbc7@yahoo.com