Case Study
 
           
           

Historical Rewards:

A Dutch and a Flemish Discovery
           

Rubens Studio
"The Crowning of St. Catherine"
Before Treatment
           
           
           

"The Crowning of St. Catherine" Examination
 

7/4/08 to 7/7/08
 
           
           
Description
           
In an outdoor setting, the infant Jesus places a laurel crown on the head of a kneeling St. Catherine. The seated Madonna holds her son in her lap with both hands. Two female figures flank the scene on either side. Three putti holding floral wreathes and alms fly above. The panel is unsigned and undated.
           
 

Provenance
 
The painting's provenancial history is quite limited. An undated, hand-written notation in the Charles August Ficki Ledger states that the work was purchased for $60.00 on June 1, 1912, in Brussels. (28) The painting's previous locations are unknown. The same Ledger records that "Fiévez thought it quite likely that this picture was painted in the atelier of Rubens by his pupils under his direction and that it was not unlikely that Rubens himself worked on it some." (29)
           
Ficki (1850-1931) gifted the painting to the Davenport Municipal Art Gallery in 1925, accession number 25.233F. In 1963, the museum changed its name to the Davenport Museum of Art and, in 2003, the institution was renamed the Figge Art Museum. The museum titles the painting, "Madonna and Child with St. Catherine."
           
           

Support
           
The image is painted on a wooden panel measuring H. 33 5/8" x W. 24 1/2" x T. 3/16". The support bears a harsh, 2 1/2" horizontal convex warp. The panel is broken into three sections, now held together by Japanese tissue paper. The wood has been cut tangentially with the grain running vertically. Two previously repaired vertical cracks are located at W. 4 1/2" to 4" and W. 16". The edges of the splits do not align properly due to insect damage and uneven contraction. The verso shows scattered larva holes, seven battens used as auxiliary supports along the cracks, and an aged red seal. "25.233F" is painted in red in the upper left corner.

Rubens Studio
Verso "The Crowning of St. Catherine"
Before Treatment
           

Rubens Studio
Detail "The Crowning of St. Catherine"
Before Treatment

Rubens Studio
Detail "The Crowning of St. Catherine"
Before Treatment

           
           
 

Gesso
 
           
The thinly and evenly applied ground was probably white when first applied, but is now darkened from oil staining. A red-brown imprimatura layer lies on top of the ground. The gesso appears to be calcium carbonate and is well intact although losses have occurred along the vertical cracks and in scattered edge areas. The artist has not used the ground as a transitional tone.
           
           

Paint
           
The paint has been smoothly applied with no distinct areas of impasto. The panel grain is somewhat pronounced in the upper sky and near Mary's head due to the thin application of the vehicular paint. (30) In general, the forms appear to be modeled in layers of diaphanous hues. Brushstrokes are visible in the drapery, hair, and background foliage. The paint is generally secure although numerous hard-edged losses and lifts are present along the major splits, in former abrasions, and in scattered edge areas. Smaller interior cracks exhibit weakness and pinpoint losses.
           

Rubens Studio
Detail "The Crowning of St. Catherine"
Before Treatment

Rubens Studio
Detail "The Crowning of St. Catherine"
Before Treatment
           
           
 

Restoration Paint
 
           
An ultraviolet-light examination, similar to the one conducted on the van der Poel, was carried out to assist in determining areas of former restoration work. Organic varnishes glow a yellow-green color under such lighting. If restoration paint has been applied on top of the varnish, the area cannot glow and appears jet-black. The examination revealed areas of restoration additions throughout the entire background foliage, in the lower right corner, extensively along the panel separations, and to the right of the Madonna. Smaller additions were evident in the flesh tones and the drapery. Large areas of overpaint are normally applied to mask previous surface damage. At this stage, it was not possible to determine if original paint lay underneath the restoration additions or if the painting was merely an unfinished sketch.
           
           
 

Surface Films
 
           
A thin layer of dirt and grime blanketed the surface. This film rested on top of an organic varnish that had darkened and yellowed over time. Under this coating was an older varnish layer. These films masked the original color relationships and flattened the three-dimensional quality of the scene. The surface films were evenly applied and extended uniformly to all four edges.
           
           
Footnotes    
(28) A copy of the Ledger was faxed from the Figge Art Museum to the author on 9/23/08.
(29) Joseph Fiévez was an art expert whose brother owned the Galerie Fiévez in Brussels. There is no record of a June 1, 1912, sale catalogue from the Galerie Fiévez. The Ledger also states "#78 of 1912 purchases see pg 95.182 June 1, 1912." This reference is likely to Ficki's account book; the painting would have been item 78 purchased in 1912, and the notation is found on page 95, line 182. To date, Ficki's account books have not been found.
(30) Stout, G. p.231.
           
           

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Table of Contents, Biography "Barn Interior" Examination, Treatment,
The Flayed Pig, Related Themes, "The Crowning of St. Catherine" Examination, Visual Treatment

 





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