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Wednesday, May 31 • 9:00am - 9:30am
(Paintings) The Monopoli Altarpiece: rediscovery and recovery of a Cretan-Venetian masterpiece

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Since 1937, the MFA has owned an enigmatic polyptych from the early fifteenth-century that reflects both Italian and Byzantine artistic traditions. The altarpiece is large and imposing, and would have been an exceedingly costly commission. Yet little is understood about why this unusual combination of a Cretan painting style in an Italian format altarpiece came to be used in such an important commission. Known to be from the Church and Abbey of St Stefano in Monopoli, a town in Apulia on the heel of Italy's boot, little was understood about where the painting was produced and by whom. Relegated to storage since the 1960s as its condition rendered it unfit for display, the monumental seven-panel polyptych became the subject of a major treatment and research project begun in 2014, funded by the Lingos Family Foundation. This is the first ever technical examination of the painting, and the first time it was unframed since 1939. The majority of the treatment has been conducted in the highly popular ‘Conservation in Action' space in the MFA's galleries, and education and outreach has been a key component of the project. Once the examination and treatment commenced it quickly became apparent that the original paint surface was in remarkably good condition. Furthermore, the very high quality of the painting indicated a true master was at work. The greatest treatment challenge came from the formation of calcium oxalate on the paint surface, a poorly understood phenomenon that is not uncommon, but very difficult to treat. Various cleaning methods, both traditional and novel, were explored. Surprisingly, therapy used to treat kidney stones (also comprised of calcium oxalate) may be the most effective and safe treatment method. The technical investigation led to myriad discoveries, largely due to the fact the panels had not been drastically altered during past treatment campaigns. Construction techniques, original tool marks (including on the versi, as the panels have not been thinned) and information about the original frame were all revealed. Telling techniques used for gilding, design and painting indicate a Cretan master was at work, while the construction methods, and materials suggest a Italian workshop, possibly in Venice. Collaboration with various scholars, conservators, and scientists have brought us long way towards understanding this mysterious and monumental work.

avatar for Caitlin Breare

Caitlin Breare

Assistant Conservator, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Caitlin Breare is currently a graduate intern in paintings conservation at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, which constitutes the final requirement before graduating from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University graduate program in conservation and art history. She comes... Read More →

Wednesday May 31, 2017 9:00am - 9:30am CDT
Regency C Ballroom Level, West Tower