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Wednesday, May 31 • 8:30am - 9:00am
(Paintings) Altered States: Conservation of the Ayala Altarpiece

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For the first time since entering the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) in 1928, the Ayala Altarpiece has undergone a comprehensive conservation campaign to address both structural and aesthetic issues. Completed in 1396 by an unknown Spanish artist, the monumental artwork is a complete ensemble consisting of the retable (measuring 100 x 264 inches) and frontal (46 x 115 inches). Prior to acquisition by AIC, the retable's appearance had been dramatically altered by extensive overpaint applied in several restoration campaigns to mask paint loss and other damages. A tan-colored overpaint was liberally and unevenly applied over the background covering virtually all the original off-white paint in this area. The effect was a dramatic darkening of the overall tonality of the artwork, a disruption in the harmony of the color palette, and a reduction in the composition's sense of depth. Additional discolored retouchings and an aged varnish further diminished the artwork's appearance. The many challenges of the treatment included removing the tenacious overpaint, filling the extensive paint losses, and judicious inpainting to reintegrate the composition. Logistical issues faced during this large-scale project will be discussed as well, such as the handling of the three components that make up the retable, each weighing roughly 300 pounds, and the installation of the altarpiece in the museum's new The Deering Family Galleries of Medieval and Renaissance Art, Arms, and Armor scheduled to open March 2017. This paper also presents information on the altarpiece's construction and materials as determined by technical examination and scientific analysis. Analysis of the various paint layers confirmed the original paint binder to be egg tempera while the overpaint was found to be oil-based. Of particular interest were the discovery of the widespread use of ultramarine paint throughout the composition and the presence of oxalate-rich surface layers that contributed to the darkening of some paint colors.

avatar for Julie Simek, [PA]

Julie Simek, [PA]

Associate Paintings Conservator, Art Institute of Chicago
Julie Simek is an associate paintings conservator at the Art Institute of Chicago. She received a MA in Art Conservation from Buffalo State University, Buffalo, NY in 2001. Prior to working at the Art Institute she was an intern at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, a fellow at Tate, and... Read More →

Wednesday May 31, 2017 8:30am - 9:00am
Regency C Ballroom Level, West Tower

Attendees (101)