Caravaggio and Rubens Paintings Get Getty Restoration Grants

Caravaggio, David with the Head of Goliath (circa 1600). Photo: courtesy Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum (KMH) has received a $416,000 grant from the Getty Foundation in Los Angeles to conserve two Baroque masterpieces: Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s David with the Head of Goliath (circa 1600) and Peter Paul Rubens’s Stormy Landscape (circa 1625).

This will be one of the last grants issued by the Getty in their Panel Paintings Initiative, set to wrap up in late 2016. The program is dedicated to offering training in the complicated art of preserving works on wooden panels, which requires expertise in both painting and woodworking. With most of the world’s experts in the field set to retire in the coming years, the initiative hopes to ensure “that the next generation of conservators is in place to provide quality care for panel paintings in major European and North American collections,” as Getty director Deborah Marrow put it in a press release.

One of only two existing panel paintings by Caravaggio, David with the Head of Goliath has become incredibly fragile, as its wooden support has been shaved down over the years to only a few millimeters thick. The delicate conservation process will involve repairing several fractures without damaging the centuries-old paint, and crafting a new, flexible support for the work. Stormy Landscape, which the artist kept in his personal collection during his lifetime, features a scene from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Painted on 10 separate pieces of wood that have each aged separately, the piece will be uniquely challenging to conserve.

Experts from KHM, as well as conservator George Bisacca of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and José de la Fuente of the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid, will oversee the restorations with five conservators from Crakow, Dresden, Prague, and Vienna.

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