Modern Technology Helps Restore EI Greco's Famous Painting

    23 March, 2014


    From VOA Learning English, this is the Technology Report.

    In the late 1500s , the artist El Greco created a large painting called Saint Martin and the Beggar. It is very famous. The artist's real name was Doménicos Theotokópoulos. He was a Greek and lived from 1541 to 1614, though he spent most of his life living in Spain. El Greco means "the Greek" in the Spanish Language.

    Modern Technology Helps Restore EI Greco's Famous Painting
    Saint Martin and the Beggar

    Art experts believe that he painted Saint Martin and the Beggar sometime between 1597 and 1599. Experts believe the painting was covered in the 1940s with a clear protective varnish, but the substance has discolored the art work.

    Conservators have been attempting to repair the work at the National Gallery of Art, in Washington, D.C., they are preparing it for a series of shows marking the anniversary of El Greco's death.

    Ann Hoenigswald is the lead conservator at the National Gallery of Art. She carefully cleans the painting millimeter by millimeter. She say the art work needed treatment because the varnish was turning yellow, and changing the colors of the paints El Greco used.

    "The whites turn yellow, the blues turn green. It really dulls down the vibrancy of the tones the artist intended," said Hoenigswald.

    Before the repairs begin, scientists used microscopes, special infrared cameras and even x-rays to see if the painting had been damaged or changed. These imaging tools let them see below the top layer of paint. The examination showed how El Greco made changes to the painting.
    "Initially you can see the bridle was a little bit higher and most likely because some of the paints become more transparent as they age that's why we're seeing this line under here," said Hoenigswald.

    Ann Hoenigswald has been working on Saint Martin and the Beggar for about a year, her work has helped bring back the painting's original beauty.

    "All of a sudden the depth of the painting, the background seems to recede even more and the foreground comes forward and, as you can see in this picture, the whites become so dramatic, and so dominant, and the contrast between this gorgeous blue and the white becomes much more forceful than it was before," said Hoenigswald.

    After cleaning the painting, the art conservators put another product on it - varnish created in a laboratory. But this synthetic varnish will not change in color as it grows old.

    The art work is to be put in a protective cover and sent to Toledo, Spain, the place where EI Greco painted it. The National Gallery of Art is giving the painting to the museum of Santa Cruz in Toledo for a short time. It would be part of the show marking the 400th anniversary of El Greco's death.

    And that's the VOA Learning English Technology Report.