Conservation of The Last Judgment

May 6, 2021
Art of the Spanish Americas

Throughout 2019 and 2020, painting conservator Daniela Leonard and frame conservation technician, Charles Pietraszewski, completed an extensive conservation treatment on our Art of the Spanish Americas painting, The Last Judgment.

When we acquired The Last Judgment in 2018, we purchased it in need of conservation. It had undergone years of neglect and there were multiple old restorations. Thus the structure and surface of the painting was in need of extensive work. The paint layer was severely abraded throughout revealing both the paint ground and the canvas. These micro abrasions and previous overpainting disrupted the picture plane and blurred the figures’ expressions – generally giving the painting a dirty, muddy appearance. Additionally, the painting had several long scratches across the lower left area, a visible seam running down the right side of the canvas, and signs of impact damage at the lower right. The varnish in multiple areas was hazing whitish, giving the figures a cadaverous appearance. Lastly, the painting arrived without a frame.

To repair the structural issues, Daniela readhered the original canvas to its lining along the edges where it has started to separate. Prioritizing the figures’ faces and hands, then following with the folds of their robes, Daniela spent the majority of her time meticulously pinpoint inpainting areas of the abrasions, filling in missing details to give the figures and the story they told more solid forms. 


Once the central figures were fleshed out, Daniela moved on to the figure in crowds, small details like flowers and landscape elements, and correcting for larger swaths of background contours in the sky, horizon and clouds.

Some sections of pentimenti that illustrate the artist’s working process were left exposed.

While the painting still shows areas of abrasion and discolored materials from previous interventions, the final result is a significant improvement to painting’s visual quality and overall legibility of the composition.

As Daniela was working on the painting, frame conservation technician Charles Pietraszewski took an existing Art of the Spanish Americas period, gilt, and carved frame and reworked it to fit this painting. This included cutting apart the frame  and reassembling it into the correct size, taking note of the carving (including its center points) to keep the design work centered on the painting and fabricating missing elements. Once the frame was the correct size and the elements were redone, Charles then corrected areas of gilt loss, and built out the back of the frame so it could properly secure the painting’s depth. 

The final result of both Daniela and Charles’s conservation work is a stunning painting with fascinating details that is now safe to lend and exhibit.


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