A video of a 400-year-old painting being restored is fascinating Twitter users.
Art dealer Philip Mould shared the cleaning of varnish from a painting of a 36-year-old woman wearing an elaborate red gown, garnering over 65,000 retweets.
The painting of the Jacobean woman in a red dress is dated 1617. It was bought by Mould, who you may recognise from BBC show Fake Or Fortune, at an auction.
“The general feeling was that the condition was so bad on the surface that it was irrecoverable,” Mould told the Press Association. However, he had seen paintings rescued from this condition before and thought this one was worth the chance.
The painting’s surface was covered in what Mould guesses is a form of mastic varnish which was probably applied in the 18th or 19th century to protect and enrich the painting. However, Mould explains, this type of varnish has longevity issues.
“What happens is that mastic varnish, otherwise known as the tears of Chios, naturally degrades, going yellow with time. If you leave a picture long enough it becomes yellow and almost opaque.
“Secondly, if a picture is in an area where there is smoke, either from a fire, cigars or a kitchen, that can also greatly darken the varnish.”
Once in Mould’s possession, he enlisted a leading West End art restorer to help bring the painting back to its former glory. The restorer performed extensive testing of the picture to determine the chemical mix needed to remove the varnish without damaging the painting itself.
“You will see on the painting, there are about eight or nine tests all over the surface, very carefully working out that crucial balance between taking off the dirt and the varnish (which is what you do when you clean a picture) and not affecting in any way the pristine paint layer beneath,” Mould said.
As the varnish was removed using the correct chemical formula, Mould says it felt like “striking oil”, or “finding one of those skeletons in the peat, phenomenally well-preserved”.
Small area of her astonishingly elaborate dress revealed. We dont know identity yet but certain iconographic clues are staring to emerge.... pic.twitter.com/2p1VqN79na— Philip Mould (@philipmould) November 6, 2017
Once the picture is fully cleaned, a more modern varnish will be used to protect the artwork, which shouldn’t degrade like the old mastic varnish.
Here’s hoping the art dealer will post more videos of incredible painting restorations.