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Jheronimus Bosch in the Restauration Studio

The public restoration of ‘Saint Christopher’ by Hieronymus Bosch is taking place in the Restauration Studio from April 2015 until January 2016.

Restauratiestudio

This painting and several other works by Bosch from the collection have been requested as loans for the exhibition ‘Jheronimus Bosch 500’, which will be held in Den Bosch in 2016. The painting is currently too fragile to travel.

This public restoration is a foretaste of what the public will see in the expertise centre in the new Public Art Depot, which is expected to open in 2017. The museum wants to show what is involved in the care and conservation of a priceless, world-class collection by allowing the public a glimpse behind the scenes.

A preliminary examination has shown that the painting needs to be restored: the parquet (the reinforcing cradle at the back of the panel) is fixed whereas it should be free to ‘breathe’, the wood is rotten in places, the varnish has yellowed and some of the paint is loose. Here you see a close-up of a crack in the paint.

The story of Saint Christopher

The painting depicts the giant Reprobus, later called Christopher. This pagan giant wished to serve the most powerful man in the world. He entered the service of a king but saw that the king was afraid of the devil. He then served the devil but noticed that the devil feared the Christian cross. A hermit advised him to devote his life to serving Christ by carrying travelers across a dangerous river.

The story of Saint Christopher
Hieronymus Bosch, Saint Christopher, 1490-1505, oil on panel, loan: Stichting Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen 1940

One day Reprobus was asked to carry a child on his shoulders. The child seemed as heavy as lead. It was Christ, who bears the sins of the world. The giant converted to Christianity and was given a new name: Christopher, ancient Greek for ‘Christ bearer’.

As is typical of Bosch’s paintings, the extensive landscape is populated by all sorts of strange creatures in remarkable situations.

Did you know

today restorations have to be reversible? The restoration team use materials that can be removed again in the future without damaging the painting.

The conservartors

Annetje Boersma is a self-employed conservator of paintings and has more than thirty years experience. She has also restored ‘Saint Jerome’ (1618-1620) by Anthonie van Dyck and ‘The Three Marys at the Tomb’ (1425-1535) by Jan and Hubert van Eyck for the museum. Eva van Zuien, conservator of paintings, works together with Annetje Boersma on the restauration of this painting. Jean-Albert Glatigny specialises in restoring wooden panels, the support of this painting.

The conservartors
Annetje Boersma and Eva van Zuien working

The conservator uses the microscoop to examine details close-up. A suction apparatus sucks up dust, small particles and solvent (to dissolve the varnish) while the conservator works on the painting. The daylight lamp produces light as clear as daylight to provide the conservator with a bright light. The conservators use the computer to record their actions and to study XRF images, infrared images, X-rays or paint samples.

The Restauration Studio
The Restauration Studio
Detail of the restauration
Detail of the restauration

Restoration process

1. Preliminary examination
Various tests are conducted including taking paint samples, UV photos and photographs with raking light. A committee of experts advises on the restoration.

The raking light shows the flaking paint: Hieronymus Bosch, Saint Christopher, 1490-1505, oil on panel, loan: Stichting Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen 1940
The raking light shows the flaking paint: Hieronymus Bosch, Saint Christopher, 1490-1505, oil on panel, loan: Stichting Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen 1940
UV photo of varnish: Hieronymus Bosch, Saint Christopher, 1490-1505, oil on panel, loan: Stichting Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen 1940
UV photo of varnish: Hieronymus Bosch, Saint Christopher, 1490-1505, oil on panel, loan: Stichting Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen 1940

2. Money
Sponsors are found to pay for the restoration: Nedspice Restauratiefonds and Bosch Research and Conservation Project.
3. Preparations
A restoration studio is built in the Art Studio.
4. Restoration: the paint
The thick layer of yellowed varnish (which protects the paint) is removed to allow access to the paint layer. Old areas of retouching (reconstruction of the paint layer) are then removed. The paint is loose in some areas. The committee is consulted about the next step in the restoration.

‘Saint Christopher’ during the varnish removal.

5. Restoration: the panel
The panel consists of four oak planks. The parquet (the protective cradle) is fixed but should be able to move. It is carefully loosened without damaging the paint layers on the front. The old wax layer and dirt are removed. Small holes caused by insects are filled. The edges are made flush, glued and filled. The committee is consulted about the next step in the restoration.

The four sections of the parquet and some cracks are indicated with pen: Hieronymus Bosch, Saint Christopher, 1490-1505, oil on panel, loan: Stichting Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen 1940

6. Restoration: the paint
Pieces of loose paint are fixed (consolidated). Areas where the paint has disappeared, or where the paint is thin or damaged are filled and retouched. Afterwards, a new layer of varnish is added.

Detail of the flaking paint: Hieronymus Bosch, Saint Christopher, 1490-1505, oil on panel, loan: Stichting Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen 1940
Detail of the flaking paint: Hieronymus Bosch, Saint Christopher, 1490-1505, oil on panel, loan: Stichting Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen 1940
Detail of the flaking paint: Hieronymus Bosch, Saint Christopher, 1490-1505, oil on panel, loan: Stichting Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen 1940
Detail of the flaking paint: Hieronymus Bosch, Saint Christopher, 1490-1505, oil on panel, loan: Stichting Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen 1940

7. Restoration: the frame
The painting is reframed and is ready to travel.
8. Packing
Before being transported the painting is wrapped in Tyvek and polyethylene plastic and placed in a made-to-measure, climate-controlled case.

The painting before the conservation: Hieronymus Bosch, Saint Christopher, 1490-1505, oil on panel, loan: Stichting Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen 1940
The painting before the conservation: Hieronymus Bosch, Saint Christopher, 1490-1505, oil on panel, loan: Stichting Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen 1940
The painting aftser the conservation: Hieronymus Bosch, Saint Christopher, 1490-1505, oil on panel, loan: Stichting Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen 1940
The painting aftser the conservation: Hieronymus Bosch, Saint Christopher, 1490-1505, oil on panel, loan: Stichting Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen 1940

9. Transport

The case is transported to the exhibition in Den Bosch by specialised art shippers.

Restoration: Jheronimus Bosch's Saint Christopher

In this video the restoration of ‘Saint Christopher’ is illustrated by those involved.