Throughout the 19th century, panel painting restorations were conducted by carpenters who, while technically skilled, lacked an understanding of the object as a work of art. “They made these terribly invasive treatments, which cancelled a lot of information,” Bisacca says.
Even worse, these treatments often made the works more susceptible to damage. Back then, restorers had a fixation on “planarity,” which led them to thin down the wooden boards to a fraction of their original thickness. Then, to force the painting to stay flat, they would attach a rigid wooden frame (or “cradle”) to the back.
“But those things, well-intentioned as they were, caused greater instability,” Bisacca explains. “As the panel tried to warp, tensions built up in the panel until they finally split.”
Today, most panel painting conservation involves rectifying those earlier mistakes. Dürer’s Adam
, for example, was a victim of a particularly rigid cradle that resulted in a plethora of cracks across its surface. Bisacca, along with Prado
conservator José de la Fuente, spent several years repairing both Adam
and its partner painting, Eve
, as part of the initiative.
A handful of PPI trainees joined them throughout the process, observing as the senior conservators inserted more than 400 meticulously crafted wooden wedges to fill the cracks.