For the exhibition Mantegna and Bellini: Masters of the Renaissance – which took place in London from October 2018 to February 2019 and at the Gemäldegalerie from March 2019 to July 2019 – the Gemäldegalerie’s conservation department examined and restored many of the collection’s works from Padua and Venice. Dating from the 15th to the early 16th century, this group of works comprises around 30 paintings. The main exhibition was accompanied by a studio exhibition called Bellini plus, as well as a more comprehensive publication, which offered insights into the challenges faced and the outcomes of the work, by way of selected examples.
The technical analysis of Andrea Mantegna’s Presentation of Christ in the Temple (ca. 1454) made clear the extent to which the painter altered the composition directly on the canvas in order to include his self-portrait along with a portrait of his wife, Giovanni Bellini’s sister. They also helped to clarify the ways in which Giovanni Bellini reused Mantegna’s composition of the same pictorial subject, and also the dating of the work, which is now on display at the Fondazione Querini Stampalia in Venice.
The technical analyses of Giovanni Bellini’s large-format panel Doge Leonardo Loredan with Four Companions (1507) were primarily focussed on understanding the reasons for its severely damaged condition. Studies on its provenance and conservation history as well as analyses of the composition of the colours used provided the decisive clues as to what likely caused the damage. They also allowed for a reconstruction of the object’s history. Thorough investigations preceded the conservation work on a number of other paintings as well.
Extensive conservation work was performed on two paintings in particular: Francesco Squarcione’s Virgin and Child (ca. 1455) and Francesco Bissolo’s The Resurrection of Christ (ca. 1525–1530).
During work on Virgin and Child by Francesco Squarcione – Andrea Mantegna’s teacher and adoptive father – the yellowed varnish and discoloured retouching were removed. We discovered that a former owner, who was both an art dealer and restorer, had significantly reworked the painting around 1800. The panel received a new frame based on a historical model.
Francesco Bissolo’s The Resurrection of Christ also regained its vivid appearance after the removal of a heavily yellowed varnish. Now the influences of his teacher Giovanni Bellini and his contemporaries Giorgione and Titian are once again clearly discernible.
Some of the works in this collection still bore paper patches used to protect the paint during storage around the time of the Second World War and were in urgent need of conservation work (such as The Presentation of Christ in the Temple, Giovanni Bellini, workshop). Other works primarily required aesthetic corrections of older, discoloured retouching.
In the 2022 publication Zu Mantegna und Bellini – Provenienz, Kunsttechnologie und Restaurierung von Werken der Berliner Gemäldegalerie (On Mantegna and Bellini – Provenance, Art Technology and Conservation of Works from the Berlin Gemäldegalerie, [German only]), we present the results of our research on conservation methods and provenance with respect to 10 selected works, provide insights into the conservation plans developed from the findings of the analyses, and report on the techniques employed.
Participating Conservators: Babette Hartwieg, Felicitas Klein, Bertram Lorenz, Nicola Müller, Maria Reimelt, Rainer Wendler, Maria Zielke
Publication: Zu Mantegna und Bellini – Provenienz, Kunsttechnologie und Restaurierung von Werken der Berliner Gemäldegalerie, 2022, Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin, edited by Babette Hartwieg and Neville Rowley