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Restoration of Titian’s “The Flight into Egypt”

The Restoration of Titian’s The Flight into Egypt was made possible thanks to the generosity of Drs. George and Christina Sosnovsky.

This work, painted in the early 1500s, came into the Hermitage between 1763 and 1774. In the second half of the 19th century it was moved to the Gatchina palace, from where it returned to the Hermitage in 1924.

Since March 1999, on the suggestion of the Restoration Commission for Easel Painitng, Titian’s canvas has been undergoing complex restoration in the State Hermiatge’s Laboratory for the Scientific Restoration of Easel Painting.

Visual investigation by the restorers A.V. Kuznetsov and V.V. Shatsky showed that the painting had been lined with thin linen canvas, the original canvas being made of three pieces 66, 71 and 67 centimetres wide sewn together with horizontal seams. The connection between the paint layer and the primer was poor and separation and loss of the paint layer had occurred in may places across the whole surface. In the course of one of the previous restorations (apparently in the 18th century), the painting had been enlarged by the addition of a 9-centimetre-wide attachment on the right-hand side.

There were striking stiff deformations of the original base along the lines of the horizontal seams that interfered with the viewer’s perception of the painting as a single whole. The artist’s colour scheme had been distorted by the numerous layers of darkened and yellowed varnish that had been applied to the painting in its lifetime. Visual examination in conjunction with studies of luminescence under ultra-violet light showed a large number of insertions of different dates overlying the artist’s own painting and in places entirely concealing it. This interference was most probably prompted by damage caused to the original paint layer as a result of inept restoration in the 18th century.

The complex restoration work was entrusted to Kuznetsov and Shatsky, two restoration artists of the highest category. The paint layer was reattached to the primer across the whole surface. The painting was removed from the stretcher and the backing canvas removed. After the removal of the old restorers’ glue from the back of the original canvas, the paint layer was again reattached to the primer across the whole surface, after which the deformations were removed. On the reverse the area of the seams was treated with a wax-resin mastic and strengthened with bands of mica paper after which the painting was relined with dense linen canvas and placed on a new stretcher.