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Kunsthaus Zürich

The Zurich Master of the Carnation

‘The Adoration of the Magi’

The two wings of a mighty altar of St. Michael painted by the Younger Zurich Master of the Carnation (Hans Leu the Elder) in the Kunsthaus collection are the most important preserved testimony to the heyday of painting in Zurich prior to the 1524 iconoclasm. Created in around 1490 and originally painted on both sides, they had already been divided up into four panels when they entered the collection in 1929. To the left-hand side of a shrine – now lost – was a depiction of the Adoration of the Magi. This panel was only revealed to the faithful on holy days, when the shrine was opened.

The ‘Adoration of the Magi’ was last restored more than 80 years ago. In addition to cracks in the wood and the resulting losses of paint layer, discolouration of the old retouching severely mars the work’s visual appearance. Conservation and restoration measures are therefore urgently required. These are being carried out between December 2017 and August 2018 thanks to support from the Ernst Göhner Foundation.

The work’s condition
The wooden panel was sawn apart, thinned to 8 mm, glued to a backing plate and cradled before it was purchased in the 1920s and there are now a number of fine cracks in the wood. Additionally, some of the battens that were glued to the reverse are coming loose. Both the cradle and the rigid mounting in the frame are creating tensions in the wooden panel that could easily cause further cracks to appear in response to environmental fluctuations.

The painting itself exhibits a number of areas of paint loss along the cracks and especially along the lower edge. Much of the putty in the crack areas is beginning to come loose and is no longer flush with the paint surface.

The many heavily discoloured and darkened areas of retouching from the previous restoration are visually off-putting; both the areas of tempera painting and the gilded background are affected. The retouching and puttying of the background gold were also carried out very crudely and amateurishly.

Measures
Conservation work will focus initially on consolidating the cracks in the wooden panel and fixing the battens of the cradle. Areas of the paint layer and the Gothic frame that are at risk will also be made secure. The subsequent restoration work will involve careful cleaning of the surface as well as repair and improvement of the old puttying and heavily discoloured old retouching.

Supported by:
Ernst Göhner Stiftung

 

 

Fig. 1
The Younger Zurich Master of the Carnation (Hans Leu the Elder),
The Adoration of the Magi, around 1490
General view in the original frame prior to restoration
Fig. 1
The Younger Zurich Master of the Carnation (Hans Leu the Elder),
The Adoration of the Magi, around 1490
General view in the original frame prior to restoration
Fig. 2
General view, UV fluorescence image
When exposed to UV light, retouching and reworking show up in a different colour from the original painting.
Fig. 2
General view, UV fluorescence image
When exposed to UV light, retouching and reworking show up in a different colour from the original painting.
Fig. 3
The old puttying and discoloured retouching of the red robe are particularly noticeable.
Fig. 3
The old puttying and discoloured retouching of the red robe are particularly noticeable.
Fig. 4
The old retouching in the area of the white cloak is heavily discoloured.
Fig. 4
The old retouching in the area of the white cloak is heavily discoloured.
Fig. 5
Areas of paint loss and discoloured retouching of the white legs.
Fig. 5
Areas of paint loss and discoloured retouching of the white legs.