Posts Tagged 'European Painting'

Examining “Saint Jerome in the Wilderness”

Saint Jerome in the Wilderness by Herri met de Bles after conservation treatment

Saint Jerome in the Wilderness, a fantastical landscape by Herri met de Bles, is hanging in the newly reinstalled European art galleries after years in storage. Before it could be displayed, the 16th-century painting required careful conservation treatment in the DMA’s Paintings Conservation Studio. Treatment revealed a remarkably complex scene, with many tiny figures, hidden creatures, and microscopic details.

Little is known of Herri met de Bles, who was born around 1510 and died after 1550. Regardless of his life being shrouded in mystery, Bles was an important Flemish Mannerist landscape painter, known for knitting together realistic landscape scenes with fantastic imaginary elements. In Italy, where his art was popular, Bles was known as “Civetta” (“owl” in Italian), because he liked to paint little owls into his works, acting as a sort of playfully hidden signature. If you look closely in the tree behind St. Jerome, you will see the beak and eyes of a tiny owl peeking through a tree hollow.

Saint Jerome before treatment

Saint Jerome in the Wilderness, although striking, arrived at the conservation studio in need of treatment. Bles applied colorful, thin layers of paint over a prepared wooden support. The wood warped over time, causing cracks in the support and paint simultaneously. A darkened varnish further obscured the beautiful and precise details. Paint applied in a previous restoration campaign, which was likely undertaken in the late 19th or early 20th centuries, had also discolored, creating dissonance in the surface of the work and obscuring the overall harmony evoked by the artist in the landscape.

The painting was examined using various techniques—including microscopes, ultraviolet light radiation, infrared reflectography (IR), and x-radiography—to gain insight into the condition of the work and the artist’s techniques. Armed with this information, treatment began in preparation for the reinstallation of the European Galleries.

Saint Jerome during treatment

First, the dark and discolored varnish and areas of overpaint were removed. Cleaning revealed a world of detail previously unknown. Photomicrographs show details hardly perceptible without the aid of a microscope. Tiny creatures emerged in the wooded forest scene to the right of the central figure and in the mountains to the left, including a bear and cub family, stags, tiny figures hiking with a dog, and mountain goats. St. Jerome centers the composition and is accompanied by precisely painted attributes, including the skull and lion. He is surrounded by tiny, lively creatures such as squirrels, snails, lizards, mushrooms, and frogs. Bles also renders architectural features beautifully and goes so far as to depict not only microscopic decorative sculpture and architectural features but also decorative friezes noticeable only with magnification.

The IR images revealed especially interesting technical information. An elaborate underdrawing emerged when IR images were captured. Carbon-based materials absorb the infrared radiation and will appear black in IR images, while other materials that do not absorb the radiation will look transparent. Using this technique, underdrawing materials that contain carbon such as black inks, charcoal, and other carbon-containing black pigments become visible underneath overlying paint layers. Transfer marks, appearing as tiny black dots, were visible throughout the underdrawing, suggesting the use of prepared cartoon drawings. More free underdrawing was also observed, and can also be seen in the detail image. This type of underdrawing has been observed in other paintings attributed to Bles and serves as a fingerprint, in a way, of his working method.

After years of being stored away, this gorgeous painting by a mysterious artist is now on view for visitors to explore as part of free general admission. The landscape’s abundance of details will reward close looking, and the work serves as a dynamic addition to the newly reinstalled European Galleries.

Laura Hartman is the Associate Conservator at the DMA.

Image: Herri met de Bles, Saint Jerome in the Wilderness, 16th century, oil on panel, Dallas Museum of Art, The Karl and Esther Hoblitzelle Collection, gift of the Hoblitzelle Foundation, 1987.21

Beachy Keen

Today is Grandparent’s Day, a day for everyone to recognize the strength, wisdom, and guidance older people can offer. At the DMA, we take every opportunity to celebrate our seniors and learn from their experiences.

During a recent Meaningful Moments program, participants Mel and Barbara shared their lifelong love of seashells with the rest of the group. Mel and Barbara have been collecting seashells for more than 40 years and brought some of their own specimens to the Museum to help us explore seashells in works of art.

Participants shared their memories of trips to the beach and enjoyed some hands-on time with Mel and Barbara’s seashell collection. Mel even surprised us when he blew his conch shell like a horn, filling the gallery with the sound of a bellowing trumpet. According to Mel and Barbara, this type of natural instrument has been used since Neolithic times!

As participants continue their lifelong learning at the Museum, we are so fortunate to share in their vast knowledge and rich experiences.

Emily Wiskera is Manager of Access Programs at the DMA.

Breaking in Spring

This just in – today’s weather is going to be cloudy with a chance of . . . art?! When we think about visiting an art museum with our families, we may not think about the weather (except  museums often have what feels like arctic air flowing through the galleries to keep the art “comfortable”  – so bring a sweater!). We have some exciting plans for family fun on the horizon, and there is a 100% chance of WFAA’s meteorologist Greg Fields in the forecast!

Don’t miss our free WFAA Family First Day on Saturday, March 12, that will kick off a week-long fiesta of fun family-friendly activities for spring break.

Join us in the galleries as Greg Fields forecasts the weather in works of art. You will even have the chance to search for rough spots, popping storms, and gray skies in paintings to create a weather forecast of your own.

One work of art we think may be on Greg’s radar is Claude-Joseph Vernet’s painting Mountain Landscape with Approaching Storm, on view in the European Galleries. Skirt alert! Definitely umbrella weather – the atmosphere in this landscape is overcast, with strong whipping winds coming in from the west. Place your bets, because it looks like a drencher. Mother Nature is on the war path! The figures in this scene look like they are facing a giant blow dryer! Look closely as they scurry for cover before it begins to rain cats and dogs. Talk about atmospheric indigestion!

Claude-Joseph Vernet, Mountain Landscape with Approaching Storm, 1775

Greg may forecast flash flood warnings, wind advisories, or even a tornado watch! Visitors will be invited to make a sound symphony of the weather in this scene, pose like the people fleeing for cover, and talk about their own scary storm experiences. It will be a rip-roaring good time!

Extend your Museum fun throughout the week of spring break. From March 13 through March 18 at 5:00 p.m., the DMA is offering $5 admission and $5 parking.  Check out the spring break schedule on our website for more information.

Amanda Blake is the Manager of Family Experiences and Access Programs at the Dallas Museum of Art


Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,596 other followers

Twitter Updates

Flickr Photo Stream

Categories