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  • You really get to know the painting when you're working on it. It becomes a bit of a friend

  • even when you're cleaning it it gives off a certain smell, so you can smell if it's

  • been in a smoky environment and you could tell it comes from Apsley because, you know,

  • there's a particular sort of dark dust that we see on the paintings there.

  • This painting is of Orpheus enchanting the animals and it shows the figure in the centre

  • of Orpheus in this twisted pose and he's enchanting these animals with his music that's so beautiful

  • it's drawn the animals out of the trees. We have the birds at the top, the lizard on the

  • tree trunk. Orpheus is playing a lira de braccio here. He's got a bow in his right arm, and

  • it's a four-stringed instrument. It sounds a bit like a cross between a cello and a viola.

  • There's the large figure of the lion in the middle with the unicorn, deer and the

  • dragon. The music was so beautiful that it's brought together these figures of the lion

  • and the unicorn, which were traditional enemies.

  • The Orpheus myth is, I think, perhaps the first story we ever told each other. It's

  • a story about love, it's about death, it's about trying to conquer death. It's about

  • someone who is so wonderful at what he does that the whole world is enchanted and charmed.

  • Looking at the painting from a sort of technical perspective, it does feel quite Titianesque.

  • The softly modelled flesh tones, the quite self-assured brush strokes, especially of

  • the figure. And this sort of drapery which is created with a pinkish under layer, and

  • then this red glaze on top is also something that you see in other Titian paintings as

  • well. Also this little dog in the left-hand corner is taken straight from another Titian

  • painting called the 'Venus of Urbino'.

  • The animals are perhaps less Titianesque and there's

  • a thought that they might be by a different hand.

  • The Orpheus myth is about Orpheus, who was the greatest singer the world had ever known.

  • When he plays the whole world comes to listen, the birds come, the beasts come. He falls

  • in love with Eurydice, and Eurydice falls in love with him. They get together, they

  • get married and they're totally in love, but – [gasp] – Eurydice is killed. She

  • dies by a snakebite. She's taken down to the underworld. So Orpheus sees that it's

  • his purpose now to go to the underworld and bring her back from death. To sing so beautifully

  • that death will say yes, have Eurydice back. He does that, it works, he leads her back

  • towards the light, but they say you must not look back until Eurydice is safe with you

  • in the world again. And of course he gets just to the light, and he turns around – [gasp]

  • and Eurydice is taken back to death again.

  • When we got the painting into the studio we did some technical analysis on the painting.

  • That was done by the Hamilton-Kerr Institute. We had an x-ray done and some infrared done,

  • which often tells us about the under layers of the painting. The infrared was the most

  • interesting because it revealed a lot of changes that had happened to the painting and that's

  • quite a Titianesque feature in itself. So we see that here around his elbow there's

  • been some changes in the figure. Around his back, this is where the first outline was.

  • You can see it's slightly more transparent here.

  • The painting was quite dirty when it came into the studio. So we started by cleaning

  • off the dark dust which had settled on the painting, just with little swabs, moistened

  • with water or salivasaliva works very well as well. And we moved onto cleaning the

  • painting. I filled areasyou can see little losses and damageswith a chalk putty.

  • And I'm now at the re-touching stage. So it's had a very thin varnish put over it

  • and I'm touching out the losses with these paints here.

  • There are certain ethics and guidelines which we sort of stand by when we're making the

  • decision as to where to stop and what to re-touch. For instance there's been quite a lot of

  • change that's happened in the painting. The sky has lost a lot of its blue colour

  • because it was painted with smalt which is a pigment which degrades. The foliage in the

  • trees would have been quite green originally but it's been painted with copper resonate

  • and it's gotten browner. But we wouldn't glaze over large areas to

  • make it greener because we're trying to strike that balance of showing as much as

  • the artist's original intention as possible without doing too much.

You really get to know the painting when you're working on it. It becomes a bit of a friend

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B1 orpheus painting death underworld cleaning enchanting

Painting Conservation: Restoring Titian's Orpheus

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    Summer posted on 2020/04/28
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