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Restoration of Abraham van Cuylenborch’s painting "Sleeping Venus"


before restoration
after restoration
                                                                                         Abraham van Cuylenborch. Sleeping Venus. Oil on panel, 27.7 × 21 cm.

Abraham van Cuylenborch (1620–1658) was a follower and possible apprentice of Cornelis van Poelenburgh. The Dutch artist painted landscapes with fantastic grottoes and nymphs as well as pictures with religious and mythological subjects. The Hermitage collection includes several other works by Cuylenborch: Nymphs in a Grotto, Diana and Nymphs, Mary Magdalene in the Desert, Diana and Callisto.

Sleeping Venus was painted on panel in 1653. An expert appraisal in 2015 determined that the state of the painting called for a range of conservation and restoration work. It detected minor losses of primer and the paint layer around the whole perimeter of the painting, abrasions and scratches on the paint layer. The surface of the picture was heavily soiled. In the central part of the depiction of the sky an extensive area of overpainting was discovered that concealed the depiction of a putto. A thick uneven coating of much darkened and yellowed varnish across the whole surface was distorting the colours in the work.

With the support of Individual Friends of the State Hermitage a series of restoration measures have been carried out:

  • photographic recording of the painting at all stages of the restoration
  • physical examination (UV and IR) of the painting before and during restoration
  • removal of surface soiling
  • reduction of the thickness of the varnish across the whole surface using a method developed on test areas
  • removal of later overpainting covering the artist’s original work (in the central part, on the depiction of the sky and putti, on the depiction of the foliage), reducing and evening the thickness of the lower layers of varnish
  • touching up with restoration primer at the sites of losses
  • restoring the transparency of the thin layer of varnish on the surface of the painting
  • covering the painting with a fresh coat of varnish
  • making good the losses in the artist’s paintwork

In 2015 the painting was put in a condition suitable for display.

Liubov Semionova, an artist-restorer in the State Hermitage’s Laboratory for the Scientific Restoration of Easel Paintings carried out the restoration of the painting.