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Restoration of the painting The Conversion of Saul by Veronese

After completion of its restoration, The Conversion of Saul, a work by Paolo Veronese (1522–1588), one of the foremost Venetian painters of the second half of the 16th century, has returned to its place in the Small Italian Skylight Hall of the New Hermitage.

  • Before restoration
  • The artist-restorer V.A. Korobov at work
  • The artist-restorers M.V. Lapshin and A.V.Tsvetkov at work
  • Fragment before and after restoration
  • Fragment before and after restoration
  • After restoration
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The subject of the large-scale canvas painted around 1570 was taken from the Acts of the Apostles and tells the story of Saul, a merciless persecutor of the Christians. On the way to Damascus, where he was to lead a campaign against followers of the new religion, Saul was struck from his horse and blinded by a bright ray of light, then he heard God’s voice addressing him from heaven. Having come to believe, Saul had himself baptised, taking the new name of Paul, and became an apostle.

 Veronese’s painting lacks the customary Renaissance construction of the composition as an imaginary theatrical scene within which the figures were distributed precisely and movement was restricted to the bounds of a contained space. The figure of Saul thrown from his horse comes across as the sort of focus of an explosion: from it the people are fleeing, horses are bolting and trees are leaning in all directions. The frame cannot contain this violent motion and a number of the figures have ended up partially outside it, as it were. This “cropping” in Veronese’s painting foreshadows the techniques of Baroque art.

 The study and restoration of Veronese’s Conversion of Saul carried out in 2015–17 was the product of collaboration between the State Hermitage’s Department of Western European Fine Art, the Department for Scientific Restoration and Conservation (the Laboratory for the Scientific Restoration of Easel Painting) and the Department for Scientific and Technical Examination. Investigation in the museum’s archives shed light on the history of the painting’s restoration in the 19th and 20th centuries. Studies carried out helped to better understand and assess the state of preservation of the artist’s original painting, made it possible to produce a virtual reconstruction of the former size of the picture and to understand how much it had been cut down. Scientific and technical research involving the taking of samples provided an opportunity to study Veronese’s painting technique in greater depth, to differentiate more precisely between what is original and what has been added.

 On the artist’s original surface freed from lacquers and overpainting of various dates it became possible to detect variations of texture. Speculation about the colour having a different quality also proved justified, and the gradations of greens and blues that were revealed surpassed even the boldest expectations. Details that went unnoticed before the restoration became visible not only to specialists: the continuation of the ray of divine light aimed at the head of the sprawling Saul, the soldiers’ armour and links in their chainmail, the grass, foliage and tree branches caught up in a whirlwind.

The staff members of the State Hermitage’s Laboratory for the Scientific Restoration of Easel Painting  who worked on the restoration were:

V.A. Korobov 

Head of the Laboratory 

M.V. Lapshin

Artist-restorer

 

A.V. Tsvetkov

Artist-restorer

The project was realized with the support of the Coca-Cola Foundation.