The Minneapolis Institute of Arts

In recent years, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts has conducted two paintings conservation projects in their galleries to illustrate their ongoing commitment to the preservation and care of the collections. For the most recent project in 2004, over the course of eight weeks two paintings conservators from the Midwest Art Conservation Center treated Giovanni Francesco Barbieri Guercino’s Erminia and the Shepherds, a massive seventeenth-century masterwork.

The treatment included removing layers of aged, discolored varnish from the painting, revealing the bright and rich Baroque-era colors. Conservators reduced several layers of fill and broadly-applied overpaint added during earlier restorations, much of which did not conform to the original, seventeenth-century design. The project afforded the conservators the opportunity to inpaint the losses in the painting in a more faithful manner.

“Inpainting” refers to the method of restoring areas of paint loss within the artwork. Inpainting is completed within the boundaries of the losses and damage and is accomplished with the use of modern dry pigments bound in a synthetic paint medium. The new materials are chemically stable, easily detected by another conservation professional, and are completely reversible in very mild solvents. Importantly, the new fill and inpainting are isolated from the original paint layer by a synthetic resin varnish.

While performing this treatment, the conservators discussed the treatment with and answered questions from museum visitors about the project and broadcast their progress with a live webcam and a daily diary entry on the museum’s Web site.