About the beginnings of restoration

Rembrandt's Resurrection of Christ and its early restoration history

By Alte Pinakothek, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen

Doerner Institut, Bavarian State Painting Collections

Historical recording of the Alte Pinakothek (1929)Original Source: Website of the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen

The history of restoration is of great importance for the work of restorers today. Especially for the development of contemporary conservation measures:
What and how did our predecessors restore a painting and at what time and with what kind materials?

Historical view of the Rembrandt Hall in the Alte Pinakothek (1926)Original Source: Website of the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen

Were those measures appropriate and successful, or did they in the course of time lead to new problems?
What are the possible consequences for our conservation concept in this specific case?

Historical restoration document for the painting "Madonna in floral wreath" by Peter Paul Rubens (1877) by Doerner InstitutOriginal Source: Doerner Institut, Website of the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen

Early on, restorers responsible for the Munich collections began in documenting their work in writing for their successors. For works of the Königlichen Pinakotheken (Royal Pinaktoheken) these records became the rule at the end of the 19th century.

Alois Hauser the Elder (1831 – 1909) (1885) by Franz von LenbachOriginal Source: Object in the Online-Collection of the Pinakotheken

Some restorers appear again and again in the documents of this time.
For example, Alois Hauser senior, who was appointed royal curator in 1885 and was entrusted with the care of the collection of the Alte Pinakothek. He enjoyed a great reputation even beyond Munich and was therefore also active in an advisory capacity for other collections - e.g. for the galleries in Dresden and Kassel, the Wallraf-Richartz Museum in Cologne or the Kunsthalle Basel.

Portrait of court painter Lambert Krahe (around 1761/62) by Unkown painterOriginal Source: Berlin, Prof. Dr.-Ing. Friedrich-Wilhelm Krahe, Architect

In even earlier times, restorations in the princely collections of paintings were usually carried out by painters. The multi-talent Lambert Krahe is an example of such a painter-restorer in the history of our collection.

Krahe was also court painter to Elector Karl Theodor, owned his own outstanding collection of drawings and was the first director of the academy of fine arts in Düsseldorf. And it is known, that he also carried out restorations himself.

The Rhine Falls near Schaffhausen with Elector Karl Theodor of the Palatinate and entourage (around 1759) by Philipp Hieronymus BrinckmannOriginal Source: Website of the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen

Another historic figure in our collection was the painter Philipp Hieronymus Brinckmann (1709-1769). He too was active in several fields, among others as restorer for the restoration of the collection of his patron/employer Elector Karl Philipp.
Under his rule, Brinckmann was made court painter in 1733. There, as inspector of the picture gallery, he was later also responsible for the restoration.

The Resurrection (Google Art Camera) (1635/39) by Rembrandt (Harmensz. van Rijn)Original Source: Object in the Online-Collection of the Pinakotheken

We can trace his impact with a work by Rembrandt. It concerns one scene from the Passion Series: the Resurrection.

The "Resurrection of Christ" is one of the scenes from Rembrandt's Passion cycle.

Today, six pictures of the original seven-part series can be seen in the Alte Pinakothek. It was acquired by Elector Johann Wilhelm von der Pfalz at the beginning of the 18th century.

Collection presentation in an illustrated guide to the Düsseldorf gallery (1778) by Nicolas de Pigage and Christian von MechelOriginal Source: Website of the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen

In his residence city of Düsseldorf, the cycle was housed in a gallery building specially erected for the princely collection. The seventh scene, The Circumcision of Christ, was later lost in unexplained developments.
In the guide to the gallery from 1778, with etchings of the whole, densely hung gallery, we encounter the Series in Room IV.
The lost seventh scene is already missing then.
(ggf. die beiden Stichseiten nebeneinander und die sechs Werke irgendwie kenntlich machen)

Resurrection of Christ. Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn. Detail of the reverse (Inscription 1755) by Rembrandt (Harmensz. van Rijn), Philipp Hieronymus BrinckmannOriginal Source: Website of the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen

The no doubt holographic, Latin inscription by Brinckmann can be found on the reverse of the wooden panel of the Resurrection of Christ.

It practically reads
Rimbrandt created me
PH Brinckmann resurrected you

Another hint at this restoration can be found in the archives of the Staatlichen Kunstsammlungen Dresden: a letter by Brinckmann from 1756.

Here he informs his colleague of his work at paintings of the Passion Series. He especially stresses the measures taken with The Resurrection of Christ: in a daring move he separated the paint layer (including the priming) from the original canvas and transferred it to a new wooden panel.

The Resurrection (Google Art Camera) (1635/39) by Rembrandt (Harmensz. van Rijn)Original Source: Object in the Online-Collection of the Pinakotheken

At the time, this was a relatively new method, which, starting in Italy in the 18th century, triggered a downright restoration fashion, especially in Paris. From today's point of view it is, however, an extremely questionable measure: after all the original carrier does represent an essential, integral component of a work of art.

"The Resurrection." X-ray image by Rembrandt (Harmensz. van Rijn), Doerner InstitutOriginal Source: Website of the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen

An X-ray of the painting offers us interesting information.

Here, in addition to the grain of the new wooden panel, a fine woven structure is clearly visible, which the original canvas has left behind in the layer of the painting ground.

The Resurrection (Google Art Camera) (1635/39) by Rembrandt (Harmensz. van Rijn)Original Source: Object in the Online-Collection of the Pinakotheken

By the standards of his time, Philipp Emanuel Brinckmann was up to date with restoration techniques.
The fact that he left the inscription about the reawakened work on the back of the Resurrection scene testifies to his pride in his work - but perhaps also to a certain hubris.

Credits: Story

Published on 10 October 2021, the 4rd European Day of Conservation-Restoration.

Concept & Text: Johanna Mocny, Jan Schmidt
Editing & Realization: Yvonne Hildwein, Max Westphal with the support of the Kulturkonsorten - Netzwerk für Kunst, Kultur, Wissenschaft und Kommunikation im digitalen Raum

© Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Doerner Institut
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