Christine Slottved Kimbriel (Assistant to the Director, Hamilton Kerr Institute, Cambridge)
On the Unorthodox Origin and Byzantine Journey of the Little Hall Madonna
Dr Jose Ramon Marcaida (CRASSH, Genius before Romanticism, Cambridge)
What’s the matter in Velázquez’s art?
Jose Ramon Marcaida. Based on my ongoing research on the culture of ingenuity in the Spanish Golden Age, in this presentation I would like to explore two aspects of Diego Velázquez’s (1599-1660) painting. On the one hand, his interest in the representation of objects, things, particularly the depiction of surfaces, textures, and physical appearances. On the other hand, and more importantly, I would like to examine Velazquez’s engagement with the materiality of his own painting: from preparation techniques and uses of pictorial matter, to Velazquez´s display of painterly brushwork, as in the case of the notorious borrones (splotches).
Following the works of McKim-Smith, Brown and Garrido, and Knox, among others, I am specially interested in revising early modern views on these matters, with the aim of establishing a connection between seventeenth-century perceptions on Velazquez’s pictorial technique and contemporary accounts of his talent and ingenuity.
Christine Slottved Kimbriel. This talk constitutes a joint piece of research undertaken by Christine Slottved Kimbriel and Paul Joannides, Emeritus Professor of Art History. It revolves around an almost 600 year old devotional painting which, today, is living a quiet life in a small collection in Suffolk, far from the place and context within which it was originally created, and even further from the place where it was bought and brought back to England in the early 20th century.
The painting, which at a first glance looks like an Eastern Orthodox icon, was in a fragile state when it arrived at the Hamilton Kerr Institute for Painting Conservation in 2008. During its stay at the Institute, it became clear that not all was as it seemed; there was much more to the object than initially met the eye. Close examination, followed by a technical examination that included x-raying and other forms of analysis, provided further insights into this object’s unusual history. Informed by the analytical results, a better understanding of the original painting as it is likely to have looked when it was first made was pursued through the creation of a partial reconstruction, employing historical methods and traditional materials to emulate the artist’s process.
While the reconstruction helped to illustrate the superior quality and unique features of the original scheme, it also played a part in supporting a tentative reattribution of the work. However, the painting’s composition informed Paul Joannides’ attribution to a different (but associated) artist. This case study thus exemplifies the challenges of seeing through centuries of alterations to unravel the secrets of a compromised object. It at the same time hopes to illustrate how connoisseurship and technical art history in collaboration has offered many new insights into this devotional panel’s colourful history.