Replica 1: Early Italian Renaissance Wood Panel
[All images can be enlarged if you click on them]
This is the first of four replica posts. It’s standard practice for art conservation students to create replicas in order to better understand how artists and workshops created art in the past. These replicas courses focus on the materials and materials used in various regions and time periods.
Early Italian Renaissance Wood Panel:
In Italy, often panels were made from poplar. However, we did not have poplar available, so we used compressed particle board. First we sanded the board, and glued muslin fabric to the board with rabbit skin glue. I’ve left a corner uncovered.
Then we had to add gesso grosso (fat gesso) with a spatula knife. Gesso acts as a ground layer.
Next we had to do MANY layers of gesso sottile. This is a silky, very smooth gesso. Below are the sottile cakes soaking in water.
Once they have absorbed water and softened, the cakes are ground to a nice paste.
Gesso sottile has to be brushed on layer by layer, in alternating directions, and each layer needs to dry almost completely before the next can be applied. It took us about 12 layers. There was something wrong with sottile, and tiny air bubbles formed. Luckily we were able to sand these away later.
To smooth the surface, we used square metal plates and scrapped them across, removing thin layers of gesso. Then we used fine grade sandpaper for finishing touches. After sanding was complete and the surface was perfectly smooth, we began our drawings. This was done by first copying from our masterpiece and transferring it onto the board with graphite. Ink and brush were used to strengthen the lines. (Ignore the beige marks for now)
The next step was to build up any dimensional parts but using a very thick gesso and laying it on with a brush.
Bole is then added to any areas where we want to have gold leaf. Bole is a clay based liquid that provides a cushioning layer for burnished the gold.
We used real gold leaf for our gilding. Gold leaf can flutter away with the smallest movements of air. It sticks to oils, so we picked it up and placed it down with a very soft brush. If the brush wasn’t picking up the gold, we would gently rub the brush on our skin so that it had a bit of extra oil. We would wet the bole with a very small amount of water, place the gold, and then after a minute, we gently pat the piece down with clean cotton.
Here’s an image of it all gilded, pre-burnishing:
And here we have it post-burnishing and with green skin. Burnishing is the process making the gold shiny by applying pressure with an agite stone. The bole was put underneath to cushion the pressure so that the gold does not tear. The green skin is the first layer for flesh tones. Green was traditionally used as an under-color to create the proper tone later.
And now we paint! This painting uses egg yolks as the binding agent. We ground pigment in water and then added the yolk as we needed the paint. Flesh tones are done by first adding shadowy areas.
Then the lighter colors: (Zombie baby Jesus!)
Here is the replica with most of the flesh tones finished, and some fabrics painted. I also added some paint to the gilding for sgraffito. This is a subtractive art, where paint is laid down and then a pattern is scratched into the paint to create a pattern. I opted to leave mine whole.
Here’s another one with more fabric painted. On the far right you can see some color swatches I made of the paints I tried.
After stamping the gold with metal tools to decorate the halos, here is the final piece!:
I call it “Madonna of the Double Chin, Baby Jesus of the 6-Pack, and the Sky Amoebae”.
My mother calls it “Whistlin’ Jesus”.