MADRID – The white and mystical light that bathes “The Annunciation” fresco by Renaissance master Fra Angelico, unseen until now, has been restored to its former glory thanks to an in-depth process that has revealed the panel’s original luminosity.
The painting, one of the most important works in Madrid’s Prado Museum, had over time split into two segments, lost its vibrant colors and accumulated a layer of dirt that had darkened the painting Angelico created between 1425-1426 for the monastery of San Domenico in Fiesole, near Florence.
For the Prado’s deputy director of conservation, Andres Ubeda, the restoration is nothing short of a miracle.
Almudena Sanchez, one of the Spanish art gallery’s conservators, has spent almost a year restoring the masterpiece in what has been a process that was “exciting from beginning to end,” the expert told reporters Wednesday during the presentation of the refurbished painting.
“The work has recovered its luminosity and mysticism. It is a light that introduces us to the scene and invites us to meditate,” she added.
The most difficult part of the process was removing the layer of dirt built up over the passage of time, which covered the entire image with a grayish veil.
The artwork, which depicts Archangel Gabriel’s Annunciation to Mary, is painted in tempera, with an egg base, which makes it especially fragile, the restorer added.
Once the dirt was removed, the numerous “repaints” that the work had suffered over time were eliminated.
One of the most important processes was removing the coat of paint that had been applied after the panel had split.
Restorers had to repaint several elements, including the angel’s right wing, which had lost its original shape during a previous “restoration” and has now been recovered.
Several traces of gold marked the original shape of the wing, but the feathers – each one a different size – had been lost.
To draw them, a sequence was calculated by studying the remaining feathers and to paint them a “special awl (a small pointed tool usually used for punching holes) was designed,” Sanchez continued.
The public will now be able to enjoy the original hues the Florentine artist embellished the altarpiece with.
The mantle of the virgin now shines with intense shades of ultramarine blue and malachite green, and the garments shine with a splendid shade of red lacquer.
Although what is really overwhelming is the intense golden hue used on the crowns of the main characters and the rays of light piercing the temple.
The restoration process has also revealed unknown details of the work on the characters’ faces: the lashes and lips of the Virgin or Adam’s beard are almost imperceptible to the human eye and reveal Angelico’s expertise as a miniaturist.
“The Annunciation” is an essential masterpiece in order to understand the Renaissance in 15-century Italy.
The panel is divided into three sections: the garden (featuring Adam and Eve), the angel under the first arch of the temple and the virgin under the second arch.
The painting is considered the first Florentine Renaissance style altar in which perspective is used to organize space.
The size of the entire panel, including the “predella” – the platform on which the main panel stands – is 194 x 194 centimeters and is thought to be the third in a series of works Angelico created of the Annunciation.
The newly restored panel will be on view at a forthcoming exhibition that the museum will dedicate to Florentine master and the beginnings of the Florentine Renaissance which opens on May 28.
The restoration has been financed by two private institutions, the American Friends of the Prado Museum and Friends of Florence, which have contributed half of the 150,000 euros that the process has cost.