To clean or not to clean?

January 6 2012

Image of To clean or not to clean?

Picture: Louvre

Here's a belated notice about the row in France over the cleaning of Leonardo's Virgin and Child with St Anne [Louvre]. I hadn't commented on it till now largely because there seem to be few tangible facts - and certainly no images of the cleaned work. But essentially it seems someone has resigned from the Louvre's conservation board in a huff, saying the picture has been over-cleaned. Predictably, it is all the fault of Les Anglais. From The Guardian:

The Louvre source said that Keith and Syson [of the National Gallery, London] were particularly keen on this restoration: "The English were very pushing, saying they know Leonardo is extremely delicate but 'we can move without any danger to the work'. There was a row a year ago about solvents because they said they were safe and Bergeon Langle said they're not safe. It took a long time before the committee really had explanations on the chemicals used on the picture. Details were asked for [by the critics on the committee], but didn't come for months …

"There are people who are very much for bright hues and strong cleaning. Those people are in charge."

For what it's worth, Leonardo was quite keen on bright hues too. Anyway, we can make no judgement till we see the cleaned work. In the meantime, feast your eyes on this super high-resolution image of the picture before cleaning, to which I was alerted by the ever-invaluable Three Pipe Problem. He has even spotted what appear to be a couple of finger-prints in the top left of the painting. Are they Leonardo's? Who knows - but it'll be interesting to see if they are still there in the cleaned painting...

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