Digital Color Reconstruction of the Chiarito Tabernacle

A major goal of this project was to utilize better preserved works of art to inform our understanding and conservation of the original appearance of works on panel that have changed over time.

The Chiarito Tabernacle exhibits both fading of organic colorants and an apparent darkening of the azurite backgrounds, which now appear almost black. In order to provide an informed visualization of the object's original appearance, several color fields of the painting were digitally revitalized, using information gathered during the project.

The darkened blue background was found to be materially related to the bright blue background of an illumination in the Laudario of Sant'Agnese, and reflectance spectrophotometry of the latter was used to determine the correct color to which the darker painting background should be adjusted.
Similarly, the arsenic-containing figures' robes in the Chiarito Tabernacle were altered to more closely match an arsenic-containing dark orange in the Tucson Tabernacle and a modern paint-out of orpiment (As2S3), and pink robes were adjusted to more closely mirror representative organic red colorants in two early Italian paintings in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Bernardo Daddi's The Virgin Mary with Saints Thomas Aquinas and Paul (93.PB.16) and the Master of Saint Cecilia's The Virgin and Child (2000.35).

Though ultimately an estimation of the painting's original appearance, the digital color reconstruction provides a clear indication of how a painting's appearance can change over time and how the current state of conservation of such a painting may influence the ways scholars approach and understand the work of art.
December 2012