Study of Works on Panel

Chiarito Tabernacle
The Chiarito Tabernacle is a complex triptych by Pacino di Bonaguida in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum that displays several narrative scenes from the lives of Christ and of the Blessed Chiarito del Voglia, a Florentine holy man. The tabernacle is painted on panel but contains narrative scenes similar in size to those in illuminated manuscripts, and in an order that allows the panel to be read like a manuscript. The similar scale to an illuminated manuscript allowed for a comparative, in-depth study of Pacino's work in these two media. Major goals of the analysis were to better understand the painting practice used in Pacino's panel paintings and to compare these techniques/materials to those he used when working on parchment.
The noninvasive technique, X-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectroscopy, provided a measure of the chemical elements used in a number of areas of the panel. In addition to XRF, several small cross section samples were taken from the painting and analyzed by examination under visible white light, ultraviolet light, and by scanning electron microscopy to gain a deeper understanding of the materials present on the panel and the order in which they were applied. This in-depth study of the Chiarito Tabernacle helped establish Pacino's pigment palette for painting on panel. This palette, consisting of common fourteenth-century pigments, shared some commonalities with Pacino's illumination palette, including pigments such as vermilion and azurite. However, additional pigments were also identified, such as copper green and an arsenic-based pigment, orpiment, which had not been identified on the manuscripts. Also notable were the differences in the current appearance of pigments that appear in both media (see digital color reconstruction).

The Ponce Crucifix and Tucson Tabernacle

To enlarge the study of Pacino's panel paintings, two paintings brought to the Getty Museum for conservation treatment were made available for in-depth analytical examination: a crucifix (collection of the Museo de Arte de Ponce) and a tabernacle with Scenes from the Life of Christ (gift of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation to the University of Arizona Museum of Art, Tucson). These two paintings capture the diversity in scale of Pacino's works on panel. The Tucson tabernacle displays sixteen scenes from the life of Christ, each scene only about four inches tall, on either side of a depiction of the crucifixion. The Ponce Crucifix, by contrast, is over fifty inches tall, depicting a nearly life-size body of Christ. Both works were examined with X-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectroscopy, and analysis of several cross section samples was conducted under visible white light, ultraviolet light, and by scanning electron microscopy. Though vastly different in scale, the analysis indicated that in important ways, Pacino painted these two works in similar fashion. For example, both paintings contain a blue background composed of the copper-containing mineral pigment azurite, and in all instances examined (the blue cross between Christ's legs in the Ponce Crucifix, and a figure's blue robe and the darkened blue background behind the crucifixion scene in the Tucson tabernacle), the azurite is under painted with a gray layer containing lead white and carbon black.
Works on Panel in Other Collections
To continue to expand the scope of the study, additional panel paintings by Pacino and his collaborators were identified for examination. These included, importantly, the only known panel to bear Pacino's name, a polyptych with The Crucifixion and Saints Nicholas, Bartholomew, Florentius, and Luke and the painting for which Pacino is perhaps best known, the monumental Tree of Life (both in the collection of the Galleria dell'Accademia, Florence). Also included in the study was the defining painting of Pacino's collaborator on the Laudario of Sant'Agnese, the Master of the Dominican Effigies, Christ and the Virgin Enthroned, Attended by Seventeen Dominican Saints (in the collection of the Museo e Chiostri Monumentali di Santa Maria Novella, Florence).
Examination of these paintings, along with others in various collections in Florence, including the Fondazione di Studi di Storia dell'Arte Roberto Longhi, the Museo e Chiostri Monumentali di Santa Maria Novella, and the Galleria dell'Accademia, was performed using X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy and infrared reflectography in collaboration with J. Paul Getty Museum conservators. These techniques were supplemented by reflectance spectrophotometry— a portable noninvasive technique that measures the reflectance at each wavelength over the visible portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. This technique allows the overall color of an area to be precisely measured, which could be compared to a similar color region on objects for which a more complete analytical data set was available. Important findings from these analyses included the use of arsenic-containing pigments on several of Pacino's paintings, a pigment he appears not to have used in his manuscript illuminations, and the discovery of a black background, rather than a darkened blue background, on the Fondazione Longhi's The Crucifixion.
Page updated: December 2012