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The Altarpiece of the Dominicans

Restoration of the Altarpiece of the Dominicans


Martin Schongauer, an artist famous for his engravings, created the Altarpiece of the Dominicans for the high altar of the Dominican church in Colmar, his native city. The sixteen painted panels housed in the main corpus of the altarpiece (eight panels painted on only one side) and in its wings (eight panels painted on front and back) are all that remains of this work today. The altarpiece was most likely disassembled in the 18th century and its elements were dispersed during the French Revolution.

 

Since 2006, two art restorers, Carole Juillet and Florence Meyerfeld, both of whom are specialists in the restoration of wooden painted panels from the late Middle Ages, have been working on returning the altarpiece to its original state.

 

In the initial phase of their work, they discovered a solvent able to remove the numerous layers of darkened, yellowed varnish that had hindered the appreciation of this work, particularly the richness of its colours. Their vivid yet subtle qualities testify to Schongauer’s technical skills and unique talents as a painter (presence of applied brocades made of paper).

 

Thanks to the considerable efforts of these restorers, all twenty-four panels are close to revealing some of the mysteries of their original presentation, through the discovery of sculpted and gilt ornaments between the panels. The destruction of this framing structure in the 18th century explains the mutilation of the panels, which have lost more than ten centimetres in their upper portions.

 

In order to obtain further information concerning the altarpiece, at the same time the painted panels are being examined and analysed by researchers at the Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musées de France (C2RMF) using a number of state-of-the-art techniques: infrared photography, radiography, pigment analysis, etc. Their findings will be decisive in determining the next steps in the restoration work, helping to understand the original structure of the altarpiece and identify the various artists involved in the creation of this monumental work.

 

La restauration du retable des Dominicains est réalisée avec le soutien de la Fondation BNP Paribas.

The Altarpiece of the Dominicans
 

Restoration of the panel representing The Flagellation of

Christ from the Altarpiece of the Dominicans, 2009.