The exciting project of the group portrait ‘De officieren van het Oranjevendel verlaten het stadhuis aan de Groenmarkt, 1616’ from the Haags Historisch Museum is still keeping us busy at Studio Redivivus. The group portrait depicts 25 men from the Oranje Vendel van de Sint-Sebastiaansschutterij. The painting includes a self portrait of Van Ravesteyn, who himself was a member of the group.
The most unusual feature of this large scale panel painting (203 x 180 cm) is an insert in the upper half of the painting that protrudes from the painting but seems to be original. It appears to be made of the same, good quality oak wood as the rest of the painting and shows original paint. However, the wood grain on the insert is horizontal, while the rest of the panel has a vertical grain. As wood is hygroscopic and will move due to fluctuations in humidity, this results in warping of panels. In this case the panel and the insert warped in opposite directions, causing pressure to both. This pressure has caused the insert to bulge from the painting, as well as causing splits in the panel around the insert.
Together with Jean Albert Glatigny, a specialist in structural treatments of panel paintings, we are working to improve the appearance of the insert. After surface cleaning, varnish removal, overpaint removal and consolidation of the whole painting, the insert has been taken out in order to eliminate the warping and put it back in position, where it is better aligned with the rest of the painting.
However, we still do not understand why the insert was there in the first place. The position of the insert cuts through two of the sitters’ heads, including the artist’s and stands out to any viewer. We have ruled out the idea that there was a knot ín the wood, due to the very high quality of the wood used. Could the answer be due to some quirk in the interior? Could access have been required through this specific spot? The insert can only be removed from the reverse, so it would be tricky to remove it once the painting is hung. We still have many questions!
As the restoration continues, we will update you soon!