Conservation Required – The Passion Altarpiece

The 6 painted wings of the 15th century Flemish Altarpiece by the Master of the View of Sainte Gudule are in a remarkable state of preservation given their age. Considering they were made some 600 years ago they retain most of their original paint and intensity of colour. However, they are on oak panels which expand and contract as the humidity changes around them, causing some flaking of the paint. So while Rupert McBain will be restoring and conserving the carved elements of the altarpiece (if we are successful in reaching our crowdfunding target as part of Art Happens), I will be conserving the flaking paint that has developed over the last few years. Several small areas are quite severe (see below) and will have to be treated soon. There is evidence of older repairs where the panel has suffered some damage in the past.

It will be interesting to do a full technical examination, and to understand the techniques of the artist and the materials used. There appear to be areas of underdrawing (see hands of the figure below),  which have not been completed. Why this is so is a matter for speculation at present.

I’m really looking forward to getting the panels into the studio to give them a close examination, though some of the characters look pretty intimidating!


Area of flaking paint on the arm of the guard
Area of flaking paint on the arm of the guard


Detail of flaking paint
Detail of flaking paint


By Jon Old, Conservation Manager

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