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The restoration

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In 2006 Dr. Griet Steyaert commenced the restoration of the triptych of The Seven Sacraments by Rogier van der Weyden. It was the start of a captivating restoration project that would take three years to complete.

The main problems at the start of the restoration

  • The paint layer was lifting in a number of places and some pieces of the paint were in danger of being lost.
  • The original paint layer was obscured by a thick layer of aged varnish, over-painted areas and old discoloured retouching. These layers, none of which were original, had formed a dull filter over the triptych's surface and also prevented penetration of the glue necessary to secure the paint layer.

What does the work involve?

  • Before and during the restoration process, the painting was subjected to a detailed examination with the naked eye and by stereomicroscopy, X-radiography, ultraviolet fluorescence and infrared. This way, the restorer was able to document and record every step of the treatment.
  • During the treatment, to the extent possible and desirable, the restorer removed the additional layers. She used carefully selected solvents and sometimes proceeded mechanically, with a scalpel under a stereomicroscope. Little by little, the original artistic quality of the painting reappeared, as did the subtle nuances in the architecture.
  • After cleaning and consolidation, the restorer applied a new varnish layer to saturate the colours.
  • Subsequently she meticulously retouched the lacunae and abrasions with stable pigments in a synthetic binding medium.
  • The oak supports were also treated. A few cracks in the panels needed reglueing. Furthermore, the battens of the cradling, which was applied to the back of the side panels in the 19th century, had to be unblocked so that they would not constrain the expansion and contraction of the wood.
  • Finally, a new frame was made for the triptych, as the 19th-century frame was deemed disproportionately heavy. Moreover, it was ill-adapted to the warped middle panel. The new frame gives the viewer some idea of what the original may have looked like.

Little by little, the original richness of colour reappeared, as did the subtle nuances in the architecture of the composition. Furthermore, we can now see that the choir was originally executed in yellowish grey tones, while the nave was painted in bluish grey hues. Some fine details, such as a pin in one of the headscarves, also re-emerged.

Special thanks to

Thanks to the generous support of the King Baudouin Foundation, the Inbev-Baillet Latour Fund and SD Worx the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp could restore one of its showpieces.

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