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The Christ of Saint Gregory

The Christ of Saint Gregory by Nicolas Froment

School of Provence, The Christ of Saint Gregory, 1480-90, painting on panel,
Museum purchase, 1938.80

By Philip Klausmeyer, PhD, Conservation Scientist and Paintings Conservator, Worcester Art Museum

The Museum’s conservation department recently completed a major restoration of The Christ of Saint Gregory, a late 15th-century gilded panel painting previously attributed to Nicolas Froment (1435-1486), but presently listed as School of Provence. This rare work depicts the vision Saint Gregory is said to have had in which Christ appeared bearing the wounds of his crucifixion above the altar where the saint was saying mass. Such depictions of the saint’s vision were sometimes used as the central panel in larger altarpieces. More narrative depictions showing the saint saying mass with the vision appearing before him are also known. Stylistically, the painting exemplifies the ‘international style’ practiced at the time in various parts of Europe and characterized by a blend of different regional influences. In the case of The Christ of Saint Gregory, a number of different influences are apparent, particularly Flemish and Spanish.

The recent conservation treatment of the panel painting took several years to complete and was complicated by a variety of factors, not least of which were two previous restoration attempts: one conducted prior to the painting’s acquisition in 1938 and another conducted immediately thereafter, before the Museum established its own conservation department. These earlier treatments used materials and techniques that fell far short of today’s conservation standards and resulted in an uneven, damaged appearance that detracted from the visual integrity of the painting and left viewers with an inaccurate perception of the artist’s original intent.

Although the recent conservation treatment evolved over several different stages, these stages shared the common goal of stabilizing the painting and returning its appearance to a faithful reflection of its former glory. Centuries of discolored coating material and accumulated grime that obscured the painting were carefully removed, as well as a variety of discolored paint and restoration material that had been applied to areas of damage. In some cases, the previous discolored restoration materials covered original paint or gilding; this was especially so in the gilded background. When the discolored restoration materials were removed, the original colors and tonal range of the paints could be better appreciated and an accurate assessment of the extensive damage in the gilded background was possible. In areas where complete loss of original paint and surface preparation layers had occurred, reversible fill material was used to restore the losses to the proper level. Losses were later inpainted with conservation-grade material to visually integrate them with the surrounding original. In cases where large areas of complete loss had occurred to the layered structure of the gilded background, traditional gilding and punchwork techniques were used to integrate the areas with what remained of the adjoining original gilded surface.

With the restoration of the painting complete, the painting is now on prominent display in the Museum for all to enjoy. It is hoped that the conservation treatment and the painting’s long-awaited return to the Museum galleries will help generate a renewed interest in the painting and lead to an increased knowledge of this rare and beautiful work.