The rebirth of a sculpture from the first quarter of the 17th century
Dr Laure CHEVALIER, PhD It is while I was nonchalantly looking at gem jewels through the shop window of a provincial jewelry, that I was struck by the profile of this iconic figure irradiating from the darkness of the inside of the shop…The profile of a face expressing solemnity, grace and softness all at once: that of Saint Anne Trinity, symbolic motif which appeared in the 13th century and progressively propagated throughout Europe. After carrying out the usual enquiry on the traceability of the work, I was able to convince an art lover to purchase it. The challenge was to give its beauty back to this polychrome wood statuary group, whose refined surface effects had disappeared under invasive layers of overpaint, to give new life to the work thanks to an intelligent yet careful restoration and to rehabilitate this major piece thanks to two in-depth technical and scientific studies. I entrusted the restoration and the study of the layers of colour to Juliette Lévy, specialist of polychrome sculpture, in charge of the Sculpture workshop at the restoration department of the Institut national du patrimoine (INP, France), and the study of the iconography to Elodie Jeannest de Gyvès, specialized in the High Renaissance period, formerly in charge of acquisitions of Western Medieval and Byzantine works for the future Louvre museum in Abu Dhabi. The works of Juliette Lévy revealed, in areas where the overpainting was removed, the undeniably sumptuous original polychromy: gold and silver gilding covered with fine red, green or blue glazing….In other words, a coloured treatment which is one of the earliest known examples of baroque polychromy. The reappearance of the gold and silver gilding recreate the play of light on the surface, revealing the remarkable plastic qualities of the work, in particular in the movement and the rendering of the folds. The original polychrome treatment found on the clothes and in the carnations of the face of Saint Anne, also reveal pictorial effects of great subtlety (the original polychromy of the carnations of the Child and of the Virgin have also been preserved under the surface overpaint, but they have not been uncovered). Elodie Jeannest de Gyvès’s study definitely sheds new light on the iconic motif, on the historical context of its creation, on its importance in terms of heritage. She concludes in this way: “This work is exceptional by its state of conservation, the devout message that it transmits and the harmonious synthesis of the different styles sought for by its artist. Preserving the unchanging message transmitted by the gothic tradition, it presents the preciosity of a well-assimilated Mannerist style as well as presenting innovative techniques – virtuosity in the use of polychromy and in the vivid carving of the drapery conveying life to the figures – which define an emerging baroque style. This symbiosis successfully serves the new message advocated by the Catholic Church through the triumphant cult of its saints in the context of the altarpiece. Executed in the first third of the 17th century, this Saint Anne Trinity appears like the rare prototype of a production which will increase and expand in the regions of southern Germany, promoting the iconography of Saint Anne in a definitely baroque style”.
Cf. Below, the complete study of E. Jeannest de Gyvès (FR/EN), excerpts from the report of J. Lévy as well as detailed plates on the polychrome study (publication under way).
Iconographic Analysis (E. Jeannest de Gyvès) FR/ EN
Study of the Saint Anne Trinity Group - Excerpts from the restoration report (J. Lévy) FR /EN