Lieblingsstücke | Der Heilige Hieronymus von Jacopo Bellini


I’m Maria Zielke, a conservator-restorer, and I’m currently working on a painting in the Gemäldegalerie. Jacopo Bellini’s Saint Jerome is a very special painting for me, This small panel was once part of a larger altarpiece that Jacopo Bellini painted in Venice between 1430 and 1435. We also have two other paintings from this altarpiece in our collection, from its central section. The small panel is from the altarpiece’s lower portion, namely, from the predella. It was probably displayed at eye level and is painted in incredibly fine and rich detail. It’s great when you can see the individual wisps of hair in the saint’s beard, for example, how meticuously they are painted. What especially fascinates me as a conservator-restorer, are naturally the techniques and materials an artist has used. But also how later artists, craftsmen and restorers have modified a painting. So, you have to imagine that Saint Jerome and the other saints portrayed on the predella were painted on a long panel. Then, at a later date, this was cut into pieces to obtain several images of saints that could be sold more easily. Our small panel was pared down further and cradling was mounted on the back. This is a grid construction made of wooden slats meant to prevent the painting from continuing to warp. By the 1970s, however, this thin poplar wood panel was straining so forcefully against the cradling reinforcements that several cracks had formed in the painting. So it was decided at the time to remove the cradling. Back then, the conservator-restorers surely didn’t expect the painting would warp so severely. And it is certainly a very tragic alteration to the work. Nevertheless, it’s extremely impressive how well the painting has managed to deal with this warping ‒ so very elastically. And this, of course, speaks incredibly well for Jacopo Bellini’s techniques and excellent work, which enabled him to create a painting that is so well-preserved after 500 years.

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