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Neglected Caravaggio Painting Is Restored To Former Glory

Neglected Caravaggio Painting Is Restored To Former Glory

One of Caravaggio’s least loved paintings has been restored to its original glorious state after being long neglected. The Times reports that the work, titled David With the Head of Goliath, has been restored by experts from the Prado Museum in Madrid. The remarkable transformation has helped to show the painting in a new light. 

The work revealed a section of light around David’s head that had previously been obscured, that has created a halo like effect and added depth and context to the image. The balance of light and dark in the painting, known as ‘chiaroscuro’ has been restored to the original effect intended by the artist.

Chiaroscuro is an Italian term that literally means ‘light and dark’. It is a technique frequently deployed by Renaissance artists such as Leonardo da Vinci and Caravaggio to create three-dimensional and lifelike figures with a strong visual and emotional impact. The bold contrasts of tone and colour can help to bring the immediacy and drama of a scene to life.

The effect of the patterns of light and shade are an important element of any realistic style painting, but it can either be a technique that is central to the whole image and immediately hits the eye, or it can be more subtle. It is most often seen in oil paintings or charcoal drawings combined with gouache. 

Caravaggio was particularly noted for his  deployment of the technique, and he favoured scenes full of dramatic tension such as the recently restored painting of David and the slain Goliath. 

Almudena Sánchez, who was in charge of the restoration, said: “This restoration shows us a new Caravaggio, giving us an image of the painting that was hitherto unknown, the authentic image of this great masterpiece that after so much time in the shadows, recovers the light with which it was conceived.”

She added: “We hope the restoration will rehabilitate the work’s standing as it has a completely novel iconographic idea which breaks with the previous traditional representation of David and Goliath. It offers a natural, clear and modern approach to the biblical theme.” 

A radiographic study found two very serious areas of damage. Sánchez said: “They must have occurred accidentally. The biggest one is on the sleeve of David’s shirt and the other on his knee, continuing along Goliath’s shoulder. Both were mended in very old restorations that affected the original paint.”

Carrivaggio’s own life matched the dramatic nature of his subject matter. He was described as temperamental, arrogant, and argumentative, frequently getting into fights and scrapes. In 1606, this caused him to stab a man who later died from his wound. The artist fled Rome for Malta until he was eventually pardoned, only to die a short time later aged just 38.

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