Getty Exhibits Newly Restored Paintings of Adam and Eve

Tuesday, January 16, 2024
Getty Exhibits Newly Restored Paintings of Adam and Eve

Getty and the Norton Simon Museum have announced the completion of a complex, multi-year conservation treatment of the nearly life-size 16th-century wood panel paintings Adam and Eve by leading German Renaissance painter Lucas Cranach the Elder.

The newly restored works will be on view in the North Pavilion at the Getty Center in a special display, Conserving Eden, from January 23 to April 21, 2024, before returning to the Norton Simon Museum.

Getty’s conservation treatment on the two panels addressed several issues that emerged over the nearly 500-year lifespan of the paintings, including alterations to the limewood supports, physical damage, old restorations, and layers of discolored varnish.

“Over recent years, the J. Paul Getty Museum’s conservation departments have been invited to restore a number of supremely important works of art from major museums around the world, especially where Getty has particular experience and expertise,” says Timothy Potts, Maria Hummer-Tuttle and Robert Tuttle Director of the Getty Museum. “This was the case with these two paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder from our sister Angeleno museum, the Norton Simon. The highly successful restoration has brought these rare and beautiful images by one of the most celebrated northern Renaissance painters much closer to their original brilliance and power.”

This pair of paintings from the Norton Simon collections portray a fleeting moment, as Adam and Eve pause on the verge of their transgressive decision to eat the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil that will lead to God casting the pair out of Paradise. Created while serving as court painter to the Electors of Saxony in Wittenberg, Cranach’s Adam and Eve exemplify his distinctive style characterized by expressive, elongated figures against a dark, uniform background. The artist painted the subject of Adam and Eve over 50 times, often depicting Eve boldly gazing directly at the viewer, while Adam typically appears more pensive.

“Adam and Eve are amongst Cranach the Elder’s most captivating portrayals of an Old Testament subject popular at the Wittenberg court,” says Anne Woollett, curator of paintings at the Getty Museum. “We thank the Norton Simon Museum for the exciting opportunity to present these innovative and dramatic images and some of the key findings from the Getty study and conservation project to the public.” Headed by Ulrich Birkmaier, senior conservator of paintings at the Getty Museum, the treatment began with a condition assessment of the panels and a thorough cleaning. He removed thick layers of discolored varnish, as well as old retouchings and fills, which dramatically changed their appearance. In addition to regaining dimensionality, the contrast between the warm skin tone of Adam and Eve’s pale flesh became much clearer. The treatment also provided an unusual opportunity to study the construction of Cranach’s limewood panels and investigate the artist’s technique.

“With the help of our colleagues at the Getty Conservation Institute, we now better understand how Cranach achieved his signature painting style,” says Birkmaier. “Being entrusted to help restore these paintings, which are among Lucas Cranach the Elder’s most impressive compositions, has been a major highlight of my career. For the first time in centuries, we see them much as he intended, which is very special.”

To address structural damage to the paintings, two conservators who specialize in large-scale wooden supports—George Bisacca, conservator emeritus at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and José de la Fuente, conservator of panel paintings at the Museo del Prado in Madrid—carried out a complex structural treatment at Getty.

“It has been an extraordinary privilege to witness the transformation of the Cranach paintings as a result of the work undertaken by Ulrich, George and José. In addition to the improved appearance of the images, the wooden panels themselves are now structurally sound, and we look forward to sharing the magnificent results of this treatment with visitors in Los Angeles and Pasadena in the years ahead,” says Emily Talbot, chief curator at the Norton Simon Museum.

Main Image :The Norton Simon Museum’s nearly fully restored Adam and Eve by Lucas Cranach the Elder in the Getty Museum’s conservation studio. © 2024 J. Paul Getty Trust

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