National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of The Death of Saint Clare Master of Heiligenkreuz (artist)
Austrian, active early 15th century
The Death of Saint Clare, c. 1400/1410
oil on panel
painted surface: 66.3 x 54 cm (26 1/8 x 21 1/4 in.) support: 67.5 x 55.3 cm (26 9/16 x 21 3/4 in.) framed: 85.7 x 74.3 x 5.7 cm (33 3/4 x 29 1/4 x 2 1/4 in.)
Samuel H. Kress Collection
On View
From the Tour: 15th and Early 16th-Century Germany
Object 1 of 8

Conservation Notes

The support appears to consist of a three-member panel of fir with vertically oriented grain.[1] Direct examination was not possible because the edges of the panel have been enclosed with 0.5 cm thick strips of mahogany and a wooden cradle has been attached to the reverse.[2] On the reverse of the panel is a moderately thick layer of wax.

The major design elements of the composition, including the outlines of the figures, the primary drapery folds, major architectural motifs, and numerous details, are incised into the smooth white ground layer that is estimated to be somewhat thickly applied. Sheets of gold leaf have been applied, over a layer of thin, fluid red bole, to the upper background, the halos of the standing saints, and the angels under the canopy at the right. A great variety of punches in a wide range of sizes has been used to create in the gold leaf elaborate designs and figures of angels. Examination with infrared reflectography did not reveal underdrawing.

Examination of the technically congruent pendant, The Death of the Virgin, in the Cleveland Museum of Art provided important information about the probable original state of the National Gallery's picture.[3] The Cleveland panel is 1.3 cm thick, and the reverse covered with what appears to be an original layer of white ground; the panel has not been thinned or cradled. One can assume that the Washington panel, presently 1 cm thick, was in a similar state before cradling. In the Cleveland panel a fairly coarse and loosely woven plain-weave fabric is observable between the support and the overlying ground and paint layers. This helps to confirm the use of a fabric interlayer in the Washington painting, which is suggested by the weave pattern visible in the x-radiograph. The metal content pigments of both paintings were analyzed with x-ray fluorescence, and the results for the paintings were very similar.

The National Gallery's painting is structurally secure and is in very good condition. Small pinpoint losses are scattered throughout, and some of the paint surfaces are minutely abraded. Larger retouched areas of abrasion are located in paint next to the gilt areas of the canopy, along the left profile edge of the standing Virgin next to Saint Clare, and in the bottom of Christ's red robe. The gilt stars on Clare's bed are badly worn.

[1] The identification of the wood as fir (sp. Abies) was made by the National Gallery's scientific research department.
[2] An x-radiograph made prior to cradling is in the National Gallery's conservation department.
[3] The examination was conducted 7-8 April 1988 by the author and by Paula DeCristofaro, formerly associate conservator for the Systematic Catalogue, with Bruce F. Miller, conservator of paintings at the Cleveland Museum of Art. I am most grateful to Mr. Miller and his staff for their assistance in making the painting available to us.

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