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Masaccio (1401 – 1428)
The Madonna of Humility
c. 1423/1424, tempera on wood, Andrew W. Mellon Collection, 1937.1.7

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After 1927 treatment. Photograph: unknown,
between 1927 and 1929, silver gelatin print (cropped)

 

 

 

The Madonna of Humility is heavily damaged and has been repeatedly reconstructed. This photograph was taken after a 1927 treatment during which the restorer invented lower bodies for the angels, added toes to the Christ child’s right foot and repainted all the faces and draperies. Note also the large crack in the panel through the head of the child.

7and8

left: After Helfer treatment. Photograph: unknown, before November 1929 (when published by Berenson), silver gelatin print, Richard Offner Collection
right: After Suhr treatment. Photograph: Murray K. Keyes, after 1936, silver gelatin print

In 1929 Joseph Duveen hired a Paris conservator, Madame Helfer, to restore the painting, as seen at the left. She removed the angels’ skirts and inpainted the vertical splits apparent in the earlier photograph. Between 1934 and 1936 the painting, shown on the right, was restored by William Suhr, who reconstructed the faces and draperies, removed the toes on the Child’s right foot and shortened the wings of the angels.

9and10

Comparison of the Madonna and Child’s heads in 1929 (left) and 1936 (right).

11and12

Comparison of the Child’s toes and the hand of the Virgin in 1929 (left) and 1936 (right).

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Current state. Photograph: National Gallery of Art, 2015

 

This photograph shows the painting after it was cleaned in 1997 by National Gallery of Art conservator David Bull, who removed the elaborate changes and additions. Enough of the original remains, however, to observe “a strongly modeled image of striking volumetric power and monumentality”—a hallmark of Masaccio’s work.