Jacob Jordaens I, 'Neptune and Amphitrite', Rubens House, Antwerp.

Jordaens Rubens House restored

Jacob Jordaens I, 'Neptunus en Amphitrite', Rubenshuis, Antwerpen. (voor restauratie)

The Rubens House in Antwerp had the monumental work Neptune and Amphitrite by Jacob Jordaens I restored. The restoration lasted for a year, whereby new bits of information came to light. The work once again hangs in the large studio of the Italian wing of the Rubens House. The Flemish wing will be closed temporarily during November for painting. After the painting is completed, the Rubens House is presenting a few notable new acquisitions.

Neptune and Amphitrite belongs to the vast collection of the Rubens House. Neptune, the god of the sea, is to be seen on this painting by Jordaens (1593-1678). To his left is his wife, Amphitrite. On the foreground are a few tritons (mythological figures that are half man, half fish). The painting is signed and dated on the edge of the shell cart: J. Jordaens fecit 16[4?]4 (the penultimate number is not legible).

Restoration was due. The painting was hidden under overpaintings that served to conceal lacunae as well as by a yellowed layer of varnish. The work thus underwent an optical change of colour. The details in the darker portions had become obscured.

The restoration

Marc Leenaerts (restorer in the service of collections' policy for the Musea of the City of Antwerp) worked for one year on the restoration. First, the superficial dirt was removed. Next, the discoloured layer of varnish was taken away. Overall, this yielded a matte appearance entirely with unsaturated colours.

The next step was implementing an isolation varnish. This varnish serves not only to saturate the colours, but also as a barrier between the original work of Jordaens and the interventions of the restorer. In this manner, the additions made by a subsequent restoration can easily be removed without damaging the original.

After the removal of the varnish layer and the overpaintings, the lacunae in the layers of paint became visible. These were filled in by the restorer with a mixture of chalk and adhesive. The fillings are necessary in order to bring the lacunae back to a level surface with the layer of paint. Afterwards, they are retouched.

At the end of the process, the painting received a sealing varnish. By this, the retouches were sealed off and the work took on a special radiance. Through the restoration, the painting gained a great deal of colour. This is primarily seen in the blue cloth of Neptune and the red one of Amphitrite.

Discoveries

-Jordaens did not paint this on a single canvas. There were two pieces fastened together. Painters used the material that they had on hand in their studio.
-Jordaens enlarged the original canvas on both sides. As such, he had to adjust the composition. This becomes clear with a conch-horn blowing triton that came into view after the removal of the varnish. Initially, Jordaens had painted this directly on top, at the height of the horse on the right. After the broadening of the canvas, Jordaens decided to portray the triton lower down. By this, he comes to lay on a diagonal with the two horses and Neptune's trident. This adjustment strengthens the composition.
-The red cloth of Amphitrite was originally larger and draped further down.
-Jordaens painted the work with rationed amounts of paint and quick brush strokes. This is seen, for example, with Neptune's head.

Website Rubens House

(News item November 6 2014)