Guercino’s Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph has been on loan to the J. Paul Getty Museum from the National Gallery of Ireland for just over a year while it receives comprehensive conservation treatment in the Paintings Conservation Studio. Part of that process includes cleaning its frame.

Our objective at the Getty Museum for conserving the frames of paintings is to achieve a sense of cohesion between the painting and its frame. Ideally, both are from the same period and the same region, and exhibit the same style.

The frame in which Jacob Blessing currently hangs is not its original: we believe it to date from the nineteenth century. But, it’s an Italianate frame, so it’s a match to the Guercino somewhat in style. We decided to clean it so that it not distract the eye from the cleaning and restoration work Getty Museum conservators Devi Ormond and Yvonne Szafran and National Gallery of Ireland conservator Simone Mancini have done on the painting.

Two images of frames with smudges and smears in the dirty patina on the gold leaf frame.

Fingerprints and smudges in the patina are visible on the surface of the frame.

The frame is in good condition, though the surface was quite dirty: fingerprints and smudges were apparent in the dark-brown-colored patina, which tells us at some point someone with damp hands handled the frame and removed some of that patina. This damage made the frame look grubby and were visually disturbing.

After careful deliberation and discussion with Simone Mancini, the head of conservation at the National Gallery of Ireland, we decided to remove the old patina from the frame to prevent the damage from disturbing the eye when looking at Jacob Blessing.

Using the Modular Cleaning System Program, which is a database and cleaning approach that suggests solutions for cleaning works of art but has other applications, and working with Getty conservators Sue Ann Chui and Devi Ormond, we tested possible cleaning solutions that would remove the disturbed brown patina without damaging the underlying gilding.

The image contains a platter with various cleaning solutions, paper towels, brushes and swabs.

Gene’s tools and solutions for cleaning the frame.

I gently applied the chosen cleaning solution to the surface of the frame using handmade small cotton swabs. I used soft brushes to remove dirt on the areas with decorative molding. Using both these methods, the patina was successfully removed.

At left is an image of a gentleman's hand cleaning the surface of the frame with a swab. At right is an image of the same gentleman's hand cleaning the molding of the frame with a swab.

Left: Cleaning the surface of the frame with a swab. Right: Cleaning the molding of the frame.

The image contains a section of the frame that demonstrates the stark difference between its appearance when cleaned and dirty.

A section of the frame, mid-cleaning.

The treatment of the frame is ongoing. A new patina or tinted varnish will be applied to the gold surface after we’ve consulted with Simone, as the cleaned gold of the frame is very bright and would distract the eye from the painting.

The image contains the frame on a wooden stand, freshly cleaned.

The frame with most of its old patina removed.

After the frame is finished, it will be carefully reattached to Jacob Blessing before it is displayed temporarily at the Getty Center before it returns to the National Gallery of Ireland. Look for the final product in a future post.

This post is part of the series New Life for an Old Master, following the research and conservation of Guercino’s Jacob Blessing the Sons of Joseph by the Getty Museum and National Gallery of Ireland.
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