Before Treatment (photo courtesy of Aneta Zebala)
In late 2011 Mr. and Mrs. Brandon Birtcher donated a portrait of St. John of Capistrano to the Mission. This oil on canvas painting is not signed by the artist but dates to sometime between the late 18th century to the 19th century. It is likely that this work originally had been commissioned from a skilled artist to hang in a private home or chapel in Mexico. At the time of donation the painting was in need of conservation and framing. Painting conservator Aneta Zebala was contracted to restore the painting. The conservation was sponsored by long time friends of the Mission, Warren and Jan Siegel.
Painting Stretched During Conservation Treatment
This painting was for many years hung in a place with less than perfect conditions and as a consequence now suffers from flaking paint layers, large losses particularly along the proper right side, poor conservation treatments and an old termite infestation where both the stretcher bars and the canvas were attacked.
Up close look of the canvas before treatment
Ms. Zebala removed layers of discolored varnish and overpaint. Overpaint was a common technique used in painting conservation in the 19th and early 20th century where conservators would paint over damage, covering the artist original paint.
The painting was then shaved from its original stretcher bars and relined on a new red canvas. Ms. Zebala chose the red canvas because the painting was originally done on a red canvas which was common at the time the work was created. Once relined, the painting was cleaned, stabilized and placed on new stretcher bars. Ms. Zebala then inpainted missing sections of the image to allow the painting to appear much the way the artist had intended.
The painting portrays St. John posed in victory after a battle with Ottoman Empire forces in Belgrade in July of 1456. St. John is often called “the soldier saint” as he was sent by Pope Callistus III to help rally troops into battle against the forces of the Ottoman Empire even though he was near the age of 70 at the time. John survived the battle but passed away from illness a short time later in Hungary in October 1456. The Spanish text in the painting, common in Mexican “casta” paintings of the 18th and 19th century describes the victory of the Belgrade battle.
Upon completion of conservation, the staff of the Mission plan to frame this important work of art and add it to the exhibition “Mission Treasures: Historic Collection Revealed”.
Jennifer Ring, Museum Registrar
Mission San Juan Capistrano