This restored painting by Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678) has returned to its usual place in the Large Studio in the Italian wing. The painting depicts Neptune, the god of the sea. His wife Amphitrite stands to his left. In the foreground we can make out several tritons (these are mythological figures that are half fish, half man). The painting is signed and dated on the edge of the shell chariot: J. Jordaens fecit 16[4?]4 (the penultimate number is difficult to make out).
This monumental work urgently needed restoring. It had already been overpainted several times to conceal losses. Moreover the varnish had become yellowed. As a result of the discoloration, details in the dark areas had become invisible and the original colours looked less crisp.
The restoration process
Marc Leenaerts works for the collection policy service of the Museums of the City of Antwerp and restores paintings. He spent a year restoring this Jordaens. He started by removing the superficial grime, after which he tackled the discoloured varnish.
The next step was to apply an insulating varnish. This saturates the colours and creates a barrier between Jordaens's original work and the restorer's interventions. Any additions during a subsequent restoration can thus be easily removed without damaging the original painting.
Level the losses
After removing the layer of varnish and the overpaintings, the losses in the paint layers come to light. The restorer then fills these with a mixture of gesso and glue. This is necessary to level the losses again with the paint layer. Then he retouches them.
Finally, he applies a final varnish layer to the painting. This seals the retouched sections and adds a lovely lustre to the canvas. The colour of the painting was only enhanced thanks to the restoration, a fact which is especially apparent in Neptune's blue cloth and Amphitrite's red cloth.
Discoveries during the restoration
Jacob Jordaens's restoration of "Neptune and Amphitrite" restored the original painting, as well as bringing a number of interesting secrets to light.
- Jordaens did not paint this work on one large canvas. Instead he joined two canvases together. This shows that painters tended to use the material that was laying around in their studio.
- Jordaens also decided to extend the canvas on either side while painting it, forcing him to adapt his composition. Take a closer look at the triton blowing on conch shell, for example. He only came to light after the layer of varnish had been removed. Originally Jordaens painted the triton in an upright position, near the horse to the right. After widening the canvas, Jordaens wanted to move down the triton. It thus is positioned on a diagonal with the two horses and with Neptune's trident. A smart intervention which only enhanced the composition.
- Originally Amphitrite's red cloth was larger, and also extended downwards.
- Jordaens painted this work with very little paint and rapid brush strokes, a fact that is apparent when you look closely at Neptune's head.