Restoring a Masterwork II: Guercino's Erminia and the Shepherds
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Painting and Engraving

Condition Report

The Midwest Art Conservation Center
2400 Third Ave South
Minneapolis, MN 55404


Owner: Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Address: 2400 Third Avenue, South
Minneapolis, Minnesota ;55404

Project No.: 00.1013.036
Artist: Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri)
Title: Erminia and the Shepherds, 1649
Medium: oil on canvas MIA Acc. No: 62.12
Dimensions: H 94" W 113"


Construction: The painting is executed on a piece of medium-heavy weight, plain weave canvas, probably linen fiber. There is a seam in the canvas at the right edge: the seam connects a 3" strip of canvas that runs the entire height of the painting. The canvas is lined overall to a much more finely woven, plain weave fabric with an aqueous glue/paste adhesive. It is possible that there is more than one glue/paste lining present on the painting. The lined painting is attached with tacks to a nine member, soft wood replacement stretcher of mortise and tenon construction. Stretcher members are 4" wide. Tacking edges have been trimmed from the painting.

Condition: The stretcher appears to be in very good condition and is more than adequate to support a canvas of this size and weight. All stretcher keys are intact.

The treatment file contains a notation that the painting was relined, cleaned and restored in 1960-61, prior to the museum acquired the work in 1962.

The canvas and lining are in fairly poor condition. The lining adhesive is aged and brittle, however, there are no obvious areas of delamination or separation of lining from canvas. Tension on the canvas is fairly poor and the canvas/lining is stiff. There are bulges and ripples in the canvas, most noticeable in the upper half of the painting. Lining canvas tacking edges are intact, however, the top edge is degraded and worn.

There are numerous tears and holes in the canvas. From viewing distance, the most noticeable is the large compound, branched tear, 22" X 16", located on the figure of the shepherd at vertical center. The compound tear runs through the figure's proper right arm, leg and lap, and below into the foreground. There is a significant deformation at the horizontal portion of the tear at the figure's proper right arm. The area, 20" long, is dished in the concave direction and is accompanied by ridges at the top and bottom. This area may correspond to a post-lining repair, perhaps a patch on the reverse of the canvas and under the lining. There is also a concave deformation associated with an area of cupping located at the shepherd's proper left shoulder/arm.

A 3" X 9" area near the lower right corner just right of the sheep's proper right ear appears to be heavily filled and overpainted, suggesting damage to the canvas. There is a 14" long vertical tear 34" from the left edge and 6" from the bottom edge. In the sky, there is a 5" X 10" compound tear above the largest tree; a large hole/tear 5 1/2" from the top edge and 32" from the left edge; and a small 2" long tear above Erminia's head.

On the figure of Erminia, there is a 6" long compound tear on the figure's neck and breast; a 3 1/4" crescent-shaped tear right of her waist; a 1" tear at the belt buckle; a 3" tear at the left edge of her neck; a 2" X 2" compound tear at her sword hilt; a 6" X 10" compound tear in her purple robe, 12" from the center left edge; and a 2" X 2 1/2" compound tear in the cloth above her proper right knee.

Along the left edge, there are two tears. An 8" long compound tear is located 34" from the lower left corner, and 20" below the top left corner is a 7" long tear. A 5" long tear is located at the right edge center. A 9 1/2" tear is located 12" below the top right corner.

On the figure of the boy in a blue robe at the right, there is a 5" X 3 1/2" compound tear on the figure's neck and face. The 5" X 7" compound tear in the figure's hair may be connected to the tear below.

At the center of the composition on the small hill, there is a 2" long tear. At the upper right, there is a 5" X 3 1/2" compound tear and a large, 2" X 3" hole 10" from the top edge and 34" from the right edge.

There may be additional small holes, punctures, or tears not readily visible during this examination.


Construction: The canvas is primed with what appears to be a fairly thick layer of ground, light red-brown in color. Passages painted in earth tones appear to be applied over a layer of underpainting or imprimatura. The design layer is characteristic of an oil bound medium and has been applied in medium thickness with some areas of very low texture, impasto, and brush marks.

Condition: The paint and ground layers appear to be well-adhered to the canvas. There is no evidence of active insecurity such as cleaving, tenting, flaking, or associated loss.

The paint and ground layers are damaged at all tear, hole, and puncture sites. The damaged areas are heavily filled and broadly overpainted, and it is very difficult to determine the extent of loss without removing the restoration.

There are areas of considerable wear and abrasion present, especially in thinly painted or dark brown passages. The small flock of sheep at center, for example, is damaged from overcleaning with little detail or definition remaining. Some dark passages, such as the foreground, trees, and the rock and pelt on which the old shepherd sits, are nearly unreadable and have, perhaps, been only partially cleaned in earlier restorations.

Overall, the surface displays an overall, mild weave impression typical of that formed during an aqueous glue/paste lining procedure utilizing high heat, moisture, and pressure. In areas of moderate paint texture, the low impasto is slightly flattened and moated, also a result of the lining technique. Moating is most visible on the highlights of Erminia's breast plate and armor and the tree at the upper left corner.


Construction and Condition: The painting is surfaced with an extremely thick layer of a natural resin varnish, typical of dammar or mastic. The varnish is badly discolored to an amber-yellow. It appears that there may be residues of earlier varnish and embedded dirt and grime beneath the present varnish layer.

There are numerous, matte streaks in the varnish that appear to be water or moisture drips which extend from the top left edge through Erminia's right proper arm to her lower white robe.

The varnish is deeply embedded with a thick layer of dirt, grime, deposits, and accretions. Saturation of the design layers is extremely poor, and the present varnish is semi-matte and uneven in gloss.

The oil medium overpaint is quite extensive on the painting. The restoration at tears and holes is discolored and darkened. In the sky, retouching is very broadly applied and has blanched, further disfiguring the area. Some fills are poorly executed, especially in areas of large tears and holes. At the vertical seam at the right edge, the fills are visible and the retouching is broadly applied and discolored.


This large painting requires extensive structural and cosmetic conservation treatment. The present glue/paste lining appears to be attached to the canvas, however, the canvas is slack, buckled, with disfiguring planar deformations associated with tears and cupping. The large, horizontal, patched tear at the shepherd at center is disfiguring and extremely obvious and distracting from viewing distance.

Reversal of the present lining; removal of patches and mends on tears and holes; reduction of the glue/paste residue on the reverse of the canvas; and relining to an appropriate fabric; and reattachment to the present multi-member stretcher are highly recommended.

Present surface layers obscure, disfigure, and poorly saturate the painting, including the broadly executed, discolored, darkened, and blanched overpaint. It is highly recommended that the varnish and restoration be reduced or thinned. The painting would be surfaced with a saturating, non-yellowing synthetic resin varnish and losses would be carefully inpainted using a stable, non-discoloring synthetic medium.

Present fills appear to be broadly executed and many are quite visible, accentuating the damage and loss in the canvas and design layer. Poorly executed fills would be removed or replaced, or dressed to better match surrounding original canvas and paint textures. After inpainting, the painting would receive a final varnish layer(s).

The backing board will be replaced, the frame rabbet will be felted, and the painting will be properly secured in the frame.


Examination; prepare Report on Condition and Proposal for Treatment.
Photodocument painting before, during, and after treatment.
Reduce natural resin varnish and discolored retouching.
Remove, reduce, and/or redress fills as necessary.
Apply saturating, non-discoloring synthetic resin varnish.
Inpaint losses using stable, non-yellowing synthetic resin medium.
Apply final varnish layer(s).
Secure protective backing board to reverse of stretcher; felt frame rabbet; properly reframe painting.

Conservators: Joan H. Gorman and David Marquis
Revised: February 23, 2004