Kristin deGhetaldi, a native of Santa Cruz, Calif., is leading the group working to conserve the huge painting attributed to Pietro da Cortona, “The Triumph of David,” which hung in the Reading Room of Falvey Hall from 1956 until 2013. The painting was taken down and removed from its frame in 2013 and currently rests against the end wall of the Reading Room where it is being conserved in public view.
DeGhetaldi has an undergraduate degree from Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa, where she majored in chemistry. How did a chemistry major make such a huge step, from science to the visual arts, this writer wondered. So I asked deGhetaldi, “What inspired you to become a conservator?”
Her answer: “Going abroad. I … was encouraged by my mentor to NOT focus on the sciences during my semester abroad. When I returned to the States I realized that I had a passion for the arts as well as science and then tried to figure out how I could use both skill sets. Obviously seeing conservators at work in Italy and England also contributed to my decision to pursue a career in conservation.”
My next question: “What training is required? Do you need to have artistic talent?” DeGhetaldi’s answer, “You really need to have a ‘three-legged stool’ approach to academics: studio art, science and art history. … Color matching is perhaps one of the more important skills that a painting conservator needs to have in order to address issues associated with loss compensation. You don’t need to paint like Leonardo da Vinci, but you do need to have an optimal level of hand skills. … Today … most students pursue a master’s degree in art conservation after obtaining a bachelor’s degree in art history, studio art, the sciences or other related fields. In order to be accepted into a graduate degree program in the United States students must satisfy extensive course requirements (e.g. organic chemistry, art history/anthropology courses, a studio art portfolio, etc.) and complete a certain number of hours serving as a volunteer/intern in a cultural institution or private studio. This pre-program experience often takes additional time beyond completion of an undergraduate degree.” For more information about art conservation see art conservation. To learn more about graduate programs in the discipline visit graduate programs.
Both terms, conservation and restoration, have been used in reference to the current treatment of “The Triumph of David.” I asked deGhetaldi to explain which term is correct and why. She says, “… In the United States we now use the terms ‘conservation’ and ‘preservation’ when describing up-to-date, ethical methods of treatment … Although you will still hear a conservator use the term ‘restoration,’ it is mostly due to the fact that the general public is more familiar with this phrase … The term ‘restoration’ is now typically associated with antiquated practices or even unethical treatment approaches. Restorers do not document what they use or do to an artwork; conservators on the other hand fully document everything and use only stable, reversible materials that are appropriate for the artwork.”
When asked if she had any surprises in the conservation of the Cortona painting so far, deGhetaldi says, “I think the most gratifying ‘surprise’ has been the recovery of the original brilliant colors that have been obscured and hidden beneath layers of varnish and overpaint for so many years.” (The painting was restored in 1956, and since then the varnish has darkened so much that very little of the original colors were visible; figures were barely visible.) Given the size of this painting (approximately twelve by nineteen feet), a logical inquiry was “Is this the largest painting on which you have worked?” And her reply is, “Yes, I believe it is … although a couple of paintings that I helped treat during an internship at the J. Paul Getty Museum come very close. …”
DeGhetaldi earned a post-baccalaureate certificate in conservation from the Studio Arts Center International, Florence, Italy. She has a Master of Science degree from the Winterthur/University of Delaware program in Conservation and she completed a three year Andrew W. Mellon Fellowship in Painting Conservation at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., where she worked on Old Master paintings. DeGhetaldi has also worked at the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Calif.; and Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Providence, R.I.
She is currently enrolled in the doctoral program at Winterthur/University of Delaware. Her dissertation topic is “Novel Analytical Methods Used to Explore the Evolution from Egg to Oil Paints in Quattrocento Italy.”
Vistors are welcome to watch the conservator and interns at work. If you cannot visit campus see the live video. For more information about the project go to painting restoration.
Article by Alice Bampton, digital image specialist and senior writer on the Communication and Publications Team.