Louvre accused of 'overcleaning' Leonardo masterpiece


31 December 2011

Art historians at the Louvre have been accused of "overcleaning" a masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci, leaving the painting with a brightness that was never intended.

Two of France's top art experts have registered their displeasure at the cleaning of The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne by stepping down from their posts at the Paris museum's advisory committee responsible for its restoration, according to reports.

The resignations of Ségolène Bergeon Langle and Jean-Pierre Cuzin – former specialists in conservation and painting respectively – will be seen as a major embarrassment for the Louvre, as well as to their former colleagues on the committee.

The committee's 20 members include two specialists from the National Gallery in London, Larry Keith and Luke Syson.

Bergeon Langle is regarded as France's national authority on the art and the science of restoring paintings. She was director of conservation for all of France's national museums.

She said: "I can confirm that I have resigned from the international consultative committee, but my reasons I am reserving for a meeting with the president-director of the Louvre, Henri Loyrette."

The restoration has divided the committee between those who believe the painting is now too bright and those who regard the cleaning as moderate, The Guardian reported.

A Louvre source said that Mr Keith and Mr Syson were particularly keen on the restoration 500-year-old painting saying: "The English were very pushing, saying they know Leonardo is extremely delicate but 'we can move without any danger to the work'.

“There was a row a year ago about solvents because they said they were safe and Bergeon Langle said they're not safe. It took a long time before the committee really had explanations on the chemicals used on the picture. Details were asked for [by the critics on the committee], but didn't come for months …

"There are people who are very much for bright hues and strong cleaning. Those people are in charge."

Seventeen years ago, the Louvre abandoned an earlier attempt to clean the painting amid fears about how the solvents were affecting the sfumato, the Renaissance master’s trademark effect for blurring contours. Since then, it appears that the British influence on restoration has helped to sway the Louvre.


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