Peter Paul Rubens' <i>Triumph of the Church</i> (1625-6) after conservation

In 1626 Netherlandish painter Peter Paul Rubens completed one of the most important commissions of his lifetime, a suite of finished oil sketches referred to as the Triumph of the Eucharist series. Six of these works have now been restored as part of a training program developed by the Getty Foundation in collaboration with the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain and supported through the Panel Paintings Initiative.

The Triumph of the Eucharist panels were commissioned by the Infanta Clara Eugenia, ruler of the Southern Netherlands and a member of the Spanish royal family, as studies for large, sumptuous tapestries to be hung in the Clares de Descalzas Reales monastery in Madrid. Although Rubens used the paintings as preparatory works to plan his tapestry designs, they are exquisite works of art in their own right and offer a rare glimpse into his artistic process. Six paintings of this important series had been preserved at the Prado Museum. Yet, at a later point in their history, the paintings were enlarged and thinned and restraints were applied to flatten them out. These interventions eventually caused cracks, deformations, and uneven surfaces in the wood, threatening the surfaces and Rubens' virtuoso brushwork.

A Getty grant was awarded in 2011 to the Prado Museum to undertake treatment of the panels, using the conservation as a major opportunity to train mid-career and post-graduate conservators. The program offered a range of experiences, from basic treatment of splits and cracks to complex decision-making processes involving conservators, curators, and conservation scientists. By the end of the conservation project, seven different professionals benefited from training.

The paintings are now included in a major exhibition at the Prado Museum, Rubens: The Triumph of the Eucharist. The installation features the newly restored panels displayed on free-standing pedestals in front of the wall tapestries. This placement also allows a unique opportunity to see the back of the paintings and view the sophisticated stabilization system—a stretcher with springs that strengthens the thinned panel while still allowing movement—that conservators developed as part of the structural conservation supported by the Getty. The exhibition will travel to the J. Paul Getty Museum in fall 2014.

Installation of Rubens: Triumph of the Eucharist at the Prado Museum, 2014.
Above: Installation view of Rubens: Triumph of the Eucharist at the Prado Museum in spring 2014. Photo © Museo del Prado. Top of page: The Triumph of the Church, Peter Paul Rubens (1625-26), after treatment. Photo © Museo del Prado

Watch a video about the conservation of the Triumph of the Eucharist panels

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