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The Ringling receives art conservation grant from the Getty Foundation
Before Treatment photograph of the painting with protective facings applied to the surface to prevent further paint loss.

SARASOTA, FLA.- The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art announced that it has been awarded a grant from the Getty Foundation as part of its Conserving Canvas initiative. The grant of $176,800 was awarded to The Ringling Museum of Art Foundation on June 6, 2019. This grant is in support of a major conservation treatment of the museum’s monumental oil on canvas painting, Emperor Justinian by Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant. An intrinsic part of this project is the training of mid-career painting conservators.

Conserving Canvas is an international grant initiative focused on the conservation of paintings on canvas. For centuries, it was common practice to protect canvas paintings by backing or lining them with another canvas to create a moisture barrier and provide greater structural integrity. A shift towards minimal intervention that started in the 1980s has been positive overall for the field, but it has also produced a knowledge gap among today's museum conservators and curators in how to treat lined paintings. Conserving Canvas aims to ensure that conservators remain fully prepared to care for these important works of art through a combination of training activities and information dissemination, as well as an upcoming symposium in fall 2019. The Getty Foundation offers grant support for museum projects involving conservation treatment residencies and for targeted professional development opportunities for conservators and curators.

Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant (1845-1902) is a significant French artist who often painted in the Orientalist tradition and on a grand scale. His works are included in many of the world’s great museum collections and in numerous monuments around the world. Emperor Justinian was originally created for the Paris Salon of 1886. In 1887, the work was acquired from Benjamin-Constant by the collector Godfrey Mannheimer, who in 1890 donated it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The painting, which occupied a place of importance at the Met in the early years of the new century, was well-known to American museum audiences.

John Ringling acquired the immense painting from the Mannheimer family in 1929. The painting has remained rolled and in storage much of the time since its arrival in Sarasota. The paint layers are flaking and the 13.3 x 22 foot canvas suffers from severe distortion and numerous holes. After treatment to stabilize the painting and reduce canvas deformation, a lining fabric will be applied to the back of the original canvas to provide additional support. Darkened varnish will be removed and areas of paint loss will be compensated. Once the painting has been conserved, it will be installed in a position of honor in one of The Ringling’s largest and most prominent museum galleries.

The John F. and Herta Cuneo Conservation Laboratory at The Ringling will partner with Artcare Conservation, which will carry out the conservation treatment of Emperor Justinian in its Miami studio. International collaboration involves four postgraduate mid-career painting conservators from the USA, Canada, and Colombia who have been invited to participate as Trainees in various stages of the structural treatment. Two junior painting conservators at The Ringling will also take part as Trainees. A Training Workshop on the structural conservation of canvas paintings will be held in the fall of 2019.

Barbara A. Ramsay, The Ringling’s Chief Conservator and project leader for the Conserving Canvas grant project, says, “It is an honor to be a recipient of a Conserving Canvas grant from the Getty Foundation. This collaboration will enable us to restore a magnificent work of art and, at the same time, contribute to the professional development of mid-career painting conservators. We are excited by the opportunity to conserve this painting and share it with our museum audiences.”

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