December 14, 2000

Two New Getty Exhibitions Usher in the Holiday Season

Statue of an Emperor and Making a Renaissance Painting provide rare behind-the-scenes look at how ancient sculpture and Renaissance panel paintings were made

Los Angeles--Beginning this month, two new exhibitions at the J. Paul Getty Museum offer visitors a close-up look at how works of art are made and how museums help interpret and conserve them. Statue of an Emperor: A Conservation Partnership features an ancient marble statue of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius on loan from the Pergamon Museum in Berlin, along with video footage of the statue’s conservation treatment at the Getty and 3-D digital animation of its reassembly. Making a Renaissance Painting presents a step-by-step look at the materials and methods used in the making of a 16th-century Flemish painting. Both exhibitions open on December 5, 2000; Statue of an Emperor will remain on view for approximately two years, while Making a Renaissance Painting runs through next summer (closing August 19, 2001).

Marion True, assistant director for Villa planning and curator of antiquities for the Getty Museum, says, "The Getty is delighted to present this statue of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, on loan from the Pergamon Museum, following a comprehensive and revealing conservation treatment by a collaborative team from our two institutions. Visitors will gain new appreciation for the complexity of conservation work and for the discoveries it can yield."

Statue of an Emperor: A Conservation Partnership

The centerpiece of Statue of an Emperor: A Conservation Partnership is a life-size marble figure of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, part of the permanent collection of the Pergamon Museum in Berlin. The reign of Marcus Aurelius (161-180 A.D.) was a period of prosperity and confidence in the Roman Empire, and it became a model for later European monarchies.

Representations of Roman emperors and generals in full military parade costume derive from the time of Alexander the Great (lived 356-323 B.C.). In keeping with this tradition, the Pergamon’s statue wears the cuirass (metal body armor with decorative breast-plate) of a victorious commander in the Roman army, with a paludamentum (purple general’s cloak) over his left shoulder and forearm, and the hilt of a sword in his left hand. The front of the cuirass is decorated with an opposing pair of winged victories representing triumph in battle. As was often the case, this statue was made to have an interchangeable portrait head inserted; thus the emperor’s body and the head were carved at different times in antiquity (the body in the first century, between 69 and 98 A.D., and the head in the second century, probably around 144-145 A.D.).

The statue was restored at least three times in its history and over the years the sculpture became increasingly unstable. Because the aim of previous restorers was to return the object to an assumed original form and intent, effects of weathering and other damage were removed or hidden, and losses were replaced with new pieces. Today the statue of Marcus Aurelius is composed of approximately 40 separate fragments, made of four different kinds of marble--some ancient, others carved during restoration efforts in the 18th and 19th centuries. When these earlier restorations began to show signs of disintegration in the late 20th century, the Pergamon and the Getty joined forces to conserve the sculpture. It was brought to Los Angeles two years ago for scientific analysis and treatment in the Getty’s conservation laboratories.

"Examination and analysis of the marbles, the adhesives, and the pins used in the different restorations helped us to reconstruct the history of the statue and to understand changes in restoration techniques over the years," says Jerry Podany, conservator of antiquities at the Getty Museum. "Using state-of-the-art technology, today’s conservators not only clean and repair objects, but also try to preserve as much evidence as possible of what has already been done to them. It’s science illuminating art and bringing new information to bear on aesthetic, historical, and ethical debates about works of art and their conservation." Podany collaborated on the statue’s treatment with Getty assistant conservator of antiquities Eduardo Sanchez and with Wolfgang Massman of the Pergamon Museum. Together they developed a new stainless steel joint system for the statue, replacing numerous old pins and brackets made of iron, brass, and bronze which are also on view in the exhibition. Conservation work by the same team is currently underway on a second statue from the Pergamon, Cuirass Statue with Portrait of Gaius Caesar (50-75 A.D.).

Making a Renaissance Painting

The Getty’s The Miraculous Draught of Fishes (1563), the work of prominent Netherlandish artist Joachim Beuckelaer (1533-1574), is the focus of Making a Renaissance Painting. Visitors can walk around the entire painting, seeing both the image on its front side and the joined wooden panels on its back side. Most paintings in Northern Europe during the Renaissance were done on wooden panels, although Beuckelaer and some of his contemporaries worked on both panel and canvas.

Visitors to this special installation of Beuckelaer’s splendid painting will also see a portion of an oak tree trunk from which panels have been cut and prepared for painting; a step-by-step depiction of the painting process and materials, including pigments and their plant and mineral sources; and a detailed technical analysis of The Miraculous Draught of Fishes using infrared photography, X-radiography, and polarized light microscopy, revealing among other things the artist’s original chalk underdrawing beneath the painted surface.

Beuckelaer specialized in genre painting--depicting scenes from everyday life and surroundings--and the practice of combining secular scenes with religious scenes. The colorful foreground of The Miraculous Draught of Fishes depicts a lively waterfront scene of fishermen hauling in their catch and townspeople buying fish. But the more muted background contains the painting’s main subject: Christ’s miraculous appearance to His disciples after His resurrection, with St. Peter wading through the water to greet Him. Hungry and tired, the disciples have failed to catch any fish. Christ instructs them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat, and doing so, they find their nets brimming with fish.

Beuckelaer was one of an astonishing 300 painters in Antwerp in the mid-1500s, then a bustling metropolis at the height of its prosperity as a cultural and commercial center of the Netherlands. In 1560 he became a master in the Guild of Saint Luke, the corporation of artists and craftsmen named for the patron saint of painters. While he probably worked on monumental projects for churches, his surviving religious paintings were likely intended for private buyers.

Making a Renaissance Painting is part of the Getty’s continuing series of exhibitions about art-making and conservation techniques, which has also included Making a Medieval Book and Foundry to Finish: In the Studio of Adriaen de Vries.

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