Pieter Brueghel the Elder, <i>Hunters in the Snow</i>, 1565
Old master paintings on wooden panel—known as panel paintings—are among the most treasured works of art in American and European collections. Yet many panel paintings pose difficult conservation challenges as their wooden supports warp and crack with age, and only a handful of international experts worldwide possess the experience and technical expertise to work on the most delicate cases. Today many of these individuals are approaching retirement, with few opportunities to train the next generation. In response, the Getty Foundation developed the Panel Paintings Initiative in partnership with the Getty Museum and the Getty Conservation Institute to ensure that a new corps of structural panel paintings conservators is in place before the current experts retire.

The Ghent Altarpiece (detail)
 
The initiative began with a needs assessment to identify the most significant collections of panel paintings, the current level of their care, the individuals who would benefit most from further training, and the number of conservators who would likely find employment in the field. The survey results provided a clear roadmap for the initiative, setting a goal of training up to 20 conservators.

The primary means for meeting this goal is grant support for intensive side-by-side training projects, whereby the current experts pass on the necessary hand skills, aesthetic judgment, and analytical tools through treatment of works of art of the highest significance that have complex conservation needs. Grant funding began with the highest priority, to "train the trainers;" that is, to develop the expertise of several advanced practitioners who were poised to become the new leaders in the field and to assume the training mantle. Our focus then shifted first to training mid-career conservators, who rotated among leading experts in order to develop their decision-making skills and gain exposure to a variety of approaches. Finally longer training residencies began for postgraduates, including selected participants from Central and Eastern Europe, who demonstrated promise in the area of structural conservation of panel paintings.

Conservators at the Prado examine panel by Peter Paul Rubens
 
The training grants awarded to date have allowed participants to work on some of the most highly visible masterpieces in the history of Western art, including Hubert and Jan van Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece (1432), Albrecht Dürer's Adam and Eve (1507), Pieter Breughel the Elder's Hunters in the Snow (1565), Peter Paul Rubens' Triumph of the Eucharist series (1626), and Giorgio Vasari's The Last Supper (1546), to name a few.

While the main focus of the Panel Paintings Initiative is to train the next generation of panel paintings conservators, the Foundation has also provided support for intensive training institutes and workshops, as well as the translation and online publication of a limited number of important historical texts. The training workshops complement hands-on training by focusing on the historic context of panel paintings, including the development of panel production and wood science and technology. The translation projects focus on translating into English several key texts that are critical to the field of panel paintings conservation and making them freely accessible through online publication.

Grants Awarded: Descriptions of Getty-funded Panel Paintings projects

Featured Project: The Ghent Altarpiece

Featured Project: The Conservation of Dürer's Adam and Eve

Featured Project: Vasari's Last Supper

Featured Project: Rubens' Triumph of the Eucharist series

Getty Partners: Related projects, programs, and resources

Press and Publicity

Image top left: Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Hunters in the Snow, 1565. ©Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Image top right: Conservators prepare a boxwood knife handle during training related to the treatment of Giorgio Vasari's Last Supper (1546) at the Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence. Image courtesy Sue Ann Chui