Long-term conservation project completed

For which church the most famous Maastricht sculptor Jan van Steffeswert (1460-1530), crafted this crucifix is unknown. This Crucifix in any case hung in the Nieuwenhof chapel in Maastricht until 1983, when the Kannunik Salden/Nieuwenhof Foundation lend it as a long-term loan to the Diocesan Museum of Roermond, located in the Bonnefanten. When the sculpture came to the Bonnefanten as a long-term loan in the 1990s, the many layers of overpainting caught the eye. Repainting statues and altars in churches, adapted to the art-historical style and taste of the time, is not unusual. However, the layer of paint from the beginning of the 20th century, which was visible at the time, was not of sufficient quality to be displayed in the museum.

Commissioned by the Bonnefanten, SRAL (The Conservation Institute) started research into the underlying paintings in 1996. It was then decided to have all the later paintings removed: a very time-consuming and costly job. Under the supervision of senior conservator Arnold Truyen, the layers of overpainting were scraped away with a sharp scalpel under a microscope. This 'freeing' of a two by two cm piece takes an average of seven hours, depending on the fragility of the original layer. In difficult places, such as the blood drops in the wound on the side, face, arms and right leg, it took up to 20 hours. 

Little by little, step by step, all the different layers of paint, sometimes as many as eighteen, reappeared. Most of the phases show realistic skin colours, but the corpus has also been painted as a stone statue and as a wood statue. Through years of work, the conservators made the original 500-year-old paint layer visible again. This is very special, as few sculptures by Van Steffeswert have survived with their original paintwork.

The real appearance and particularly fine carving of the crucifix are now visible again, as is its aged appearance. Christ can now be seen as a tormented figure in grey-pink and in many areas covered in blood. The emphasis is on his suffering; the true meaning of his death for humanity. After years in the depot and in the conservation studio, this imposing crucifix can once again be admired in public.

Steffeswert_tijdens_behandeling_voor_retouches_overzicht_geheel__© SRAL.JPG

This long-term conservation project has been realised with the support of the Province of Limburg.

Jan van Steffeswert, Crucifix, ca. 1510. Object number: 2000677. Walnut, 227 cm high. Bonnefanten Collection, long-term loan to the Kannunik Salden/Nieuwenhof Foundation, Diocesan Museum Roermond. Photographer: Peter Cox