El Greco is one of the most important artists in the history of art, while his 'Ecstasy of St. Francis' is one of the most valuable paintings in Polish collections. Having undergone a thorough conservation process, the masterpiece can now be admired in the Gallery of 19th-Century Polish Art in the Sukiennice. Following the exhibition, the painting will return to Siedlce, where it will be on permanent display in the Diocesan Museum.
Thanks to an agreement between the Diocesan Museum in Siedlce and the National Museum in Krakow, 'Ecstasy of St. Francis' – the only painting by El Greco in Polish museum collections underwent conservation in the Krakow Museum because of undesirable changes in its condition. The layer of varnish that covered the picture was particularly darkened and yellowed, causing the distortion of the original cool colours, so typical of images of St. Francis painted by the Master of Toledo.
Progress in science and technology in the twenty-first century allowed us to hope that it might be possible to discover something new, and above all, to learn more, evaluate and document the current condition of the painting, even though the conservation process in 1974 already resulted in breakthroughs, including the greatest discovery of the author's signature Dominikos Theotokopulos, which was unveiled under the coats of paint.
An interdisciplinary team made up of conservators, physicists, chemists and art historians conducted a typical museum conservation process which lasted nearly six months. They began with a comprehensive physico-chemical examination, which was followed by conservation and restoration works on the painting based on the examination results and the needs arising from the evaluation of the state of its preservation. An appropriate frame has also been made, making it easier to display the painting better and in a more attractive way. It also serves as a microclimatic frame, protecting the masterpiece both from further changes and other potential external threats.
The conservation works on 'Ecstasy of St. Francis' proceeded in accordance with the schedule, and resulted in new discoveries and new information, just as expected. All this, and even more (sic!), is displayed in the Malarnia Room in Gallery of 19th-Century Polish Art in the Sukiennice.
The NMK team involved in the project: