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Pentimento Art within Art

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In art there are terms for everything from Process, technique to medium every aspect of art has been labelled under a particular term.  There are many familiar termslike,colour theory, expressionism, abstract and many more, and there are those unfamiliar ones like Pentimento. Pentimento is a term used in art to describe the presence, or emergence of earlier images or drawing, or forms that have been painted over by the artist during the process of his work. It is an interesting phenomenon because it lets us see what artist tried to hide from us. It is revelation of secrets deliberately covered in layers of paint and hidden behind masterpieces.

Pentimento is an Italian term which means repentance and in art ‘correction or change of mind. Pentimento as a term was first used to describe the signs of an alteration in a literary work. And it was later introduced to paintings to describe the visible trace of earlier painting or under-drawing beneath a layer or layers of paint on a canvas.Pentimenti refers to changes made by artist during the process of a painting revealed overtime as upper layer of paint fades away. Pentimentimay show that a composition originally had an element, for example, a head or a hand, in a slightly different place, or that the painting was done over an existing painting which artist did not find important enough to preserve. There are paintings that had elements quite different from the existing work that artist changed over and overlapped with different forms.

Pentimenti is an exciting discovery it gives us excess to the thought process of an artist as final painting is developed.  It captures different versions of paintings, one that artist himself disregards and changes over, and the one, that he/she wants people to see. In some cases, it also presents a step-by-step process of the painting disclosing the various attempts made by artist to capture a single theme. It allows us to understand artists struggle in composing and recomposing elements of a painting and come up with final canvas that we now consider a masterpiece.

There are many paintings by most famous artists in which pentimento has always been visible on the final painting when carefully examined and others are revealed by the increasing transparency that some paint acquires after several centuries. It’s a common phenomenon that paintings after several centuries reveal pentimento but there are other ways that conservatives use to reveal hidden secrets of a masterpiece. Infrared reflectography and photographsas well as X-rays,are used by conservatives forthorough re-exploration of a painting. Pentimenti is useful in a way to determine the authenticity of a work. The original work may have more pentimenti while as secondary versions or copies tend to have none or few pentimenti, although this will not always be the case.The modern methods of discovering pentimenti in paintings have greatly expanded the number of pentimenti art historians are aware of, and confirmed that they are very common in the works of many old masters, from Jan van Eyck onwards.

The examples of pentimenti include The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck . Eyck is known to be earliest painters who indulged in underdrawings and pentimenti in his paintings. There are many changes that were revealed through infra-red reflect grams and among other changes, the husband’s face was higher by about the height of his eye, the wives was higher, and her eyes looked more to the front. Each of the husband’s feet was underdrawn in one position, painted in another, and then overpainted in a third. After careful observation in the infrared photograph of his paintings, experts have also found pentimenti in various works like Madonna at the Fountain, Lucca Madonna and Portrait of Cardinal Niccolò Albergati, among others.

Pentimento revealed in portrait of Jacques de NorvinsNapoleon’s Chief of Police in Romepainted by Ingres in 1811–12. It was discovered that, instead of the curtain at the left, there was a fully painted bust of a boy’s head on top of a small column. And the bust is believed to be of Napoleon’s son, who was known as the King of Rome. It is also assumed that the bust was overpainted into a curtain either by Ingres himself, or another artist after the fall of Napoleon. In the larger web image, the bust is barely discernible, its chin level with the sitter’s hairline, and the top of the column is level with the centre of the sitter’s ear. They could have been (barely) visible from the beginning or developed this way due to the paint becoming translucent over time. Without being pointed out, the bust would likely go unnoticed by most visitors of the artwork. Due to the alleged passage of time and the possibility that another artist performed the modification, these changes technically may not be referred to be pentimenti.

Another examples of pentimenti include Pablo Picasso’s old Guitarist. While as some who consider pentimenti as slight changes in the process of painting do not agree it to be a pentimenti, as Picasso has abandoned the previous painting and overpainted it with totally different one. In cases where a composition has been changed by a later painter or restorer, marks showing the original composition would not be described as pentimenti either, it must be the original painter who has changed his mind.But, to some The Old Guitarist is famous pentimento known,along with The Blue Room. During Picasso’s blue period due to lack of art supplies he oftenreused his canvases and overpainted his old paintings.When looked closely behind his famous painting The Old Guitarist one can see the face of the womanslightly visible in the background. This pentimento is further revealed by X-ray image in which a figure of a woman nursing a child in a pastoral setting is clearlyvisible.Picasso had entirely changed the painting of the women into his one of the famous paintings the Old Guitarist.

Same treatment was faced by the portrait of wealthy-looking man with a bow tie which had to hide behind The Blue Room. In 1977 with adequate technology available that time it was confirmed that the painting had another painting hidden underneath. And in 2008 with the help of infrared camera it was finally revealed in its accurate form. To us anything from artists like Picasso is a masterpiece but for the master himself he didn’t find some of his works worthy to share and wrapped them in layers of paint only to be revealed with modern technologies.

Several examples pentimenti can be found in Leonardo da Vinci’sSalvator Mundi, which was sold to a private collector for more than $450 million at Christie’s. Among many alterations in the work the pose of Christ’s right thumb was changed. Likewise in a work by Caravaggio, The Cardsharps,several typical minor pentimenti are revealed altering the position of the figure on the right.

There are examples of pentimento in the works of Rembrandt most famously in his 1654 portrait Flora. The painting depicts the Roman goddess of spring, believed to be modelled on his deceased wife Saskia, and has elements of pentimento, in a double hat brim where the artist overpainted.

Pentimenti has been useful in many ways. It has revealed the hidden secrets underneath the masterpieces and struggle of masters correcting themselves on each stage. it has also been beneficial in separating a copy from an original work, for example in 2016, An artwork by Manet, Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, which was considered to be a copy was discovered to be an original preparatory work after the analysis of its pentimenti. The revelation of pentimenti further confirmed it being a preparatory painting that predates the version in the Louvre. Pentimenti were visible once the old varnish was removed, including alterations to the curve of the back of the female figure and one of the male figure’s cap, suggesting that the Courtauld picture is an original preparatory work of Manet.

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