Denver Art Museum restores a Mexican masterpiece

The Virgin of Valvanera oil painting has been in the Denver Art Museum collection for years. Painted in the early 1700s in colonial Mexico, it found its way to Denver and needed some touching up.

DENVER - A Mexican masterpiece will be on display at Denver Art Museum starting on Sunday, September 24.

The Virgin of Valvanera was painted in 1700 by Villalpando in Mexico City. 

"The peak of a creative moment in the city," Jorge Rivas said. Rivas is the Spanish Colonial curator for the museum. "Mexico City was very wealthy. Painters were very active, creating works for churches and monasteries. They were trying to create a type of art that was different than European art that they were previously doing."

Rivas said the painting is significant because it was birth in the moment of new art in Mexico.

 It's even more significant to the museum because the painting was restored there.

"It's not unusual for paintings of this age, particularly if they've been hanging in churches or monasteries or convents, to have experienced water damage or maybe a build-up of soot and grime from candles and age," Sarah Melching said. Melching is director of conservation at the museum.

It took 1,500 hours, swabs, scalpels, and even an x-ray machine to restore the painting. 

"I was watching it through the entire process so every week, it was almost like opening a new layer, a new present," Melching said. 

The story of the painting focuses on a virgin hidden in an oak tree, found by a thief and a friar. 

"We have brought the painting back to as close as its original condition as we can," Melching said. "Often as paintings are restored through ages, you lose some of the original integrity and that could be in terms of the colors that the artists select, sometimes architectural elements or figures will be painted over or added in." 

Melching is excited for the future of the painting.

"This painting is going to be enjoyed for many, many generations to come," she said. 

The museum was able to restore the painting from a grant provided by Bank of America's art conservation program.

"Bank of America support of the arts is really core to our belief that arts matter," Jodi Rolland, Colorado State and Denver market President for BoA said. "Arts are a tool to build thriving communities as well as connect individuals across cultures and geographies." 

The painting will be on display at the Denver Art Museum until February of next year.

© 2017 KUSA-TV


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