Materials and Techniques of Painters of the North of Portugal

Research and Development
Main researcher: 
Ana Calvo

Team elements (%affectation): 
Maria Aguiar

The project Materials and Techniques of Painters of the North of Portugal was developed in the line of action “Study and Conservation of Cultural Heritage” of the Centro de Investigação em Ciências e Tecnologias das Artes (CITAR), Escola das Artes da Universidade Católica Portuguesa – Pólo Regional do Porto

Process nº 3-6-15-6-1199 financed within the scope of the National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF) and the ON Programme. 2 – The New North – Priority Axis III – Valorisation and Environmental and Territorial Qualification (Cultural Heritage).

In an existing line of action the possibility arose of proposing a project exclusively aimed at the rich heritage of the North of Portugal in terms of painting. The project presented covers several artists over a broad historical period so as to offer a general overview about the artistic production in the region: Materials and Techniques of Painters of the North of Portugal.

Many of the material aspects of artistic production are unknown today not only of the learned public but of the general public, too. There is little documentation of the period; many practices have been lost and sometimes only the works themselves survive; the studies on the materials and techniques employed are still few and lack scientific verification for a better understanding of painting methods over the ages.

The in-depth study of these aspects is vital not only for greater knowledge of the region's cultural riches, which must be disseminated and made available, but as an indispensable scientific basis for the conservation of the  heritage involved.

The cultural heritage of the North of Portugal presents specificities that are characteristic of a region that developed a dynamic river and sea trade with neighbouring Spain and also with the prosperous cities of northern Europe, mainly in Flanders and later in England. The novelties and influences emerging from this encounter with other artistic circles of great technical and creative quality left behind in this region important testimonies that now require greater research and dissemination for an understanding of the evolution of our own art.

Another of the principal axes of the heritage of the North of Portugal is linked to the Church's importance in the artistic life of the region. For many centuries the Church was the main commissioner and regulator of the formal and iconographical programmes of many of the works that are now part of the collections of our museums, foundations and other institutions.

We also see in the North, a region at a greater distance from the influence of the monarchy and the court in the capital, the proliferation of sacred art commissions to decorate churches and private chapels, which are associated with the return of the men who had travelled on the voyages of the Discoveries, and such sacred programmes are some of the most important artistic aspects in the region. In that context we can highlight some of the more specific practices such as rolled canvases, characteristic of 18th-19th century altar retables, or the relation between baroque gilt wood carvings and ceiling painting, particularly that done on caissons.

Another marked characteristic of the North of Portugal is the importance of the merchant middle class throughout the 19th century, which was reflected in the formation of private collections that today are one of the main identifying symbols of this region, with a strong national impact.

This situation had repercussions in the 20th century with the appearance of other collections, some with a considerable institutional component, whose dynamics extended beyond the very borders of the region and the country.

The project will not only touch on paradigmatic figures and works but also aims to reveal less-studied artists and creative productions that had a role in the cultural development of the region and which must be requalified in the light of the information collected in recent investigations. Accordingly, in addition to consolidating research done on works such as that on Pentecostes, the Flemish triptych in the church of S. Pedro de Miragaia, it is intended to become better acquainted with artists and works from the 16th to the 21st centuries who in various ways protagonised pertinent situations and practices. Works by established artists such as Grão Vasco, important works by as yet unidentified painters, artists of the past such as Francisco Correia, more recent ones whose work is completed, such as Aurélia de Souza and Abel Salazar, or still in activity, such as Júlio Pomar, will be some of the themes to be developed in this project. The team consists of investigators in the areas of conservation and restoration, physical and chemical sciences, history of art and aesthetics and sound and moving image. The multidisciplinary nature of this team guarantees an embracing and innovative approach which includes various perspectives of the objects being studied, articulating the contribution of each scientific area.

We cannot stress too much the importance of a study of these characteristics when we consider that our heritage considered as less representative heritage is often underestimated and prone to an oblivion that may lead to its doom. Scientific study is an irreplaceable instrument of heritage rehabilitation.
The project being presented intends to set up an integrated programme including the study, safeguard, valorisation and dissemination of the heritage. The principal objectives are:

1. To study the moveable heritage of the North of Portugal with a view to its preservation

2. To study the techniques and materials used by artists in the North of Portugal in painting, one of the most representative areas of the region's cultural specificity

3. To cover an extended historical period in order to draw up a general overview of the artistic heritage of the North from ancient art to the present day, based on referential artists and works.
4. To contribute to the deepening of the history of art and culture in the region over the period in question

5. To disseminate the technical and scientific results obtained from selected works to the scientific community

6. To mobilise the local populations and raise their awareness and knowledge of their heritage, promoting the dissemination of content accessible to the non-specialised general public

7. To dynamise the various spaces (cultural, religious and museological) where the works come from, with exhibitions on the results obtained during the relevant research
Investigation about the constituent materials and the execution techniques used

- Choice of the works and artists according to criteria of artistic, historical or heritage relevance

- Identification of the constituent materials and the painting techniques used by the selected painters (or in their works)

- Characterisation of the painting technique

Assessment of the state of conservation of the works
- Survey of existing pathologies

- Diagnosis of the causes of the pathologies

- Assessment of the state of conservation

- Recommendations for preservation of the works

Realisation of physical examinations:

* X-ray

* Infrared reflectography

* UV radiation fluorescence

* Optical microscopy

* Technical photography

Realisation of physical and chemical exams and tests:

* Histological tests

* Stratigraphic sections

* Microchemical tests

* X-ray (EDXRF) microfluorescence

* High pressure liquid and gas chromatography (HPLC) with mass spectrometry (GC-MS)

* Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR
* Energy dispersive X-ray microanalysis (EDXMA)

Presentation of content to the scientific community

- Dissemination of results to the scientific community and production of technical reports

- Participation in national and international conferences and similar meetings to disseminate the themes being studied

Production of content for dissemination and online

- Production of content for specialised publics through the creation and updating of a website and online journal with the results obtained throughout the project

- Production of selected content for non-specialised publics, in DVD
Heritage promotion/Organisation of exhibitions

- Promoting the heritage with local communities, the academic community and the general public

- Contributing to extended knowledge about heritage to favour its enjoyment, understanding and preservation

- Creation of new publics

Organisation of workshops

- Promoting learning about practices of older or more recent painting by demonstrating some of the painting techniques studied

- Register of reconstitutions

Organisation of a debate

Organisation of conferences
Research group: 
Conservation Research

In an existing line of action the possibility arose of proposing a project exclusively aimed at the rich heritage of the North of Portugal in terms of painting. The project presented covers several artists over a broad historical period so as to offer a general overview about the artistic production in the region: Materials and Techniques of Painters of the North of Portugal.