The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art has been awarded a $176,800 grant from the Getty Foundation as part of its Conserving Canvas initiative.
The grant will support a major conservation treatment of the museum’s monumental “Emperor Justinian,” an oil on canvas artwork painted by Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant. An intrinsic part of this project is the training of mid-career painting conservators.
Conserving Canvas is an international grant initiative focused on the conservation of paintings on canvas. For centuries, it was common practice to protect canvas paintings by backing or lining them with another canvas to create a moisture barrier and provide greater structural integrity, but a shift toward minimal intervention has produced a knowledge gap among today’s museum conservators in how to treat lined paintings.
Conserving Canvas aims to ensure that conservators remain fully prepared to care for these important works of art through a combination of training activities and information dissemination.
The Getty Foundation offers grant support for museum projects involving conservation treatment residencies and for targeted professional development opportunities for conservators and curators.
“It is an honor to be a recipient of a Conserving Canvas grant from the Getty Foundation,” said Barbara A. Ramsay, The Ringling’s chief conservator and project leader for the Conserving Canvas grant project. “This collaboration will enable us to restore a magnificent work of art and, at the same time, contribute to the professional development of mid-career painting conservators. We are excited by the opportunity to conserve this painting and share it with our museum audiences.”
Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant was a significant French artist who often painted in the Orientalist tradition and on a grand scale. His works are included in many of the world’s great museum collections and monuments. “Emperor Justinian” was originally created for the Paris Salon of 1886. In 1887, the work was acquired from Benjamin-Constant by the collector Godfrey Mannheimer, who in 1890 donated it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The painting, which occupied a place of importance at the Met in the early years of the new century, became well-known to American museum audiences.
John Ringling acquired the immense 13.3 x 22 foot canvas painting from the Mannheimer family in 1929. The painting has remained rolled and in storage much of the time since its arrival in Sarasota due to flaking paint layers and severe distortion and numerous holes in its canvas. After treatment to stabilize the painting and reduce canvas deformation, a lining fabric will be applied to the back of the original canvas to provide additional support. Darkened varnish will be removed and areas of paint loss will be compensated. Once the painting has been conserved, it will be installed in a position of honor in one of The Ringling’s largest and most prominent museum galleries.
The John F. and Herta Cuneo Conservation Laboratory at The Ringling will partner with Artcare Conservation to carry out the conservation treatment of “Emperor Justinian” in its Miami studio. International collaboration involves four postgraduate mid-career painting conservators from the United States, Canada and Colombia who have been invited to participate as trainees in various stages of the structural treatment. Two junior painting conservators at The Ringling will also take part as trainees.
The Getty Foundation fulfills the philanthropic mission of the Getty Trust by supporting individuals and institutions committed to advancing the greater understanding and preservation of the visual arts in Los Angeles and throughout the world. Through strategic grant initiatives, it strengthens art history as a global discipline, promotes the interdisciplinary practice of conservation, increases access to museum and archival collections and develops current and future leaders in the visual arts. It carries out its work in collaboration with the other Getty Programs to ensure that they individually and collectively achieve maximum effect.
The Ringling is a pre-eminent center for the arts, history and learning that is dedicated to bringing the past and contemporary culture to life through extraordinary visitor experiences. The Ringling’s campus in Sarasota, Florida – which includes the Museum of Art, the Circus Museum, an historic mansion, an 18th-century theater and bayfront gardens – is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. As the State Art Museum of Florida and part of Florida State University, The Ringling fulfills an important educational mission and offers formal and informal programs of study serving as a major resource for students, scholars and lifelong learners of every age within the region, across the country and around the world.