Painting Explorers: The Adoration of the Shepherds

Moving art around!

What happens when paintings get damaged? The Adoration of the Shepherds by Guido Reni was damaged a few times on its way to the National Gallery, it had rather an exciting adventure!

The painting is a nativity scene. Mary and Joseph are shown with baby Jesus in the centre and they’re surrounded by shepherds. More shepherds can be seen in the distance, and angels hover overhead. The light coming from baby Jesus is so bright, it lights up all the people around him!

So what makes this so special? It’s gigantic at five meters tall! That’s as tall as a bus! But its size has led to a few problems. Because it’s so big, it can’t fit through the gallery doors. It had to be carefully rolled up to get it in and it’s been on quite a journey before that.

It was found in a castle in a place called Lichtenstein – that’s a very small country next to Germany. Over 50 years ago, in 1957, the National Gallery sent their trustees to go and have a look at the painting. But it was so dark inside the castle, it was hard to get a good look. So someone decided it would be a great idea to take it outside into the sunshine to see more. 

However, it was a very blustery day. So windy, in fact, that the painting was caught on a gust of wind and thrown into the air! It ended up quite a way away torn on a fence. Woops!

To fix it, it was given a good clean up to remove layers and layers of dirt and old varnish. Once that was done it was carefully lined on the back to give it more strength, and any paint which had flaked off was replaced stroke by stroke. In fact, it was during this process that the conservations team found out that the painting was discoloured in strange smears and patches. After a lot of investigation, they discovered that it was most likely bat poo which had covered the canvas during all those years in that castle. Yuck!

Have a go at repairing a piece of art!

Can you imagine how you would repair a big painting?

You’ve probably accidentally ripped a painting you’ve made at school before. Try printing off a painting from your computer, tearing it, and repairing it and see how you can get it back looking the same as it did before it was damaged.

How would you start?

On a real painting like this one, you’d have to start very gently, cleaning the layers of dirt and varnish first before you start painting. And if it’s torn, you’d need to find a way to stick it back together without being able to see.

Be careful though! 

You’d want to get the dirt off when you’re cleaning, not the paint! Some paints have different “thinners” – watercolours are soluble in water, oil paints are soluble in solvents etc, so you’d need to be careful not to move the paint around by accident.

How would you get the painting looking as it was before it was painted?

A great deal of time and work goes into restoring paintings so they look exactly as they did when they were first painted. It takes years of training to get it all right! There was one lady in Spain a few years ago who tried to restore a painting in her local church herself. Click here to see what happened!

Click on a painting below to explore more!

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 NG_logo_blackPainting Explorers in association with The National Gallery