HUFFINGTON POST
12/28/2011 02:49 pm ET

Leonardo Da Vinci's 'The Virgin And Child With Saint Anne' Restoration At The Louvre Stirs Up Controversy

A painting by Leonardo da Vinci has been cleaned for presentation -- but did the Louvre ruin the original in the process?

According to the Guardian, two French art experts have resigned from the Louvre following claims that the museum "overcleaned" "The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne," a 500-year-old painting, leaving it too bright. The experts, Segolene Bergeon Langle and Jean-Pierre Cuzin were formerly specialists at the museum.

But this is hardly the first controversy over restoration the art world has seen. The difficulty in working with older paintings to remove dirt, grime and other signs of age without compromising the original work has led to kerfuffles before. Specialists have disagreed over whether to clean these masterpieces at all, and if so, what techniques should be used to preserve the work best. Many of the world's most famous pieces of art have been subject to fierce debate of this nature.

A twenty-year long restoration of Michelangelo's work at the Sistine Chapel from 1979 to 1999, had a small, but vocal group of detractors who worried, again, that the cleaning would leave the painting too bright. Though restorers attempted to use techniques that would match those used in the Renaissance, critics remain, even today.

More recently, in 2003, Michelangelo's David was cleaned, using compresses of water to remove dirt from the surface. One of the restorers chosen for that project also resigned in protest, arguing that the method to be used could cause damage to the sculpture itself. The project was finished in 2004, though over the course of the restoration, it was discovered that the David is unstable at the ankles -- which will have to be dealt with at some point.

And this isn't da Vinci's first painting to undergo the spotlight. From 1978 to 1999, a major restoration attempted to fix damages to "The Last Supper" caused by dirt, age, and previous restorations in the centuries before. Restorers used scientific methods to find out what the painting might have looked like originally. When it was complete, many critics found the restoration had changed the painting dramatically.

The late Professor James Beck, a vocal critic of many restorations, who founded ArtWatch, called the new work "18 to 20 percent Leonardo and 80 percent" the restorer's.

Beck also objected in 1991 to a cleaning of a tomb sculpture by Quercia, in Italy.

"Ilaria looks as if she'd been washed with Spic'n'Span and polished with Johnson's Wax," he said, resulting in a suit against him for "aggravated slander."

Modern works have also been subject to scrutiny. After the Barnett Newman painting "Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III" was attacked in Amsterdam, the restoration was criticized as amateurish.

Next month, the Metropolitan Museum of Art will unveil a restored version of Emanuel Leutze's "Washington Crossing the Delaware" from 1851. It remains to be seen how the restoration will go over.

See da Vinci's "The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne" below:

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