How about a game of…

spot the Crucifixion? The rules are quite simple, really: All you need is a late medieval wall painting, like this one here…

Crucifixion, wall painting, mid-14th century, Parish Church, St. Nikola an der Donau (Austria)

… and a guidebook claiming that there’s a Crucifixion scene depicted in said painting. And then you just keep staring at the picture until you can finally make out the faded remains of the scene:

Crucifixion (Detail), wall painting, mid-14th century, Parish Church, St. Nikola an der Donau (Austria)

Want to have another go? Try this one:

Crucifixion, wall painting, early 16th century, Cemetery Chapel, Waitschach (Austria)

To help you out a bit, here’s a more detailed image of the painting’s central portion where, after adding lots and lots of contrast in Photoshop, the crucified body of Christ is slightly more discernible and even the silhouette of Jerusalem becomes visible in the background:

Crucifixion (Detail), wall painting, early 16th century, Cemetery Chapel, Waitschach (Austria)

It’s a fun game, isn’t it? Only, for some people, including myself, it’s actually part of our job and in many cases it’s only the smallest of steps from fun to frustration. I mean, I really like wall paintings, and I love studying them, a lot more than for instance manuscript illuminations with their fresh, well-preserved colours… But still, the state of preservation some of those murals are in can often be a real bitch nuissance.

Admittedly, the two paintings shown above are extreme examples, not least because both of them are located on the outside of their respective buildings and have therefore been exposed to sun, wind and rain for ages. But even inside, the situation isn’t always that much better:

Crucifixion, wall painting, late 15th century, Parish Church, Freistadt (Austria)

Well, it’s not that I’m complaining… But I thought it would be fun to share these images here. Fun as well as educational. The thing is that, when we think of art history, we usually  think of well-preserved, high-end works by the likes of Giotto, Michelangelo or Tintoretto. The fact of the matter is, however, that more often than not, what art historians actually deal with are badly preserved, low-key works by anonymous or little-known masters that rarely make it into the textbooks or even onto art historical blogs…

To this effect, I’ll leave you with another “gem” from Austria’s rich heritage of medieval wall paintings:

Christ on the Mount of Olives & The Crucifixion, wall painting, late 14th / early 15th century, Parish Church, Haidkirchen (Austria)

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4 Responses to How about a game of…

  1. Christina says:

    Thanks for the funny post! Second to “Spot the Crucifixion” is my favorite medieval fresco game, “What is going on in this scene?!”

    • Lol, yes, “What’s going on here” is another party favourite – though perhaps with even more potential for frustration when it comes up in a work-related context ;-)

  2. stanze says:

    Must be very difficult to restore paintings that are in such a bad state.

    • Well, I’m not a restorer myself, so I really wouldn’t know, but I guess it really must be rather tricky to deal with paintings in such a decrepit state. After all, at the basis of every restoration is an analysis and interpretation of what is actually there, and if that first step already proves difficult, that certainly doesn’t make the rest of the process any easier…

      On the plus side: With such badly preserved paintings it’s virtually impossible for restorers to ruin the painting ;-)

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