Ask a Question: Caravaggio’s Crucifixion of Saint Andrew

With the Conservation in Focus of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s Crucifixion of Saint Andrew  closing this week, it is natural for a visitor to have lingering questions. Here is a process ordinarily unseen. Normally, when you approach a painting in the gallery, you wish for an unobstructed view of the work. Here the conservator, Dean Yoder, is part of the exhibition; the process being performed is too, a part of the exhibition. As the old adage goes, if you don’t ask you’ll never know. 

The curious visitor to the focus gallery will find in the installation a desk with question cards (as pictured above), for your inquiries about the painting, about conservation, about really anything at all. You’ve asked and we’ve let you know. The questions we’ve received have been both thoughtful and esoteric. When you visit the exhibition, on view until September 14th, please ask a question. Below are some of the most asked questions from the exhibition run. 

How do you pronounce Caravaggio?


The key to pronouncing Caravaggio correctly is the end of the name. Your tongue stops on the roof of your mouth to make the J sound long enough to turn the O into a soft Joe. Avoid the pitfall of the io ending and the desire to end the name in geo. 

How do you become a conservator?

Prior to the establishment of graduate programs in conservation, the path to becoming a conservator involved years as an apprentice to a master in the field. The role of apprenticeship still plays an integral role in the process of becoming a conservator, as graduates of conservation degree programs must hone their technique with many hours in the conservation laboratory. For the young person interested in the field, a background in art history and chemistry is a good start. 

Should we assume that in forty years this present conservation will need to be “fixed” once again?

The only thing more reliable than the evolution of conservation science is the slow degradation of all works of art. Without conservation, the condition of the Caravaggio will worsen. Therefore steps must be taken to reverse the effects of work that occurred prior to the museum’s acquisition of the painting. Current conservation practice emphasizes minimal intervention using appropriate materials and reversible methods. In forty years the current restoration will not be seen as problematic because the materials used today are easily removed without harming the painting and degrade much more slowly than those used previously. 

How did you acquire the technology for this restoration?

The Lubrizol Company donated $50,000 to the museum to provide a remote controlled microscope which the conservator uses to make a highly detailed map of the painting surface. Precision fittings on the table, used to position the microscope, were made by Parker Hannifin. Additionally, the museum facilities include an extensive conservation suite boasting state-of-the-art laboratories, each dedicated to a specific discipline within the field. It is one of the finest spaces in the country for analysis, study, and conservation of museum collections.

When is the toothpaste sculpture coming back? And why doesn’t it smell like toothpaste?

The wall label for Claes Oldenburg’s Giant Toothpaste Tube lists the following materials used in creating the sculpture:  vinyl over canvas filled with kapok; wood, metal and cast plastic. As you can see, there is no toothpaste listed. The material of the sculpture is light sensitive; therefore the work is not currently on view. In its place is his colossal sculpture, Standing Mitt with Ball which lists the following materials: steel, lead, and wood. This sculpture does not smell like toothpaste or leather for that matter. 

When will the jewelry with the single eye portraits be put on view, and can you have an exhibition with these?

The eye miniatures were on view as recently as this year, in the exhibition Disembodied: Portrait Miniatures and their Contemporary Relatives. This exhibition provided a unique opportunity to view every portrait miniature in the museum’s collection at once, including the eye miniatures. However, portrait miniatures are light sensitive and for this reason a new rotation of these objects has not been planned. Fortunately all museum objects are available to view on the website, even when not on view in the galleries. There you might find Henry Bone’s Bacchus and Ariadne, installed in place of the miniature’s cabinet in Gallery 202. Additionally, the museum’s catalog of British portrait miniatures is available for purchase in the museum store, or downloadable for free on the museum website. 

What is art?

Art is the visual expression of human skill and imagination. Writers and philosophers have tried to define it many ways, and the quotes they give are often more autobiographically telling than illuminating about art. Maybe this is because art really is a mirror held up to nature or maybe this is because artists are holding that mirror up to themselves. 

Who can I call or email to ask questions about art?

Ingalls Library reference staff can be reached via telephone at 216-707-2530, via reference [at] clevelandart.org (subject: Ask-An-Expert) (email), via the Ask-An-Expert form on the library website, and in person at the library reference desk from Tuesday to Friday. 

What did you learn as a librarian from answering these questions?

Visitors to this museum ask fascinating questions. Your questions have sharpened our understanding of the life and work of Caravaggio as well as the process of painting conservation. This project has also provided us with insight into how we might better engage with you in our shared search for the answers to the nagging questions at the back of our minds.  


> #Get2KnowCaravaggio: Read more Q&As

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