The Cleveland Museum of Art
Special Exhibitions
Battle of the Nudes

Conservation Feature
Discover the Battle of the Nudes


Careful examination also reveals much about a print's condition. Condition refers to the print's physical state or overall health. Questions regarding condition are considered when looking at the print's structural and visual integrity. Typically the conservator or art historian asks, is the print structurally sound and intact; are the support and media chemically and physically stable; does the print suffer from cosmetic disfigurement. Condition problems may include surface and image wear, discolored and stained paper, and structural damages such as creases, tears and losses.

In the 1968 Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, Louise Richards, former curator of prints and drawings, discusses the condition problems shared by different impressions of Pollaiuolo's engraving and attributes much of this damage to the print's large size as well as its age. According to Richards,

"All impressions of Pollaiuolo's engraving show evidence of a vertical crease and, in most, the page was quartered by a horizontal center fold as well. The edges of the paper became creased, abraded and soiled in the course of time, and many impressions were simply trimmed on all four sides when the margins became too tattered to hold together. All impressions have lost some areas of printed design from the surface where the paper has suffered damage, and in such areas the design has often been redrawn in pen and ink."

Richards goes on to say "Thus, the comparison of impressions of Pollaiuolo's engraving must take into account a greater than usual incidence of restoration." [Bibliography: Richards]

More recently, former assistant curator Shelley Langdale's research, which entailed looking at 35 second-state impressions, 17 impressions in North America and 18 impressions in 7 European countries, has borne out this earlier finding by Richards concerning the prints' mutual condition problems.

In the case of Cleveland's Battle of the Nudes, the impression is considered to be in very good and stable overall condition. However the print bears considerable physical evidence that points to prior damage and restoration.

While it would be impossible to reconstruct the complete physical history of this print - indeed the possibilities are endless - we can provide a few pieces to this puzzle.

It is clear that at some point in its past the Cleveland impression was damaged and restored; it may have been restored more than once.

Close study confirms that this print suffered structural damages such as fold-tears and edge losses that are for the most part to be expected in a large print that is more than 500 years old. The print's surface, however, is remarkably undamaged; it retains good paper texture and excellent line embossment and overall line quality. In this respect the impression is in exceptionally good condition. The paper's overall color and degree of suppleness (i.e., the sheet is not too limp or too rigid) are also very good.

The restorations disguising the structural damage are extensive and invasive; the skill with which they were executed is awe-inspiring. In sum, the restorations are in themselves worthy of study and contribute to the print's remarkable character and enigmatic appeal. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, there are no records of when these amazing restorations were done; if any records ever existed, it is highly unlikely, even if the print was restored as late as the 1960s, that they would have been passed down. Some insight into when the restorations were done can be gleaned from the print's provenance.

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