Eva van Zuien, independent restorer specialised in old masters, recently completed the restoration of a true artistic gem. Commissioned by The Phoebus Foundation, she breathed new life into Bust of a Saint by Brussels artist Michaelina Wautier.

Michaelina’s distinctive touch is easily recognisable in this beautiful work. The way in which she painted the soft features, the eyes and the drapery embodies her characteristic style. Additionally, the artist signed the work in her typical manner, placing her full first and last name, Michaelina Wautier fecit, in the upper left corner.

The painting was in a moderate condition before treatment. It had been lined in the past, but the edges were damaged, causing the canvas to no longer be adequately stretched on the frame. Furthermore, the paint layers appeared dull due to surface dirt and the presence of a yellowed varnish layer. Notably, a significant portion of the background on the left side of the painting had been subject to overpainting.

Removing the old varnish layer resulted in a notable transformation. Previously obscured original colour nuances, like the blush on the cheeks, became more discernible in the face, and a gradient from light to dark in the background became more visible. The removal of the old overpainting on the left revealed an original underpainting, deliberately left exposed by the artist in a vertical strip. The reason for Wautier’s choice in this matter remains unclear, but it seems that this bust might have been painted on the edge of a larger canvas.

An interesting phenomenon in this painting is the presence of many protrusions on the paint surface. Countless small white crater-like formations are visible throughout the entire work. This is the result of lead soap formation, a chemical ageing process in the paint layer. Considering the disruptive visual effect of these light dots, it was decided to retouch the most distracting ones.

Thanks to this careful restoration, the artwork can once again be admired in all its splendor!