Today I explored the permanent collection at the Nasher Museum for the first time. I was moving slowly, taking my time to look at each work and read the blurb that went with it because I really wanted to take it all in. I was jotting notes on the “Sacra Conversazione” in my tiny notebook when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something that I thought I recognized. When I turned around, sure enough, it was Giovanni Battista Gaulli’s “Tobias and the Angel.”
This year in my AP Art History class, my teacher took us to Ruth Cox’s art restoration studio in her Chapel Hill home. Her job is endlessly interesting because she gets to work with paintings from every era, restoring them to what she hopes is the original beauty that the artist intended. When we went to her house late last year, her main project was a mid-17th century piece that was barely recognizable at that point, but which she told us would eventually hang in the Nasher Museum’s permanent collection under the name “Tobias and the Angel.”
Mrs. Cox told us about her struggles with the restoration of the painting: One of the angel’s hands had been completely destroyed. She even showed us photographs of her own daughter’s hand which she planned to use as models when she got to restoring it. Seeing this painting in the museum today was absolutely incredible because I felt as if I had been a small part of its journey. The first place my eye went, of course, was to the hand that she had been working on, and I was excited to see that it blended perfectly with the style and color of the rest of the work. As she told us was her intention, she left no trace of herself in the restoration and focused on bringing out the painting’s former beauty.
IMAGE: Giovanni Battista Gaulli (Il Baciccio), Tobias and the Angel, ca 1639-1709. Oil on canvas. Gift of Joseph F. McCrindle.
Caitlin Cleaver is a senior at Durham Academy.