Veronese: the Cuccina Cycle. The restored masterpiece

07 March 2018

Veronese: the Cuccina Cycle. The restored masterpiece

The Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Picture Gallery) at Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden has an extensive collection of paintings by Paolo Caliari, known as Veronese (1528–1588), who is considered one of the most important representatives of Venetian Renaissance painting. Among the Dresden paintings, the Cuccina Cycle stands out for its exceptional artistic quality and its special typological and iconographic features.

  • DATES 09/03/2018—03/06/2018

Veronese: the Cuccina Cycle. The restored masterpiece

Produced by Veronese, probably in around 1571, on commission for the Cuccina family of Venetian cloth merchants, the series is made up of four large-format oil paintings. These show “The Adoration of the Magi”, “The Wedding at Cana”, “Christ Bearing the Cross” and “The Madonna and the Cuccina Family”. The depictions with their many figures are characterised by minute attention to detail and extreme realism, along with a heavily narrational compositional structure. While three of the paintings depict scenes from the life of Christ, the votive image “The Madonna and the Cuccina Family” presents the commissioners’ large family as if on a stage.

The cycle of paintings drew attention early on. In the first third of the 17th century, Cardinal Francesco Barberini and King Charles I of England showed great interest in them, and in 1645 they came into the possession of Francesco I d'Este, Duke of Modena. Eventually, some one hundred years later in 1746, the Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, August III acquired them for the Gemäldegalerie in Dresden along with another 96 masterpieces from the Estensi collection.

Die drei heiligen Könige sowie weitere Personen und Tiere verbeugen sich vor Maria und dem Christuskind
© SKD, Foto: Herbert Boswank
[Translate to English:] Paolo Veronese, Die Anbetung der Könige, um 1571 [Translate to English:] Öl auf Leinwand, 206 x 455 cm, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister Dresden

Veronese: the Cuccina Cycle. The restored masterpiece

Sources from the 18th and 19th centuries show that, since their arrival in Dresden, the four paintings have repeatedly undergone restoration work. This is partly due to Veronese’s skilful painting technique; for his blues and greens, the artist used oil paints made of pigments containing copper. The original colour of these unstable pigments faded very quickly. Moreover, binding problems between the ground layers and the paint layer often led to small losses in the paint layer. The overall impression was rounded off by old linings, retouching and overpainting, along with heavily discoloured varnish layers. In addition, the paint layers were acutely loose in patches; not all of these could be restored. For that reason, the partial closure of the Sempergalerie in 2013 was a good opportunity to restore the four large-format pieces. Altogether, 33 square metres of the paintings’ surface required thorough restoration.

Veronese: the Cuccina Cycle. The restored masterpiece

The four restored paintings are at the centre of the exhibition, which is enriched by the addition of national and international loans. To complement these pieces, the lone two surviving sketches made by Veronese for the Cuccina Cycle have been reunited with the paintings. The exhibition also offers an insight into the restoration and the scientific analyses. One focus is on Veronese’s paints, including the precious Mexican cochineal, which gained its reputation as a fabric dye and paint. Among others, Zuanna Cuccina’s family was behind the import monopoly on this product. In the Cuccina Cycle paintings, Veronese made almost extravagant use of this scarlet dye. X-rays and infrared reflectography allowed fascinating investigations into what lay beneath the pictures’ surface, exposing the artist’s painting process. Another topic addressed is the materials, texture and precious nature of the clothing depicted, with the display being enhanced by historic clothing and materials from Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden’s Rüstkammer (Armoury) and Kunstgewerbemuseum (Museum of Decorative Arts). Works by Titian and Veronese illustrate the fine art of Venetian portraiture. Last, but not least, the history of the Cuccina Cycle is brought to life through drawings and graphic art.

Die drei heiligen Könige sowie weitere Personen und Tiere verbeugen sich vor Maria und dem Christuskind
© SKD, Foto: Herbert Boswank
[Translate to English:] Paolo Veronese, Die Anbetung der Könige, um 1571 [Translate to English:] Öl auf Leinwand, 206 x 455 cm, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister Dresden

Veronese: the Cuccina Cycle. The restored masterpiece

Interactive multimedia and augmented reality exhibits developed by students from the Chair of Media Design at Technische Universität Dresden encourage visitors to make further discoveries.
The project was made possible thanks to generous support from three foundations – the Ernst von Siemens Kunststiftung, the Schoof’sche Stiftung and the Hirmer Stiftung Dresden – and funding from federal sources (“Invest Ost” programme for national cultural institutions in eastern Germany) and the state of Saxony.

A catalogue to accompany the exhibition is being published by Sandstein Verlag, vividly presenting the Cycle and its restoration with numerous illustrations. Published by Christine Follmann, Marlies Giebe and Andreas Henning for Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, approx. 200 pages, roughly 170 illustrations, most in colour, €24.00. ISBN 978-3-95498-354-4.

Marion Ackermann, Director General of the SKD: “The year 2018 has been declared the European Year of Cultural Heritage. And it is this very year that the SKD will have completed its work on the Cuccina Cycle, after four years of restoration, making this major work by the Venetian painter Veronese accessible to the public once again. Through this project, the SKD is not only documenting its task of preserving the artistic treasures with which it has been entrusted for modern and future viewers, but also demonstrating its role as a scientific institution and a dynamic conveyor of knowledge. Without considerable support from our funders and sponsors, this project would not have been imaginable. My thanks thus go to those who placed their trust in us and have stood by our side for all these years as ever-reliable partners.”

Stephan Koja, Director of Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister and the pre-1800 Skulpturensammlung: “The restoration of the Cuccina Cycle is a milestone on the road to the Sempergalerie re-opening in the summer of 2019. It is fuelling excited anticipation of the moment when we will be able to see these four large-format works alongside masterpieces by other great Venetian artists of the 16th century, such as Titian and Tintoretto, in our fully refurbished, modernised building. Today, the Cuccina Cycle, one of the works that has been on constant display at the Gemäldegalerie since it arrived in Dresden in 1746, is being returned to the public sphere. We are thus celebrating the completion of an extremely complex restoration requiring a great deal of research, which would not have been possible without the generous support of our funders and sponsors.”

The exhibition is curated by Christine Follmann, Marlies Giebe and Andreas Henning.

The four large-format paintings were restored between 2013 and 2017 by six freelance restorers: Evelyn Adler and Jan Sacher (“Adoration of the Magi” and “Christ Bearing the Cross”), Tobias Lange and Anke Stenzel (“Wedding at Cana”) and Kathrin Jacob and Sabine Posselt (“The Madonna and the Cuccina Family”). The gilded baroque gallery frames, totalling 53 metres of moulding, were restored during the same period by the freelance restorers Timo Fregin, Karen Gäbler, Theresa Herrmann, Jörg Kestel, Tania Korntheuer-Wardak and Stephan Thürmer.

Cooperation partners:
Archaeometry laboratory at the Academy of Fine Arts, Dresden
Art Technology faculty at the Academy of Fine Arts, Dresden
Chair of Media Design at the TU Dresden Computer Science Institute
Italian Centre at TU Dresden
National Gallery Scientific Department, London
Associazione Culturale Ispirazione and Italiana Strategie

Presspictures- and -dossiers

Die drei heiligen Könige sowie weitere Personen und Tiere verbeugen sich vor Maria und dem Christuskind
[Translate to English:] Paolo Veronese, Die Anbetung der Könige, um 1571 [Translate to English:] Öl auf Leinwand, 206 x 455 cm, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister Dresden
© SKD, Foto: Herbert Boswank
Ansicht eines Festmahls mit Jesus, Maria und den Jüngern, daneben eine antikische Stadtlandschaft
Paolo Veronese, Die Hochzeit zu Kana, um 1571 Öl auf Leinwand, 207 x 457 cm, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister
© SKD, Foto: Herbert Boswank
Umgeben von zahlreichen Menschen, Pferden und Hunden trägt Jesus das Kreuz auf seiner Schulter
Paolo Veronese, Die Kreuztragung, um 1571 Öl auf Leinwand, 166 x 414 cm, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister
© SKD, Foto: Herbert Boswank
Die Familie Cuccina versammelt sich vor der Madonna mit Christuskind
Paolo Veronese, Die Madonna der Familie Cuccina, um 1571 Öl auf Leinwand, 167 x 416 cm, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister
© SKD, Foto: Herbert Boswank
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