200 year old painting newly restored returns to Mission San Juan Capistrano
A 200 year old painting that is original to the mission but had fallen into disrepair was covered over and hidden for 40 years in the Mission San Juan Capistrano’s Serra Chapel. Newly discovered a few months ago, the deplorable condition of this pre-eminently important painting for the mission was immediately slated for painting restoration.
The unveiling of the restored painting came five months after art conservators transported the painting to Santa Barbara to the state of the art lab for the careful process aimed at stabilizing and preserving the work of art and then restoring it back to an appropriate appearance for the mission.
“This irreplaceable painting is part of the Station of the Cross collection of paintings that were part of the original Mission San Juan Capistrano in the early 1800s”, the mission said.
Scott M. Haskins, art conservator explaining details to the group gathered for the inauguration of the return of the painting to the mission.
Experts suspect the painting had been hanging in Serra Chapel since 1922. “When art conservators lifted the painting from the wall, they found a Los Angeles newspaper from April 13 of that year”, said Scott Haskins, the art conservator who handled the restoration with his team from Fine Art Conservation Laboratories in Santa Barbara.
Haskins said a “dump truck of rat poop” fell from the wall when he removed the painting, which was attached with a single screw, but held in place by a huge plaster architectural mold used as a frame.
The painting, 10 canvases sewn together, was larger than expected. Parts of the canvas were wrapped around the bottom and top, including the Hebrew version of the phrase atop the cross: “Jesus Christ, King of the Jews.” Reverend Monsignor Arthur A. Holquin stated this was a most important discovery and added importance to the spiritual message of the artwork.
The Latin version of the phrase has flaked off. The Greek version has always been visible.
Uncovering the bottom of the painting also revealed a key detail: the artist responsible for it. Jose Francisco Zervin’s name had been covered by the painting’s frame until Haskins and his team removed it from the wall. The date is also present; 1800
The art conservators at FACL, Inc. mounted the stabilized painting to new stretchers made of aluminum to stabilize the back of the painting and fix deep sags in the canvas. After the paintings flaked areas were retouched, the painting was varnished.
Haskins expected to place the painting back in its architectural molding frame to hang in the chapel, but the frame turned out to be dangerously unstable. A screw holding a section of the frame to the wall was barely connected to the wall and fell as the team was rehanging the painting. He caught the heavy frame section before it landed on the head of the person below. He said it could have killed someone had an earthquake dislodged it while tourists were visiting. The Fine Art Conservation Laboratory team spent 10 days dismantling the frame and rebuilding it. “This installation significantly upgraded the seismic protection features of this frame,” Haskins said.
A 40-year-old replica that hung over the original painting for decades is now in storage at the mission. Its painter, William Maldonado, attended Wednesday’s unveiling and said the restored work is “beautiful. “It’s as I feel it could have or should have looked,” Maldonado said. The Mission Preservation Foundation plans to focus on preserving the Sala Building next and may consider displaying the replica painting there, said Mechelle Lawrence Adams, executive director of the mission.
Pamela Hagen of Laguna Beach took her grandchildren, 8-year-old Hana and 7-year-old Lyric, to see the unveiling. She said the original painting was hanging in the chapel when she was baptized there as a baby. “It’s beautiful, and now we’ll have it for a very long time,” Hagen said.
Lawrence Adams scheduled the unveiling of the restored painting to coincide with National Historic Preservation Month. She said the painting is “sort of a symbolic representation of what we all go through as people. Sometimes we get a little fatigued. We get worn out and we just need something to come in and bring us back to life,” she said. “For a lot of people that come here at the mission, that’s the idea of faith.”
Art conservation questions: Scott M. Haskins 805 564 3438