Accueil Polychromies Secrètes
musée des Augustins
Mairie Toulouse

Material history of the work

Photograph of the entire work before the
f inal intervention.

The Crucifixion has sustained serious damage due to revolutionary vandalism, but also as a result of poor storage conditions and clumsy restoration.

The revolutionaries were basically targeting royal figures and symbols: the King’s face, his cloak, the armorial bearings on the prie-dieux and the coats of arms have been lacerated. The work escaped the patriotic bonfire of 10 August 1793 and was put into the store of the Augustins, which became a museum in 1795. Rediscovered in 1853, it was found to have been badly damaged by the humidity in a gallery-turned-cellar. The first restoration in 1853 resulted in the almost total destruction of the gold background after an attempt at sizing it. Other successive interventions contributed to a thickening of the paint layer: some parts, very lacunary, received repaints that often impinged on the original surface and were sometimes fairly interpretative, given the absence of information on the original state of the work.

The revived interest in the altarpiece in 1853 gave rise to an investigation by an expert, Charles George, the victim of a crude hoax: in effect, he accepted as genuine a false payment order to the Capitouls dated 5 August 1444, provided by the archaeologist Alexandre Du Mege (who might have produced it himself, or obtained it from a forger), and relied on it in his attribution of the work to a certain Maitre Jehan. The identification of the kneeling donors as Louis d’Anjou (brother of Charles V and Governor of Languedoc) and the first President of the Parliament is impossible because they did not hold these positions at the same time.

The Support

The use of the support displays Southern French characteristics. The choice of walnut conforms to a tradition observed in the South of France, particularly in Provence. The panel is formed from three wide boards, with knots in the upper portion. They are cut tangentially, another common custom in the South of Europe. The joints are strengthened by wooden dowels inserted into the thickness of the edge of the boards and detected by X-ray.

The existence of unpainted edges forming a strip outside the painted format has made it possible to confirm that three of the edges (upper, right and left) are still original, and that the top has not been cut as suggested by the semi-circular shape of the upper medallion containing the symbol of Saint John the Evangelist. On the other hand, the lower edge has undoubtedly been cut away very slightly, as is shown by the interruption of the King’s cloak and the drapery of his prie-dieu. The composition thus has a simple rectangular format, not a curved Gothic shape.

The edge also indicates that the picture was painted in its frame, as was usual in the 15th Century. The thickness of the panel and the wide unpainted border indicate that the frame was stuck onto the front, at the edge of the panel. The absence of any trace of fixative, particularly on the unpainted - and broader - upper border, may suggest that the support has been recut inside the points of attachment. The frame would have been about 10 centimetres wide if the nails were placed in the centre of the moulding. Red traces observed under the microscope at the edges of the composition might correspond to either the original or a later frame colour.

X-rays show that there is a dowel in the thickness of the support on the lower left side of the panel, which might mean that there was a predella originally attached to the panel, as seen in old representations of the Crucifixion of the Parliament of Paris.