The Sun reports that one of the Metropolitan Museum of Arts' treasured artworks was recently at the NYU Medical Center for a CT scan. Conservator of paintings George Bisacca had the duty of transporting "The Annunciation", a painting by the Sienese master Sassetta from the 15th-century, there to clear up some questions. Mainly the "historical conundrum" about whether "the Met's painting...was originally part of Sassetta's famous, but long ago fragmented, altarpiece from the Franciscan church of Borgo San Sepolcro in Arezzo."
When the original altarpiece, which stands at 16 feet tall, was removed from the church in the late 16th-century - it was dismantled. Twenty-seven of the sixty pieces survived and are currently dispersed amongst ten museums worldwide. As for the Met's painting, one problem is that it seemed to be painted on a different wood, but Bisacca's theory was that when the panel was sawed apart (the other half in a museum in Cleveland), thinned down and placed on a new panel, which would explain the different wood. To prove this, a trip to the hospital was in order.
The film showed the lamination line where the poplar was attached to the spruce. "It also showed us the cut of the wood — a tangential section cut, which is a specific cut in the tree," Mr. Bisacca said. "We were able to match that up with the Cleveland piece to show that they were in fact once the same piece of wood." The CT scan of the painting "pretty much proved that it was the other half of the Cleveland panel."
Guess that's why he gets paid the big bucks. And if you're wondering why the altarpiece wasn't dismantled a bit more gently, Larry Kanter (curator of the Lehman Collection) explains, "they weren't valuable as art, because they were old-fashioned, but they were valuable as gold or wood. So they were reused as table tops or doors, or burned to recover the gold." Though all we're left wondering is what a co-pay on a 15th-century work of art is.
Photo via the Metropolitan Museum of Art.