It’s a Frame Job

This February the Rosenbach sent a three-inch object on a three thousand mile voyage. 2014 marks the 400th anniversary of the death of Doménikos Theotokópoulos, better known to the art world as El Greco. The city of Toledo, El Greco’s home for almost 40 years, is celebrating with the largest El Greco exhibition ever, entitled  The Greek of Toledo. The Rosenbach was asked to loan a very small item to this very large exhibition: an oil-on-card portrait miniature, attributed as a possible El Greco.

Portrait of a woman. Late 16th century. Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia. 1954.0640.047

Before going out on loan, the miniature needed some conservation on its frame in order for it to travel and be displayed safely. The miniature was no longer in its original frame, but in a more modern scroll-top frame of the type used on many of the 458 miniatures that Philip Rosenbach purchased from the artist and collector Talbot Hughes. However, the frame needed a new back, so that the miniature would be held securely, and it also needed a new glass on the front.

Enter miniature-conservator Carol Aiken. Carol first traveled from Baltimore to assess and measure the miniature and the frame, then she fabricated the necessary pieces in her studio, and finally she returned to the Rosenbach to put it all together.  Here is Carol at work at the Rosenbach, removing the miniature from its frame.

Here she is working with the new frame elements to ensure a perfect fit. You can see the miniature itself on the box in front of her.

Thanks to Carol’s work, our painted lady was safe and secure for travel. Our curator, Judy Guston, took it to Spain and oversaw its installation (apparently right next to an enormous painting); the exhibit in Toledo runs through June 16 and then our happily-housed miniature will be coming home.

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia