Jacob Jordaens, The tribute money: Peter finding the silver coin
in the mouth of the fish, 1623
Copenhagen, Statens Museum for Kunst
Museum press release
Get under the skin of one of the true highlights at Statens Museum for Kunst. From 18 September onwards, the painting The Apostle Peter Finding the Tribute Money in the Mouth of the Fish (AKA Ferry Boat to Antwerp, a large canvas measuring 279.5 by 467 cm, circa 1623) by the Flemish Baroque Era master Jacob Jordaens will undergo extensive restoration. Visitors will be able to follow the process as the painting is brought back to its former glory; the museum’s conservation specialists will conduct the restoration work live in an open workshop installed in one of the museum’s exhibition rooms. The project, which is scheduled for a ten-month duration, will provide rare insights into the many techniques used in conservation and restoration work, and X-ray and infrared scans will reveal the artist’s original working process.
Blue hair and an invisible woman
The project brings together the museum’s forces within conservation, research, and communication. The preliminary X-ray and infrared scans have just been completed, giving conservators and art historians valuable information about the condition and creation of the painting. The extensive and painstaking restoration work is carried out by the museum’s in-house experts. Their work requires patience and precision at all times, and in this case their task is complicated further by the fact that the painted on no less than eight pieces of canvas. Old varnish and discolorations caused by previous restoration work will be gently removed, and the layers originally applied by the artist will be more firmly anchored to the canvas. Once these tasks are completed, extensive retouching will return the colours and textures as closely as possible to Jordaens’ original work.
As this work progresses, careful studies will be conducted of the layers of paint, the structure of the canvas, and of Jordaens’ technique. These investigations will help the museum’s art experts unlock many secrets concerning the painting’s creation, significance, and possible interpretations. Why did Jordaens seemingly paint blue hair on one of the figures? Who is the woman whom X-rays have revealed to be hiding behind the uppermost layer of paint? And did Jordaens actually paint the entire canvas? A panel of Danish and international experts will contribute to the research done, and the museum will document the project and results in a major book published when the project is completed.
Open workshop – online, too
The restoration work takes place in room 272 in the museum’s white building. Here, visitors can follow the incremental, yet clearly visible results day by day. A dynamic interface platform will provide insights into the technical and chemical methods employed by the conservators – and into the results of the ongoing research. Screens will show close-ups of the meticulous work, allowing visitors to closely follow the process. On Wednesdays from 15 – 15.30 the conservators will speak about their work and take questions from the audience. Admission free.
The museum’s website also lets visitors follow the progress, visit and respond the conservators’ and art historians’ blogs and find answers to a multitude of questions about conservation work. For more, visit www.smk.dk/restaurering.
About the artist and his work
The life and work of the Flemish painter Jacob Jordaens (1593-1678) took place in the Antwerp of the Baroque Era; a city which, despite the economic recession of the time, enjoyed a rich cultural life – as is illustrated by the fact that Jordaens lived right next to other masters such as Rubens and Anton van Dyck. What survives of Jordaens’ life’s work is characterised by the exuberant, life-affirming style and palette typical of Flemish-era Baroque.
The Apostle Peter Finding the Tribute Money in the Mouth of the Fish is one of the largest, most impressive paintings at Statens Museum for Kunst. The literary basis is a Biblical tale from the gospel of Matthew. Jordaens does, however, stray greatly away from the conventions usually observed for such scenes. The apostle Peter is not depicted as an older, white-haired and bearded man, and Jordaens has dressed the passengers of the crowded ferry boat in contemporary fashions. Thus, several elements indicate that the artist sought to make the Biblical message relevant to a 17th century Flemish setting. The painting was acquired in 1912 by then-director of Statens Museum for Kunst, Karl Madsen, who bought it from a Dutch merchant family that had emigrated to Sweden. We do not yet know Jordaens’ original intentions concerning the painting’s function and context, but hopefully the upcoming restoration and research will bring us closer to an answer.
Research and restoration supported by the Getty Foundation, Los Angeles
The project is also supported by Leica Microsystems A/S, Nederman Danmark, Bang & Olufsen, and FORCE Technology