Art Primers

Paintings we see in the galleries today engage the viewer as independent, complete works of art. Many of them, however, are fragments of larger compositions, although it is not always known what the original would have looked like. The scale of figures in relation to other elements in the painting, overall compositional balance, and different artworks that share similar elements help determine whether a work is a fragment. Examination of the edges of a painting may also confirm any alteration to the original work. Fragments could also be modified and sometimes combined with other fragments from different works to serve a new purpose. As partial sketches, disassembled and cropped pieces, and components of reconstructions, these fragments offer us an opportunity to reflect on the history of objects and how they have taken on new lives in different contexts.

Image credit:
Giovanni Ambrogio Bevilacqua
Saint Jerome, circa 1495-1500 (detail)
Tempera with gold leaf on wood panel
The Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin
The Suida-Manning Collection