CHAPTER 2: Modified and reconstructed

Objects separated from the original context could be reconstructed or modified to serve a new purpose. Small parts of altarpieces could be used for private devotion with slight modifications. For example, identity of a figure could easily change with the addition of inscriptions or other visual elements. Until the last century, it was not unusual to put together fragments from completely unrelated objects to make a satisfying whole. Careful examination of atypical iconography and analysis of materials help discover whether an artwork was altered or reconstructed with pieces from different sources.

Saint Bernard


Saint Bernard
Oil, tempera, and gold leaf
49.7 cm x 36 cm (19 9/16 in. x 14 3/16 in.)
Gift of Charles and Loretta Marsh, 1984

This painting presents an unflattering, naturalistic portrayal of an elderly man through the artist's meticulous depiction of wrinkles, veins, warts, and graying hair. The figure has been considered to be Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who led the reform of the Cistercian Order in twelfth-century France. He wears a white habit, which is usually associated with the Order, and holds an abbot's crozier. The inscription on the ribbonlike banderole reads, “Monstra te esse matrem (Show thyself to be a mother),” the words that Bernard used in his prayer before a statue of Mary. According to legend, the statue came to life and spouted milk from her breast in response to his plea. It is unclear, however, if the present work was originally meant to be an image of Bernard. A close examination of the paint layers has recently revealed that the banderole and the upper half of the crozier, along with the blue clouds in the top corners, are later additions. It is possible that the painting was modified to represent the saint, sometime after its creation.

Cope (Ecclesiastical Cape)


Cope (Ecclesiastical Cape)
Velvet and silk embroidery
135.9 cm x 278.8 cm (53 1/2 in. x 109 3/4 in.)
Gift of Vivian Merrin, 1982

Copes were worn by Catholic bishops and priests during religious processions. Decorated with embroidery, copes often had orphreys, or ornamental borders, that depicted scenes from the lives of holy figures. This work features an orphrey that represents seven popular episodes from Christ’s Passion, such as the Agony in the Garden, Kiss of Judas, Flagellation, Crowning of Thorns, Mocking, Road to Calvary, and finally the Crucifixion. In the lower part of the Crucifixion panel is a coat of arms that suggests this ecclesiastical garment probably belonged to a member of a Flemish family. The pattern and quality of the velvet, on the other hand, points to an Italian origin. It is likely that the orphrey and the velvet were sewn together in the twentieth century.

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