1. Investigative Work
This panel painting by Theodoric is at present to be found in the restorer's studio of the National Gallery, where it has undergone thorough investigative work. This was carried out by the restorers of the National Gallery entrusted with the restoring of this painting, Academic Painters Zora Grohmannová and Hana Kohlová. The chemical analysis of the pigments, bonding media and ground layers, including spectral analyses, was carried out by Dorothea Pechová of the chemical laboratory of the National Gallery, and individual types of wood were determined by Ivana Vernerová. The largest panel painting from the Chapel of the Holy Rood at Karlštejn Castle is situated in the centre of the North wall at the top of the broken arch. The original beechwood panel is made up of six boards roughly 1.8 cm thick; the joints are pasted over on the front side with strips of canvas (16 x 14 threads per cm2). The state of the support, heavily attacked by woodworm, was clearly so catastrophic in the past that it was reduced on all four sides, including the frame, and strengthened all round with new wood. The vertical parts of the additions are of fir and the horizontal of linden material. The original reduced panel, measuring 170 x 142 cm, is on the side of the painting set close to the additions, which on the rear side overlap it considerably inwards. The original disintegrating wood is glued to this overlap with strong bone glue and thus partly supported. The large area of the panel was thus fixed by this measure and the results of this unfavourable operation showed in the occurence of cracks which are most frequent along the edges of the additions. The cracks mostly follow the original joints in the boards of the panel, elsewhere they are not connected with them. The panel clearly cracked long ago, it suffices to look at the rear side covered with horizontal and vertical oak, linden and pine binding strips, some of which appear from the way they are worked to be extremely old. The surface of the wood around the joints is covered by layers of size and canvas patch es. The wormwood attacked wood has never been petrified. The body of the removable newer frame and the wooden grid on which the panel is supported are of pinewood.

At first sight it is obvious that painting has suffered a great deal over the centuries. The non-original live-grey background behind the figures of the saints is unpleasantly cold, without pastiglias and without gilding. The outlines of the saints have been roughly overpainted several times and the flesh colour of Christ's body is so damaged that it lays bare the black brush-drawing and the chalk ground. The coloured layer of the painting is loose or has fallen away, especially around the cracks, and it is covered by a layer of dirt and yellowed varnishes.

All the arginai ground layers in the background and under the haloes are missing. The ground was cut out and removed right down to the wood. On it there was applied a yellowish-brown oil based layer with a trace of protein. It overlaps all the outlines of the original painting and the older overpainting and the additional wood at the left edge of the panel.

Detail of Christ's figure in IR light Foto NG Praha, S. Divišová

The gilded haloes of the Holy Virgin, St John and Jesus Christ are not original. They consist of a thick a layer of gypsum gilded with leaf on a thin layer of light red bole. The layer is considerably cracked with a darkened deposit of varnish and additional repairs of gold on yellow oil mordant. The edges of the haloes have the outer edge cut away. Beneath the plaster halo of the Virgin Mary was found a yellow-brown oil-starch layer with tiny remnants of gold; in composition, including binding medium, it differs from the layer applied to the entire area of the background of the Crucifixion, but is similar to the type of glue under the non-original pastiglias on many of the Theodoric panels in the Chapel (St Agnes of Rome, the Holy Bishop, St Anthory and others) 1.

For technical reasons X-ray photographs have been made so far only of the heads of the Holy Virgin, Stjohn the Evangelist and Christ. On all of them we observe a large number of escape holes made in the material of the wood by woodworm which have not, however, penetrated the plaster layer on the surface of the gilding.

Close round the internal outlines of the heads of the saints there were found placed at regular intervals (4-4.5 cm) wooden pegs, as could be expected from a panel on the main wall of the Chapel 2. Apart from this the X-ray photograph of Christ's halo showed in three places a fragment of the original painting and ground which forms the shape of a red cross of the halo 3. Its placing corresponds to the red streams of Christ's blood preserved in the overpainting.

Under the painting of the figures the entire surface is covered by the original two-layer ground with black brush underdrawing covered by a layer of lead white. The proportions of the drawings are slightly smaller than the actual painting (infrared photos). The method of painting the carnation of the of faces of Mary and John has typical characteristics of 'Theodoric 's painting – the large forms of the eyes, noses and lips, emphasised by the structural strokes of the brush. The light ochre of the flesh is supplemented by grey-brown non-transparent shadows with light red emphasis on the curve of the nose. The paint is applied a la prima. The unsolid modelling of Christ's face, hair and beard is very different from that described above and gives the impression of more later overpaintings, which have already been confirmed in cross-sections. The reason for these operations was undoubtedly the state of the orginal painting. The irreplaceable damage to the Christ's carnation parts probably occurred during careless cleaning of the picture in the past.

Theodorik, State before restoration, luminiscence
photo Soňa Divišová

Photograph from Neuwirth's publication, 1896, Pi. XXXI

Master Theodoric, The Crucifixion. A large panel picture from the altar wall of the Holy Rood Chapel; detail during investigative works

The blue of Mary's cloak is formed in the lower layer of azurite mixed with lead white or azurite alone, the final layer is in the shadowed parts laid down with natural ultramarine and in the light parts with lead white. All the overpaintings from various periods of time contain Prussian blue. The oldest of these, with an emulsion medium and difficult to dissolve, has flowed into the cracked and loose painting on the edges of the figures so that it will be extremely difficult to remove. The green and red robe of St John the Evangelist lacks in places in the micro-sections the thin layer of lead white. The green of the painting of the cloak is composed of a lower intensely green layer which contains copper mixed with malachite and a light-green layer with a large admixture of yellow ochres. The painting of the red lining of the saint's robe is based on a layer of vermilion and finished with red organic lake.

Some Notes on the State of the Picture over the Centuries

The damaging and cutting away of the layers of the background and the haloes together with the probable plastic decorative elements must have taken place around the beginning of the 15th century 4. It is difficult to determine the exact period of the oldest repairs to the haloes – the application of the brown-ochre oil ground and its gilding. Perhaps also connected with this is the very old repainting of the hair, the Crown of Thorns and the flesh of Christ. The origin of the gilded plaster haloes could be dated by the repairs at the beginning of the 18th century. A very concrete fact appears to be the great restoration of the picture, which certainly occurred after 1779 when, on the orders of Maria Theresa, the Crucifixion together with the pictures of St Ambrose and St Augustine and the Triptych of Tommas of Modena, was taken away to Vienna to investigate the technique of Theodoric's painting 5. The repairs to the panels were general, i. e. they concerned not only the damaged parts of the painting, but also the reconstruction of the plastic ornaments on the pictures of the Church Fathers and of the Holy Virgin between St Palmatius and St Václav (Wenceslas). The results of this repair are documented by high quality phototypes from Neuwirth's publication on Karlštejn Castle from 1896 6. In a somewhat aged form we can still see these operations on the paintings today. On the reproduction of the painting with the Crucifixion there can clearly be seen the already reduced and supplemented size of the panel, which is completed in rectangular form at the top.

The rear side of the picture

The painting is crossed by cracks which show through the filling and overpain ting. The head of Christ is completely repainted – eyes, beard and hair in such a way that the preparatory drawing does not shine through under the skin. The picture thus repaired hung in the Belvedere in Vienna up to 1901, when the Austrian Emperor permitted the panels to be returned with the proviso that copies would be made for Karlštejn Castle and then they would be taken back to Vienna again. Luckily this did not happen and the pictures were finally hung once again in their original places in the Chapel. At this time the upper part of the additional wood frame was cut away to allow the panel to fit under the top of the arch. A new frame was prepared, decorated with pastigliasi and a grid which supported the panel. In professional literature we can read that in the years 1927-1930 the repair of 24 of the Theodoric 's panels was carried out by the restorers B. Slánský, A Bělohoubek, J. Jeníšek andj. Hlavín. It would interest us to know when the Vienna overpainting was removed from our picture and by whom, because on the coloured reproduction of 1938 in Matějček's Czech Gothic Painting, published by Melantrich that same year, the Crucifixion is already without the overpaintings (in particular the head and body of Christ have roughly the same appearance that they have today)7,8. There has also been preserved a restorers' report on the partial restoration of the picture by B. Slánský, L Slánská and D. Blažková in the archives of the Central Bohemian, Institute for the Care of Historical Monuments from the year I960, unfortunately not in detail, but only in connection with the conservation and surface cleaning of the painting of a whole series of the Theodoric panels, which the restorers realised in situ.

Because the present restoration of the painting is just beginning – apart from the investigative work only partial probes have been made - further interesting discoveries may be made in the course of the work or existing findings may be corrected.

Zora Grohmannová, AHVT B 038 (J.D.)


1 Laboratorní zprávy průzkumů jednotlivých desek Mistra Theodorika uložené v rest. oddělení Národní galerie.

2 Z. Grohmanová, Současné výsledky průzkumu Theodorikových desek Umění XXXVIII/1990, str. 547 8.

3 Restaurátorská zpráva o restaurování desky Mistra Theodorika sv. Jan Křtitel, Národní galerie, Z. Grohmanová.

4 M. Tomek, Dějiny Prahy, IV. d„ Praha 1879, s. 64

5 A. Sedláček, Hrady, zámky a tvrze Království českého, VI d., s. 30-31.

6 Neuwirth, Mittelalterliche Wandgemälde und die Tafelbilder der Burg Karlstein in Böhmen, Prag 1896, ta. XXXI, XLI.

7 Česká malba gotická, deskové malířství 1350 -1450, úvodní stať A. Matějček, Praha 1938, tab. č. 54.

8 Overpaintings made in Vienna, to our surprise, were removed only partially - in the upper part of Christ's figure. On other places these over paintings remained without change. We can suppose therefore local, non-professional treatment of the time about 1901, soon after the return of the picture.