Bartolomé Esteban Murillo: How a Temperature-Controlled Truck Saved His Art
Google celebrated the life of Bartolomé Esteban Murillo on Thursday, 400 years after the Baroque painter was baptized. Murillo’s religious and historical scenes blazed a trail in Spanish art, and he went on to surpass his teacher Juan del Castillo to become head of the “Sevillian School” of art. The high status of his work means art transporters take special care when moving his pieces to avoid damage.
Crown Fine Art, which specializes in art transportation, were tasked with moving the gargantuan “St. Francis in the Portiuncula Chapel,” a canvas painting produced around 1666, for the 400th anniversary of Murillo’s birth in 1617. The piece measures over 14 feet high and 9 feet 8 inches wide. The project involved moving the piece from the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum in Cologne, Germany, out to the Museo de Bellas Artes de Sevilla in the area where Murillo was born. The sheer size of the painting required imaginative solutions, like a special “de-installation” process to make room:
The crate, when loaded up, weighed a staggering 1,323 pounds. This meant using a 100-tonne crane to move the piece at an angle out of the museum, as the windows were far too small for the crate. Once moved out, the transporters loaded the crate into a temperature-controlled truck to complete the 1,500-mile trip down to Spain. The truck had an internal height of just over 12 feet, about enough to hold the crate. This isn’t always the norm: for small pieces going international Crown Fine Art may book a business class seat or two and place it in a specialized box.
Murillo’s work was not just transported in any truck. Crown Fine Art fitted these machines out with on-board scurity cameras, air suspension, insulation, and temperature and humidity controls to accurately recreate the conditions of a museum. These variables are key: special projects manager Michael Festenstein notes that the ideal humidity for most pieces is 50 percent, but for metal sculptures a 35 percent humidity is ideal to avoid oxidization, while papers require 55 percent to stop mould. When installing air conditioning in art warehouses, the team uses data loggers to create graphs and ensure temperature and humidity remains in museum levels.
Murillo’s work made it to the destination safe and sound. It’s not the first time Google has drawn attention to a famous artist on its homepage — previous “doodles” have covered the life of Tamara de Lempicka, Edmonia Lewis and Georges Méliès.
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