The Trace-to-Trace Encounter: Uncovering and Copying Whitewashed Medieval Paintings in Modern Europe

Ronah Sadan, M.A.

My dissertation deals with the reception and restoration of medieval wall paintings in late nineteenth-century Denmark. Through case studies spanning from the 1850s to the 1910s, it investigates the ideological, visual, and material processes by which paintings dating from the 1100s through the 1500s were reintroduced into – or rejected from – the country’s Lutheran cultural landscape after having been consigned to oblivion beneath layers of limewash during the Early Modern period. First outlining the political, devotional, epistemological, and aesthetic conditions shaping the reintegration the paintings into their new milieu, the dissertation then follows the interrelated activities this reintegration entailed: liberating paintings from limewash accruals; remediating them in documentary drawings, tracings, and photographs; and restoring them by retouching, reconstruction, and historicist supplementation. While the dissertation tells a national story, it anchors it within a trans-national context, accounting for how different approaches to the treatment of wall paintings in Sweden, Germany, France, England, and Italy impacted or meaningfully differed from Danish practices.
While at the Hertziana, I am working on a project that focuses on the intimate activities of limewash removal followed by the tracing of paintings using semi-transparent cloth or paper. My main interest lies in the dialectics of absence and presence at play in the tracings, which at times display, at times obfuscate, lacunae left in the wake of the damaging scraping or knocking-off of limewash.  

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