Rubens masterpiece returns to National Gallery after 14-month conservation

A masterpiece by Sir Peter Paul Rubens has returned to public display at the National Gallery in London.

The Judgement Of Paris, one of the Flemish artist’s most recognisable works, had been in the gallery’s conservation department for 14 months ahead of its re-unveiling on Tuesday.

The National Gallery said it planned to “conserve some of its greatest masterpieces” as part of its bicentenary celebrations. It was founded on May 10 1824.

During the conservation the gallery used new imaging techniques to confirm the painting had been restored several times since the artist’s death in 1640.

“The conservators faced difficult choices throughout as they had to decide if they needed to go back to Rubens’ original composition or keep many of the subsequent changes,” the gallery said.

It was decided that the successive re-workings were part of the painting’s history and should be kept, “while allowing the informed viewer to pick out the aspects of Rubens’ composition that have changed”.

Painted in the last decade of the artist’s life, it shows the moment Paris makes his fateful choice between the goddesses Venus, Minerva and Juno.

The conservation involved structural work to stabilise the oak panel, before the painting was fitted with an antique late 17th-century French Louis XIV frame, the gallery said.

Britta New, who led the conservation, said: “Rubens is well known for constantly embellishing and improving his paintings as he worked, but the added dimension of the subsequent re-working of The Judgement Of Paris made the treatment of the panel a stimulating challenge.”