Correggio, Madonna des heiligen Sebastian, um 1524
© Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden

Correggio's rinascita

The conservation of Correggio's "Madonna of Saint Sebastian" (around 1524)

The Madonna of Saint Sebastian was painted by Correggio for the confraternity of Saint Sebastian in Modena around 1524. Historical records show that the panel painting was already damaged in the possession of the brotherhood and its condition deteriorated in the following centuries. Today, the most noticeable alteration is the painting’s washboard-like surface, which can be attributed to the use of unsuitable boards. Due to the boards’ convex warping, the lifting of paint layers and corresponding losses have occurred especially along the joins.

  • DATES 01/07/2022—31/12/2024
Opening Hours

daily 10—18, Monday closed. The conservators work mainly from Tuesday to Friday at the conservation studio.

  • Admission Fees normal 14 €, reduced 10,50 €, under 17 free, groups (10 persons and more) 12,50 €
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In the past

In the past, repeated attempts were made to stabilise the panel and paint layers. However, in addition to the application of secondary support systems on the reverse, various interventions on the front of the painting have led to Correggio’s highly esteemed painting being increasingly obscured. As part of a research project, the state of preservation, causes of damage and aspects of Correggio’s painting technique will be investigated, and a comprehensive conservation and restoration of the paint layers and the wooden support will be undertaken.

© Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden
Correggio, Madonna of Saint Sebastian, c. 1524

The richness of colour

The richness of colour and detail in Correggio’s painting will once again be able to be experienced fully, thus enabling the rebirth (It. rinascita) of this masterpiece. Due to its high fragility, Correggio’s work cannot leave the gallery. It will therefore be treated in a temporary public conservation studio set up for the project. This will give visitors the opportunity to witness the progress of the conservation.


Visit the conservation studio

The conservators work mainly from Tuesday to Friday during our opening hours in the conservation studio. A view into the studio is possible at any time during opening hours (daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Mondays).


Correggio in Dresden

Antonio Allegri (c. 1489–1534), also known by the name of his birthplace Correggio, is most famous for his dome frescoes in Parma, which were especially important for the Baroque art. There, in the 1520s, he decorated the Parma Cathedral and the church of San Giovanni Evangelista with revolutionary ceiling paintings that expanded the boundaries of what could be depicted. The intense relationship with the viewer forged by his works, and his talent for depicting emotions, also provided important inspiration for subsequent generations of artists. In the centuries to come, he was regarded as one of the most renowned artists of the Renaissance, alongside Michelangelo (1475–1564), Leonardo (1452–1519) and Raphael (1483–1520). Today, Correggio’s fame is disproportional to that of his renown contemporaries.

With a total of four altarpieces

With a total of four altarpieces by Correggio, the Gemäldegalerie owns the world’s largest collection of his altarpieces. Together with the three other works, the Holy Night (c. 1528–30) was purchased from the Ducal collection in Modena in the eighteenth century. Upon its arrival, it was mentioned by the gallery inspector as ‘the picture known throughout Europe as the famous Night by Correggio’. It is the artist’s most celebrated altarpiece and is one of the most influential works in the history of Western art. The earliest documented altarpiece, the Madonna of Saint Francis (1514–15) and what is generally accepted as his last altarpiece, the Madonna of Saint George (c. 1529–30), are also in Dresden. This unique collection provides a remarkable overview of Correggio’s early to his late work. 

First steps of the conservation

Before the conservation of Correggio’s Madonna of Saint Sebastian began, various technical examinations, such as X-ray, UV fluorescence analysis and infrared reflectography, were carried out. The results of these examinations provide important insights into the technical structure of the painting and the current condition of the painting layer and the wooden support. Along with other sources, they form an important basis for the conservation concept.

Currently, the front of the painting is being conserved. This is done because heavily yellowed, unevenly applied layers of varnish, aged fillings, and colour-altered retouching and overpainting from past centuries limit the painting’s aesthetic effect. Before their removal could begin, solubility tests were first carried out on individual, small sections in the painting. Using the most suitable method, the varnish layers and overpaintings are now gradually reduced without affecting the original paint layers underneath. The original colourfulness of Correggio’s painting, which seems to have been largely preserved, will increasingly become visible again.

Varnish Removal

Between August 2022 and March 2023, the varnish was removed from Correggio’s Madonna of Saint Sebastian. Preliminary examinations revealed that the altarpiece’s coating layer consisted of at least nine superimposed different applications of resin (varnish) with retouching and dirt deposits in between. These covered Correggio’s painting, making it blotchy and brown. The removal of the varnish restored the painting to its original state in terms of its colourfulness, spatiality and variety of contrasts. In addition, painterly details were uncovered that had been hidden for centuries. However, numerous and previously hidden damaged areas and their overpaintings also came to light, especially on the four vertical board joints of the five wooden boards glued together. Currently, the paint surface is being freed from deep-lying overpaintings and fillings, with the aim of uncovering Correggio’s original paint layers still preserved underneath.


Correggio’s ‘Madonna of Saint Sebastian’ is painted on wood. Unfortunately, the vertical boards of the wooden panel warped at an early stage. This deformation caused stresses at the joints between the boards, which led to cracks in the wooden support and flaking of the paint. Over the course of the painting’s 500-year history, numerous attempts have been made to repair the damage, including gluing, fixing paint, fillings, retouches and repeated applications of varnish. Some of these interventions have resulted in further damage. The aim of the restoration of Correggio’s ‘Madonna of Saint Sebastian’ is to achieve long-term stabilisation of the original paint layer, particularly in the area of the joints. To this end, Correggio's painting will be, or has been, freed from subsequent coatings. Once the original paint has been stabilised, the existing losses will be professionally closed and a new varnish will be applied.

Where previous restorations have not repaired the original damage, have caused further damage or have permanently impaired the visual impression, these measures are reversed as far as possible. In order to distinguish later applied layers from Correggio’s original paint layers, it is necessary to carry out a precise analysis beforehand and work accurately under the microscope. The paint layers differ visually and in terms of their material properties. They are usually of a different colour, composition and/or solubility. In addition, retouching and overpainting are often carried out on a layer of varnish and dirt. This is a dark, brownish, transparent layer separates the original paint layers from its overpainting and thus serves as a guide. A paint layer will only be removed if it can be clearly identified as a later overpaint.

In our case, the compresses were only used to remove the top three varnish layers. Using the square format is a simple and effective method. They were not used to remove the lower layers. Here we used cotton buds and sponges to remove the varnish.

The three conservators work flexibly in the conservation studio. They organise their work according to the needs of the research project. The large format of Correggio’s ‘Madonna of Saint Sebastian’ (265 x 161 cm) allows the conservators to work on the painting at the same time. However, in addition to the practical work on the painting, the project also includes periods of research, study and documentation when the work on the painting is not carried out in the conservation studio.

We would like to refer you to the website of the Association of Conservators. There you will find information on training opportunities and study programmes.

The job portal of the State Art Collections Dresden regularly provides information on current vacancies in the field of restoration. 



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