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"The Infant Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness," by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, circa 1670, before restoration by Detroit Institute of Arts conservators. Photo courtesy of the Detroit Institute of Arts
February 27, 2014
THE DETROIT INSTITUTE OF ARTS — A 350-year-old oil painting, portions of which are so dark they seem to absorb light, is sparking interest among college students about art conservation.

A curator from the Detroit Institute of Arts found the painting last year hanging unsigned, dingy and unheralded in a dim portion of the 110-room Meadowbrook Hall, the 1,500-acre, former private estate now the grounds of Oakland University.


Prior to the work's temporary exhibition last week in the DIA's baroque gallery (it returns to campus in five years), it was cleaned and restored by conservators accompanied by Oakland students participating in a museum outreach program.

"There was a quick decision to have the DIA exercise its expertise and work with students to conserve the painting," said Graham Beal, DIA director.

"This is huge for us as students," said Holly Lustit, an Oakland intern, one of the students involved. "It drives our passion."

"As part of the (tri-county) millage (supporting the museum), we made a commitment to certain kinds of community cooperation and engagement," Beal said. "This is a wonderful example of that."

Happenstance

It all started with a presentation last February at Meadowbrook.

"I went to Meadowbrook Hall to speak about one of our masterpieces at the DIA and came back with a painting that is now in the galleries," said Salvador Salort-Pons, DIA curator of European paintings and executive director of collection strategies and information.


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