View of a Hanging

How do you handle seventeenth-century paintings? Very carefully.

Judith Mann, co-curator to the exhibition, arrives with a brilliant shawl draped over one shoulder. She points out that over the years "Susannah and the Elders" has been cleaned to the point that Artemisia's underpainting has been revealed. In the blue background of sky the tracings of where the elders formerly stood -- before she moved them to the corner for better balance -- is visible.

"Saliva," Mann explains, "is the standard substance for cleaning. It has the least-degenerative qualities." The old masters have literally been spit-polished.

A week later, Mann, persevering through a flu bug, directs the hanging of Artemisia's "David and Bathsheba." She jokes that her husband can't believe that men are paid to listen to her tell them "Two inches to the right."

"We can all breathe again, now," says curator Judith Mann, as "David and Bathsheba" is secured into place.
Jennifer Silverberg
"We can all breathe again, now," says curator Judith Mann, as "David and Bathsheba" is secured into place.

But McAdoo, Benben and Weaver show no consternation as they move "David and Bathsheba" and "Lot and His Daughters" closer together, then farther apart. The paintings -- taller than the men who are moving them -- rest on the floor and lean against the wall before hanging.

"These look a bit scrunched," says Mann. "Notice I'm using highly technical terms."

When Mann finds the point where the painting looks best to her eye, to nearby paintings, and in relation to the wall, Benben pulls out his tape measure and "David and Bathsheba" is set aside on the dolly. This painting has arrived with hardware -- J-hooks have already been attached to the back. Mann recalls an exhibition a few years ago -- paintings from St. Petersburg's Hermitage that arrived without any hardware, which might have been a Russian plot to appropriate good Western D-rings.

After measuring, Benben stands on a tall stepladder and drills two holes, then screws in the eyes into which J-hooks will slide. The ladder is moved aside and McAdoo and Weaver lift "David and Bathsheba," the canvas gently billowing like a curtain. Benben directs them from the side as they set the painting softly into place.

"We can all breathe again, now," says Mann, and the tension is released from the room. Benben places his level at the bottom frame's ledge and at the sides. McAdoo eyes the painting from the far wall of the gallery. All is level, safe and secure.

They move on to "Lot and His Daughters."

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