Artist’s repentance or correction is nothing more than the change that the artist makes in the course of the work, in some already executed part of the work itself; it can be discovered by the resurfacing, with the passage of time and especially in ancient paintings, from the deepest and often initial layers of color. Puzzles and corrections inevitably remain on the canvases as signatures and guarantees of the painting’s originality. A copy cannot for the same reasons have second thoughts, simply because the idea has already been “produced.”


It is undoubtedly the result of a creative process, it is the artist’s thought evolving, maturing, testing; it is ultimately a technical elaboration that departs from the initial idealistic concept. Often repentance is also the lifeline of a miscalculation of perspective or wrong architectural placement in the pictorial layout itself.

Artist's Repentance Jan-van-Eyck

Thanks always to repentances, we are also able to give a pictorial chronology whenever there are several copies of the same subject executed by the same painter (see Caravaggio’s St. Francis), because it is clear that at an early stage, the idea might have changed, as we have said, and in later copies obviously there can be no more second thoughts. This not-insignificant detail is crucial for art historians to be able to more accurately date the execution sequence of the works.

To the well-trained eye, “repentance” is visible on canvases even at first glance but is often captured with special non-invasive techniques using X-rays.
Many pentimenti were also executed on frescoes using a different technique from oil painting, due to the fact that the painting is done on “a fresco” or wet plaster, so that the pigment, while drying, is incorporated into the wall. The repentance is corrected “dry” so it is easily removed. Many repentant frescoes, as in the well-known Sistine Chapel, came to light during the cleaning and restoration of Michelangelo’s work.

Many, indeed we would say almost all artists of great name and not, have often revealed fundamental correction.
Best known:

Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait, National Gallery, London 1434, there are afterthoughts on the faces and heights of the characters pictured.



Antonello da Messina’s Salvator mundi, in which we see an obvious repentance on Christ’s cleavage, Michelangelo Buonarroti as we mentioned, Caravaggio, Botticelli, and many, many others.


In Telearte’s collection, an example of “repentance” can be seen in Van Dyck’s painting “Venus and Love,” where in the execution of the body of Venus the position of the feet is changed from the initial idea, by virtue of a certainly more effective perspective study and a more harmonious overall grace.
This results in a study of it by the author, which surely would not have emerged in case it was a copy.


You might be interested in this work and possibly ask for more information: Antoon van Dyck – “Venere a Amore”

Antoon van Dyck ‘Venere e Amore’
Antoon van Dyck ‘Venere e Amore’

We recommend: “Ripensamenti d’artista” campaign that chronicles the uncertainties and doubts that accompanied the troubled creative processes of teachers and masters ofart and italian literature, promoted by the Ministry of Culture, led by Dario Franceschini.

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