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Our Lady of Siluva
"Lithuania's Greatest Treasure"

The Restoration

“A Miracle at Siluva”
From “Lietuvos Rytas,” Vilnius, Lithuania 9/03/2002.
(Original article by Ruta Miksioniene - translation by Loretta Stukas)

A Renewed Young Lady . . .

This week, the devotions to Our Lady of Siluva celebrating her birthday were special, and not only because of the planned placement and blessing of the cornerstone of the planned Prayer Center on Sept. 5. Every believer, looking above the altar of the Basilica of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the painting of the “Mother of God with Child,” can detect with his or her eyes a true miracle!

The Blessed Mother in the painting has become unbelievably younger. The previously pictured austere, pensive Mary has changed into a pleasant Madonna, of sublime facial features, looking directly at the praying pilgrims.

Of course, this is the same miraculous painting of the Madonna, and it has just been returned to Siluva a few weeks ago, from the Lithuanian Art Museum Restoration Center of P. Gudynas.

"Like a mother with her daughter?” said, smilingly, this Center's head, Jurate Senvaitiene, showing photos of Mary’s face before and after the restoration.

Painted over Masterpiece . . .

“We ourselves don’t know what we have in Lithuania,” sighed the painting's restorer Janina Biloieine, not wanting to part with the painting. “Many works are painted over and people have not seen the original sometimes for hundreds of years.”

“Inferior work!” Such a stern verdict was first given by the art specialist in April of this year, at the Restoration Center, when the luxurious coverings of the Siluva Madonna Painting were uncovered.

At first, even J. Bilotiene was not successful. She tried to clean the painting in two places. Then, as if on purpose, she attacked the section with the greatest crumblings, and found only dirt.

It seemed that it would be possible to directly fix the painting’s covering, and it could be returned to Siluva within the month. However, as they began to clean other parts of the painting, the disappointment turned into amazement, because it became clear that beneath the seemingly inferior work lay a true masterpiece. This became obvious because there were found several layers of paint, indicating that the painting was repainted at least five times.

Fine Art and Microsurgery . . .

“ If in restoring the paintings at The Gate of Dawn (Ausros Vartai) or the Sapiegas Madonna from the Vilnius Cathedral, I jokingly called myself a physician, then this time, I really felt like a microsurgeon, ” commented the restorer.

Having stepped up onto a chair, this master craftswoman, using the tip of the scalpel, began to clean the Madonna’s eyes. Such an image could never be imagined by her colleagues, who visited to see what new views were found under the layers of paint, lacquer, and dirt.

“Come over every few hours,” asked restorer J. Bilotiene of the art critics and restorers. The large responsibility laid on her shoulders had to be shared with experts.

At first, most of the visitors held back the restorer, always remembering the worth of the painting and its holiness. Later, everyone was taken aback by the danger of attempting to get at the painting’s first, authentic layer.

The large, thick but short fingers of Mary regained their original look. The fingers grew by almost a third of their length.

However, the most painted-over parts of the painting – the faces of Mary and Jesus, were covered with enhancements. It seems that before the big festivals and devotions or other important events at the Shrine, the painting was frequently enhanced. For example, Mary’s lips were painted red, her eyes were darkened.

Of course, this attests to the sincere interest and care given the painting over the years, but because without qualified workers and not having the proper tools to do the improvements, the true faces of Mary and the Christ Child were hidden from the faithful, as if to mask the heavy, extra layers.

An Intimidating Holiness . . .

The Madonna of Siluva is one of the holiest paintings, famous for the most miracles in Lithuania. It is not surprising then, that the decision to allow restoration of this item of great religious value was accepted and supported by the nation’s Catholic Church hierarchy.

Now, as the decorations draw one’s eyes to the painting with its precious trimmings, and the renewed face of Mary is framed by a bright silver border, doubt about the need and desire for its restoration no longer exists.

But the first touch of the holy painting always raises questions, and one of the largest questions is “Am I worthy of it?”

“From my childhood, I have been a believer, but I never thought that in this sphere, I would be able to rise so highly.” – admitted the restorer S. Bilotiene. “I thought that only some holy nun should do such work. However, when, having removed the layers I saw how, after so many years the painting became covered with dirt, I understood, that I certainly must help save it.”

The Secret is not yet revealed . . .

Whether the assumption will become true will become clear somewhat later when the Siluva Madonna painting returns to the Restoration Center.

Until now, only the faces have been accurately completed. Also, Mary's dark cape should become a clear and bright blue. In the painting's background will appear angels' heads. However, Mary’s clothing has already regained its patterns and its beautifully flowing form.

“Careful handling and gently pressing the outer covering from inside resulted in restoring all the silver-relief of the clothing” said metal restorer Rimvydas Derkintis. Although he has had the opportunity to restore more than one set of outer clothing on paintings, this restorer’s opinion is that this work of Lawrence Hofman (Prussia) is indeed unique.

It is not overloaded with decorations. It is tasteful, a witness to the beautiful artistry of the artist. And with unexpected secrecy, under the open hand of Mary was found, subtly placed, the artist’s name and the year of the painting’s production.

Before the restoration, it was difficult to see the full beauty of the painting, because the top was badly oxidized, browned, and darkened. Some items on the painting were not entirely correctly placed, and thus, in many parts there were found bad deformations.

Thus, once everything was straightened out and cleaned, it became clear, that never should the framework be glazed or the painting repainted. The original was so beautifully done.

The restorers believe that taking care of the painting’s background and the clothing portrayed, we can expect even more new discoveries. Perhaps somewhere in the folds of Mary’s clothing there will be found the artist's signature or the year of the painting’s origin.

But already now, it is clear, that the greatest success of the restorer is the discovery that the Siluva Madonna is not only miraculous, but is also a most valuable work of art.

Other Artistic Interpretations

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