A pentimento (plural pentimenti) is an alteration in a painting, evidenced by traces of previous work, showing that the artist has changed his mind as to the composition during the process of painting. The word derives from the Italian pentirsi, meaning to repent.
Some pentimenti have always been visible on the final painting with careful inspection; others are revealed by the increasing transparency that some paint acquires after several centuries. Others, especially in the underdrawing, can only be seen with modern methods such as X-rays and infra-red reflectograms and photographs. These are able to record photographically some pigments, depending on their chemical composition, which remain covered by later paint layers. For example white lead, a common pigment, will be detected by X-ray, and carbon black underdrawings can often be seen with great clarity in infra-red reflectograms. These methods have greatly expanded the number of pentimenti art historians are aware of, and confirmed that they are very common in the works of many old masters, from Jan van Eyck onwards.
Pentimenti are considered especially important when considering whether a particular painting is the prime version by the original artist, or a second version by the artist himself, or his workshop, or a later copyist. Normally secondary versions or copies will have few if any pentimenti, although this will not always be the case. See the discussion of this question in the case of The Lute Player by Caravaggio. Like Rembrandt, Titian and many other masters, Caravaggio seems rarely to have made preliminary drawings, but to have composed straight onto the canvas. The number of pentimenti found in the work of such masters naturally tends to be higher.
Marks revealing a totally different subject, for example in The Old Guitarist by Picasso, are not usually described as pentimenti - the artist has abandoned his earlier composition to begin a new one. In cases where a composition has been changed by a later painter or restorer, marks showing the original composition would not be described as pentimenti either - it is necessary that the original painter has changed his mind.
A portrait in the National Gallery, London of Jacques de Norvins by Ingres was painted in 1811–12 when the sitter was Napoleon's Chief of Police in Rome. Originally, instead of the curtain at the left, there was a fully-painted bust of a boy's head on top of a small column. Probably this was a bust of Napoleon's son, who was known as the King of Rome. The presumption is that this was overpainted with the curtain after the fall of Napoleon, either by Ingres himself, or another artist. The bust can just be made out in the enlarged online photo, with its chin level with the sitter's hair-line; the top of the column was level with the middle of the sitter's ear. These may always have been (just) visible, or have become so by the paint becoming transparent with age. Few viewers of the painting would notice the bust without it being pointed out. Strictly speaking, these alterations might not be described as pentimenti, because of the presumed lapse of time, and because another artist may have made the change.
Another Caravaggio, The Cardsharps in the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth has a number of typical minor pentimenti, altering the position of the figure on the right, which are revealed by infra-red reflectograms. These are used in discussing the painting and comparing it to another version of the subject in Bari.
Examples of this can be found at http://www.fadingad.com and http://www.frankjump.com that had been taken by Frank H. Jump in Amsterdam, 1998. The caption was "Amsterdam August 1998- This an example of what I call "ediglyph" - where fading ads and graffiti intersect". http://www.fadingad.com/009.html
PRESTO CHANGO PENTIMENTO CAN CREATE A NEW CLEAN SPACE WITH THE FLICK OF A BRUSH OR THE PLACEMENT OF A CHAIR.
Sep 09, 2001; SOME ROOMS ARE BEAUTIFULin an inaccessible kind of way: You admire them, but you don't fall in love with them, and you certainly...