- Associated Press - Sunday, February 26, 2012

MADRID — Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica,” one of the world’s most iconic paintings, is getting a full health check as it marks its 75th anniversary.

A giant robotic machine is taking tens of thousands of microscopic shots of the black-and-white anti-war masterpiece to allow specialists to penetrate the work like never before and see its real condition after a hectic life traveling the globe.

Madrid’s Reina Sofia museum — where “Guernica” is housed — has teamed up with Spanish telecommunication company Telefonica to develop the technology, which uses advanced infrared and ultraviolet photography.

The machine was built so that “Guernica” does not have to make the risky move to a conservation laboratory, where such investigative work normally would be done.

“The painting is in delicate condition given that it has suffered a lot of movement and many alterations,” said Jorge Garcia Gomez-Tejedor, the museum’s head of conservation.

“You could compare it to a major medical checkup in the sense that it needs to be constantly monitored and watched over.”

Every night after the museum shuts its doors — and on Tuesdays when the museum is closed — “Pablito,” as the robotic mechanism has been dubbed, is dragged out and placed roughly a yard from the 291-square-foot painting.

Throughout the night the 1.5-ton structure painstakingly scans the masterpiece, slowly compiling photographic DNA.

It can be programmed to take the camera lenses closer or farther away from the painting, depending on the shot needed and has a precision of movement of 25 microns, or 25 thousandths of a millimeter, allowing analysts to see even air bubbles and scratches undetectable by the human eye.

“The principal idea behind the project is to be able to present to the scientific world and the public the state of conservation of the painting,” Mr. Garcia Gomez-Tejedor said. He said that, for the moment, “Guernica” does not need to be restored.

The painting underwent a similar photographic combing in 1998, albeit with less-advanced camera equipment and without the precision of the robotic machine. That study turned up 129 imperfections — ranging from cracks to creases to marks and stains — all attributed to the painting’s hectic past.

Picasso created “Guernica” as a commission for Spain’s republican government to represent the country at a Universal Exposition in Paris in 1937, as Spain writhed in a bloody civil war started by future dictator Gen. Francisco Franco.

The painting then went on the road for nearly 20 years, visiting dozens of cities on both sides of the Atlantic. Every time it was moved, it had to be taken off its support and rolled up, a process that took its toll over the years.

The painting made its final trip when it was transferred to Spain in 1981 from New York’s Museum of Modern Art, where it had been deposited on a long-term loan by Picasso until democracy was restored in Spain.

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