X-ray: Picasso's 'Guernica' has suffered a lot but is not in danger

Picasso's masterpiece Guernica depicts intense suffering, but its own health is not in danger.

That's the diagnosis after the first X-ray of Pablo Picasso's 20th century anti-war painting carried out by the Reina Sofia art museum.

The X-ray of the large-format canvas — 11 feet by 25 feet (3.5-meters by 7.8-meters) — was part of a series of tests begun over a year ago on one of the world's most prized art works.

The last major analysis of Guernica a decade ago turned up 129 imperfections — ranging from cracks to creases to marks and stains — all attributed to the painting's hectic past.

"The X-ray lets us see in what condition the painting is in, its makeup, the colors and the damage it has suffered," Manuel Borja-Villel, the director of Reina Sofia, Spain's national museum of 20th century art, told The Associated Press in an interview this week.

"The good news is that the latest X-ray results show the imperfections haven't increased," said Borja-Villel. "But age pardons no one, and paintings are no different."

The studies now being pieced together by the museum's specialists aim to produce a definitive analysis of the painting by 2010. So far tests show the painting needs only a periodical dusting and a possible cleanup of some stains resulting from its only previous restoration, done by New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in 1957.

Guernica was commissioned from Picasso by the Republican government of Spain 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.

Once the fair was over, the painting 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. That took its toll over the years until one day at the beginning of the 1960s Picasso himself said, 'Enough is enough,"' said Borja-Villel.

"The painting has a robust constitution, but its traveling days are definitely over," he added.

The painting made its final trip when it was transferred to Spain in 1981 from MoMA, where it had been deposited on a long-term loan by Picasso until democracy was restored back home.

The black and white canvas comprises tormented and distorted figures — human and animal — and represents the horrors of mechanized war.

Picasso, the father of modern art, was a world-renowned figure at the time and the work quickly became an artistic and political icon. It has since become one of the most studied works of art in modern history.

Guernica, the ancestral capital of northern Spain's Basque country, was bombed on a spring market day in April 26, 1937, by Germany and Italy. Those countries' fascist rulers were Franco's allies in a civil war that set the stage for World War II.

Although estimates of the number of people killed in the bombing vary greatly, town historians say local records show at least 120 deaths.