Behind the scenes: 'Theseus & the Minotaur' and Lady Winchelsea in the Sculpture Galleries

Antonio Canova, 'Theseus and the Minotaur', 18th century. Museum no. A.5-1962

Antonio Canova, 'Theseus and the Minotaur', 18th century. Museum no. A.5-1962

When 'The Three Graces' moved up to the new British Galleries, necessary work in the sculpture court involved rearranging some of the V&A's heaviest marble sculptures, the 'Monument to Emily Georgiana, Countess of Winchelsea and Nottingham' by Lawrence MacDonald, and Antonio Canova's 'Theseus and the Minotaur'.

Method

First of all, hardwood wedges are tapped in, millimetres at a time, around the base of the sculpture. Great care is taken so as not to put undue pressure on the sensitive surface of the marble. Working slowly around the circumference, this will eventually raise the 1085 kg object just clear of the plinth, allowing enough space for sets of slides to pass under the sculpture.

For transporting the sculpture, it must be slid onto the platform on top of a hydraulic lifting truck. The plinth is padded and strapped together with the platform to ensure they do not move apart when the sculpture is pulled across.

Special slides made of Teflon are inserted into the space between the sculpture and its plinth. Placing them in pairs, one on top the other, reduces friction to a minimum and allows the weight to be moved quite easily.

Heavy duty slings capable of lifting/pulling 2,000 kg are placed around the protected base of the sculpture and attached to the retracting mast of a fork-lift truck. Often, the slings would simply be pulled by hand, but in this case the fork-lift is used for precise, even control during the move.

This entire process had already been undertaken a few years ago with the 'Monument to Lady Winchelsea'. At that time, it was decided to have the entire sculpture mounted on a new base which would permit pallet-truck access. This object is made from two blocks of marble (one the figure, and the other her plinth), and the combined weight makes a total of 2,842 kg! The new base now allows what was previously a very long and hazardous task to be done much more simply and safely.

See how the sculptures were moved:

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