By Stuart Frost
The stained glass panel illustrated here was made around 1496 for the Chapel of the Holy Blood in Bruges, Belgium. The colourful panel depicts an angel holding the arms of Mary of Burgundy with those of Maximilian of Austria and was probably made to commemorate their marriage. You’ll not be surprised to learn that most stained glass panels dating from the 15th century have experienced some damage. This panel is no exception and is currently undergoing conservation treatment to prepare it for display.
The picture that heads this page shows the panel before any work had begun. The photograph was taken a few weeks ago on a vertical lightbox in the Stained Glass Conservation Studio at the V&A. The panel was given a thorough assessment by conservators Ann Marsh and Sherrie Eatman in order to determine the treatment to be undertaken. A number of old lead repairs, where the glass had broken, are quite easy to spot. Several horizontal leads are also clearly visible in the photograph as is the heavy wooden display frame.
The first step in the conservation process was to remove the panel from its old frame. Wooden frames are no longer used because the wood can give off acidic fumes that may corrode the lead strips holding individual pieces of glass in place. All panels are now mounted in aluminium display frames because aluminium is an inert material. In this instance the frame also had to be removed so that the panel could be reframed in a style appropriate for the new galleries. A number of innovative shaped frames are being used throughout the new Medieval & Renaissance Galleries.
The face of the angel holding the shield exemplifies many of the issues that needed to be addressed with this particular glass panel as a whole. The panel had been repaired previously, in this instance most noticeably along the left-hand side of the face. Replacement pieces of glass had been added, including the hair and neck on the left-hand side, and the triangular piece in the cheek. As you can see these old repairs were not particularly sympathetic to the original appearance of the object.
In order to make new repairs all of the existing leads were removed except those within the shield held by the angel. However before any leads were removed a rubbing was taken of the entire panel and this was used to create templates. As each piece of glass was removed from the panel it was placed on top of one of the templates in the correct location. The picture below shows the individual pieces of glass laid on a template in the conservation studio after the leads have been removed.
The use of templates ensures that when the panel is reassembled each piece of glass goes back in the same position but also that the overall size of the panel remains exactly the same. Many of the leads that were removed were fatigued and will be replaced over the coming weeks.
Epoxy resin is being used to make subtle repairs by creating strong bonds between breaks in the glass. Dyed resin is also used to fill small areas where the original glass is missing. Work is underway on gently cleaning the front and the back of each glass piece. Deionised water and cotton swabs are used to remove the dust and grime that have accumulated over time.
Once the panel is reassembled it will be set within a new metal frame so that it can be installed in the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries. The production of the frames for the stained glass is a fascinating story in its own right and I’ll also cover that in a future blog entry along with the installation of the panel in the new gallery.
I’ve already posted a larger number of photographs illustrating the conservation work, courtesy of Ann and Sherrie, on Flickr. If you’d like to know a little more detail about the work that has been undertaken please have a look at those photographs. Click on one of the images here to visit the Flickr site.
I’ll provide an update on work on this glass panel at some point over the next couple of weeks. It will be fascinating to put photographs of the panel before and after treatment side-by-side.
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