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Medieval and Renaissance: Past, Present and Future

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Archive for August, 2007

Polishing Up the Past

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

By Stuart Frost

I think most visitors would be staggered by the amount of work that is involved in pulling together museum displays. When visitors walk around a successful new exhibition or display I’d hope that they’re completely absorbed with looking at the objects within them, rather than thinking about what has gone on behind the scenes. It is probably only when displays don’t work that visitors begin to contemplate the processes that the exhibition team have gone through to get to that point! Conservator cleaning a candlestick from a choirscreen from 's-Hertogenbosch.

I wrote about the choir screen (or roodloft) from ’s-Hertogenbosch earlier this year. If you go back to the blog entries posted in February and March you’ll find pictures that give a good impression of the scale and complexity of this vast architectural piece. Room 50 has been closed to the public for sometime now. The large number of objects that were once in Room 50 have now been removed altogether. A few, like the choir screen, remain where they have always been but are now fully enclosed in protective hoarding.

Candlesticks from 's-Hertogenbosch before conservation treatment.The choir screen originally had ten candlesticks placed on its balustrade. These haven’t been displayed with the object for sometime but we’re keen to ensure that they are returned to their original position when the choir screen goes back on display in November 2009. In preparation for this they have been assessed by a conservator, and as a result they’ve now undergone treatment. The image to the right shows two of the candlesticks before conservation work began. Can you guess what they’re made of? There is little in this picture to indicate that they’re made of brass.

The image below shows that the candlesticks have been transformed but there is still work to be done before the choir screen is ready for the public. Inevitably polished metal tarnishes over time. In order to minimise this natural process each candlestick will be treated with a protective coating. The candlesticks originally had plinths which were then attached to the balustrade.Candlestick after conservation treatment The original plinths weren’t acquired by the V&A and the solution used previously, shaped plaster-blocks painted black, isn’t ideal. The blocks are heavy and there is no easy way to firmly fix them to the balustrade. There is also some doubt as to whether the colour of the original marble blocks (red or black). In addition one of my colleagues, Melissa, has been sourcing black and white marble flags for a new area of flooring beneath the choir screen. The current surface comprises of modern grey concrete slabs. I’ll write more about the floor surface later.

If I mention that the choirscreen is only one object of approximately 1,800 destined for the new Medieval and Renaissance Galleries I’m sure that will give you a good indication of why a gallery project on this scale takes what might seem like such a long time to develop.

Labour of Love: The Trojan War

Tuesday, August 14th, 2007

By Stuart Frost

Conservation work on a magnificent tapestry continues in the Textile Conservation Studio. The tapestry is approximately 4.20 metres high, just over 7 metres long and depicts a scene from the Trojan War. The tapestry is part of one of the most important sets still surviving from the latter part of the fifteenth century.

War of Troy Tapestry, 1475-1490, Museum no. 6-1887The Trojan War tapestries were made in Tournai (now in Belgium) between 1460 and 1490. Several sets were woven for some of the most powerful and wealthiest men in Europe including King Charles VIII of France, Charles the Bold of Burgundy and King Henry VII of England. The complete set consisted of eleven hangings. The tapestry in the Conservation Studio is the ninth in the series and is thought to have come from the first set. Click on on the images for a better view of the scenes depicted on it and the conservation work.

At some point in its history the V&A’s tapestry was cut into five separate parts. Not surprisingly for a textile that is over five hundred years old it has required conservation work from time to time.  The tapestry is currently undergoing a programme of treatment so that it will look at its best when it goes on display to the public in November 2009.Troy Tapestry

The tapestry has already been wet cleaned in Belgium using a special installation that uses water vapour and suction to ensure that the textile fibres are supported at all times and are not wet for too long. You’ll find more information about this stage of the work on the Conservation Department’s web-pages - follow the link below.

It is has been estimated that in total the work on the tapestry will take up to 3,500 hours. Expressed in different terms that’s one conservator working on the tapestry for two years!  At the moment the conservator in question is Albertina. She very kindly provided me with an update on progress. As you can see from the picture I’ve included here the cleaned tapestry is now being conserved on a frame in the Textile Conservation Studio. It is in the process of been given a complete support of fine linen scrim. Larger areas where loss is more pronounced are being supported with heavier linen.Troy Tapestry

I’ll add further updates about progress on work on this tapestry, and on other objects, in due course.  If you have any questions please feel free to post them below and I’ll do my best to answer them for you.  If I don’t know the answer myself, I’m sure that one of my colleagues will.

Click on the link that follows to view a short-film about conservation work on the War of Troy Tapestry