Preparing and Protecting: Raphael Court Update

February 27, 2020

V&A staff from across the museum are working together on this major project to commemorate the death of Raphael 500 years ago. In this post, Ben Brown, the project’s Lead Technician, explains what his team is doing to protect the objects in the gallery before the refurbishment works begin.

Ben Brown, Technician
Ben Brown, Technician. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Ben Brown and I’m currently the Lead Technician on the Raphael Court refurbishment project. Museum technicians look after the objects and galleries across the V&A, in South Kensington and its other sites. This includes (but isn’t limited to) mount making, moving objects, packing objects, installing and de-installing shows and preventive conservation work – and much, much more.

What are you doing to protect the Raphael Cartoons, which are loaned to the V&A from the Royal Collection by Her Majesty The Queen, while the gallery is refurbished?

Keeping the Cartoons in the gallery is the safest environment for the objects, rather than moving them in their delicate state. We have a core team of about four technicians working on the project, but this number fluctuates depending on what we are doing in the gallery and commitments elsewhere in our busy department. To put it simply, we are wrapping the frames of the Cartoons and other objects in the gallery (there is a tapestry, marble singing gallery, marble doorway, fresco and large altarpiece in the space) to protect the works while we put up the scaffolding to carry out the refurbishment. The initial soft wrapping on the objects is to protect them from dust and detritus. The objects are cleaned first and then we use a material called Tyvek to cover everything up. This is a conservation grade material which allows us to safely wrap the objects, protecting them from dust, while also ensuring that a microclimate isn’t created during the period that everything is covered. Once everything is wrapped up, large wooden boxes will be installed around each piece to ensure that there is no danger of the scaffolding damaging anything.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Due to the size of the objects and positioning on the walls, we are using MEWPS (Mobile Elevating Work Platforms) to access the top of the objects so that we can seal them. As some objects are even higher than the limits of our MEWPS we are hiring in additional equipment to allow us up to these levels. For the fresco, we are working with the scaffolders so that we can have better access to this object. The fresco is being deinstalled and the recess it occupies will need to be painted while it is out of the gallery. As it is significantly lighter than everything else, it is easier to move and store. We are also installing a special frame work above the altarpiece to protect the surface of the paintings and carry the weight of the Tyvek.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

How difficult is the task? How long will it take? Who have you been working with on these preparations?

Due to the sheer size and location of the objects the job is made a little harder, and the details on pieces such as the singing gallery and doorway mean that time must be spent ensuring that everything is covered and sealed properly. We have factored in three to four weeks on this work (but are already ahead which is good!). We work alongside our colleagues from conservation, communicating with them on potential risks. We also work with the project team who oversee the work, including the curator and designers as well as the external contractors.

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

How does this compare to other jobs?

Working across the different collections in the museum means that from day to day you are doing a vast variety of things and working on hugely different scales (from making intricate jewellery mounts to moving Rodin statues) but this job does win out in terms of the consistently large size of the pieces.

How does it feel to contribute to a major gallery project that commemorates 500 years since Raphael’s death?

Just another day on the job… I do feel proud, admittedly, and look forward to the end of the project and seeing the Cartoons displayed to their full potential.

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