The Science of Display Cases

Roman  /  Aged Herakles  /  1st c. BC-AD  /  Acquired by Henry Walters

Conservator Katie Posthauer has been working for two years on a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to help identify and replace display cases in most need of updating to current conservation standards. Some of the display cases throughout the galleries at the Walters are older than others, and are made of less-stable materials than what is available now. This means that the conditions inside the case aren’t always ideal for the objects on display. Katie’s job has been to work with other conservators to determine which cases are at the highest risk and to replace them.

Once a case has been identified for replacement, the objects inside are removed from the gallery and a new case is built using the best materials available. This includes a special silica gel (similar to the little packets you’d find in your new shoes), special acrylic, and other pieces. The environmental conditions inside each case are carefully monitored, and even the fabric on the floor of the case is carefully tested to ensure that it cannot harm the object on display. Once the new case has been built and is ready, each object is removed and is cleaned.

Continue reading The Science of Display Cases →

Conserving a 16th Century Feathered Triptych

A triptych depicting St. Jerome and the Four Evangelists embellished with hummingbird feathers was acquired by Henry Walters in 1914, and has never been on display at the Walters. The object is currently undergoing analysis and cleaning of the decorative hummingbird feathers in the conservation lab.

 

St Jerome in Penance and the Four Evangelists (Detail)
St Jerome in Penance and the Four Evangelists (Detail)

Saint Jerome in Penance and the Four Evangelists (61.104) was acquired by Henry Walters in 1914, and has never been on display at the Walters. The object is currently undergoing analysis and cleaning of the decorative hummingbird feathers in the conservation lab. The triptych is a fusion of Christian iconography and Aztec featherworking techniques, which was an adaptation encouraged by the mendicant orders during the early Spanish colonial period (1519 -1600 AD) in Mexico.

Continue reading Conserving a 16th Century Feathered Triptych →

Further Revelations on the Walters and its connection to the Monuments Men

Recently, our conservation department has discovered another important connection to the Monuments Men:

This past Sunday, February 9, our auditorium was packed to the rafters for our lecture Monuments Man: The Walters’ Marvin Chauncey Ross. Michael Kurtz, National Archives expert, recounted how the “Monuments Men” tracked and located nearly five million European artworks and cultural treasures stolen by Hitler and the Nazis during WWII. Among them was Marvin Chauncey Ross (1904–1977), the Walters’ first Curator of Medieval Art and Subsequent Decorative Arts. Melissa Wertheimer, Walters’ archives assistant, also shared her fascinating discoveries while researching the Marvin Ross papers at the Walters.

More recently, our conservation department has discovered another important connection to the Monuments Men:

Continue reading Further Revelations on the Walters and its connection to the Monuments Men →

From the Conservation Lab: Copper-Alloy Color Reconstruction of Three Ancient Egyptian Artworks

Recent research has shown that many ancient Egyptian metal objects were originally exuberantly colored, employing contrasting metal alloys or other inlays to highlight details or portions of a figure. These animated images show three ancient Egyptian artworks’ current condition and how they might have looked originally.

Egypt’s Mysterious Book of the Faiyum, a special exhibition at the Walters Art Museum, gathers together a group of ancient Egyptian objects focused on the Faiyum region, including the illustrated papyrus book of the title, along with many statues and figures made of metal.  Just as the Book of the Faiyum holds untold secrets, many of the metal objects in the exhibition are more than meets the eye.

Recent research has shown that many ancient Egyptian metal objects were originally exuberantly colored, employing contrasting metal alloys or other inlays to highlight details or portions of a figure. Due to corrosion of the metal surface, many of these objects no longer appear as they did when they were first made and used.

Continue reading From the Conservation Lab: Copper-Alloy Color Reconstruction of Three Ancient Egyptian Artworks →

Unraveling the Mysteries of the Saint Amandus Reliquary

Museum conservators use modern technology to date and identify a 13th century Flemish reliquary. This large, church-shaped shrine once housed the relics of a 7th-century saint who served as a missionary and bishop to the western regions of present-day Belgium. St. Amandus (d. 679) also established a monastery at Elnon, near Tournai (western Belgium), where the monks later commissioned this reliquary to honor his remains.

Flemish, c. early 13th century with later additions. 19 1/4 x 25 1/4 x 11 15/16 in. Walters Art Museum 53.9

See how Walters conservators use modern technology to date and identify this 13th century Flemish reliquary:

Learn more about the Walters’ Shrine of Saint Amandus, featured in the exhibition Treasures of Heaven. Visit this interactive presentation.

Continue reading Unraveling the Mysteries of the Saint Amandus Reliquary →

Conservation of the Bodhisattva Guanyin

The Bodhisattva Guanyin, a beautiful near-life-size figure, was a recent gift from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Made in China during the Ming period (early 15th–early 17th centuries), the sculpture made its journey from the Duke estate to the Walters 19th-century galleries, where it received treatment by the conservation department prior to going on view in the Hackerman House.

This late Ming dynasty dry-lacquer sculpture is an image of the bodhisattva Guanyin, an enlightened being venerated in Chinese Buddhism as an embodiment of compassion. Called a "Water-moon Guanyin" or "Guanyin sitting in Royal Ease," this theme and its iconography derive from textual inspiration found in the Avatamsaka Sutra (the central text of the Hua-yen school of Buddhism), and indigenous Chinese traditions. The dry lacquer technique was popular, but examples of this size and degree of refinement are rare. Chinese, late 14th-15th century, H: 50 x W: 34 1/4 x D: 22 5/8 in. Walters Art Museum, 25.256.
This late Ming dynasty dry-lacquer sculpture is an image of the bodhisattva Guanyin, an enlightened being venerated in Chinese Buddhism as an embodiment of compassion. Called a "Water-moon Guanyin" or "Guanyin sitting in Royal Ease," this theme and its iconography derive from textual inspiration found in the Avatamsaka Sutra (the central text of the Hua-yen school of Buddhism), and indigenous Chinese traditions. The dry lacquer technique was popular, but examples of this size and degree of refinement are rare. Chinese, late 14th-15th century, H: 50 x W: 34 1/4 x D: 22 5/8 in. Walters Art Museum, 25.256.
This late Ming dynasty dry-lacquer sculpture is an image of the bodhisattva Guanyin, an enlightened being venerated in Chinese Buddhism as an embodiment of compassion. Called a “Water-moon Guanyin” or “Guanyin sitting in Royal Ease,” this theme and its iconography derive from textual inspiration found in the Avatamsaka Sutra (the central text of the Hua-yen school of Buddhism), and indigenous Chinese traditions. The dry lacquer technique was popular, but examples of this size and degree of refinement are rare. Chinese, late 14th-15th century, H: 50 x W: 34 1/4 x D: 22 5/8 in. Walters Art Museum, 25.256.

Conservation of the Bodhisattva GuanyinThe Bodhisattva Guanyin, a beautiful near-life-size figure, was a recent gift from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Made in China during the Ming period (early 15th–early 17th centuries), the sculpture made its journey from the Duke estate to the Walters 19th-century galleries, where it received treatment by the conservation department prior to going on view in the Hackerman House.

Walters conservators have made some interesting discoveries about the piece. First of all, it is made using a hollow dry-lacquer technique, a layering technique similar to papier maché, but using Asian lacquer derived from tree sap. Cloth soaked in lacquer was used to model the initial form of the sculpture. Then layers of lacquer bulked with successively finer material were added to smooth the surface for eventual gilding. Beneath the gilding, red lacquer tinted with cinnabar, an ancient Chinese pigment, derived from mercuric sulphide, shines through. Now black overall, the hair was originally painted blue, and special attention was also given to his face, which was gilded as many as five times.

Continue reading Conservation of the Bodhisattva Guanyin →

This Sarcophagus Was Painted Red

While ancient marble sculptures are often thought of as pristine and white, we know that many were once painted with bright colors. This sarcophagus is no different. Recently, while removing plaster and other old restoration materials, conservators have discovered several areas of what is believed to be original red paint.

Conservation of the sarcophagus in the gallery.

consweb2While ancient marble sculptures are often thought of as pristine and white, we know that many were once painted with bright colors.  This sarcophagus is no different.  Recently, while removing plaster and other old restoration materials, conservators have discovered several areas of what is believed to be original red paint.  Further research will help to determine what this ancient pigment was composed of, and conservators will continue to work cautiously to protect these areas.

The best preserved color is in the protected undercuts of the marble, visible in this photo as faint pink.  Also shown in the photo are accretions, which are evidence of root growth around the marble when it was buried in the ground.

Continue reading This Sarcophagus Was Painted Red →