Conserving a 16th Century Feathered Triptych

Saturday, May 17, at the Conservation Window, Geneva Griswold, the Objects Lab’s intern, presented a triptych depicting St. Jerome and the Four Evangelists embellished with hummingbird feathers. Visitors to the window were the first members of the public to see this stunning piece of the collection. Future Conservation Window viewings of this piece will be posted in this article.

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.

Research is still being done to determine more of the object’s history, but it’s likely that it was originally intended as a teaching tool for Spanish missionaries in the New World. The Walters’ piece is unique among a handful of similar objects for various reasons, most notably the striking feathers that comprise the background. Other variations of similar objects feature ivory in place of the gilded and painted wood that is present in the Walters’ piece, and elaborately decorated silver or gilded cases to protect the triptych’s exterior (the Walters’ piece has a plain wood case).

St Jerome in Penance and the Four Evangelists

61.104 St Jerome in Penance and the Four Evangelists Spanish Colonial, 16th century

Geneva’s work has centered primarily on cleaning the object to remove the dirt and soils which have accumulated on it over time.


Conservation Window

Watch and interact with conservators as they restore works of art at the Conservation Window. The Conservation Window is open 12:30-4 p.m., Friday to Sunday.