Unlocking a Fifteenth-Century Flemish Casket

This casket hasn’t been opened since Henry Walters first acquired it.

A fifteenth-century Flemish casket with scenes from romances was recently brought to the conservation lab to be evaluated for a possible loan to another museum. It is a rare example of painted and gilded locking caskets with secular imagery. Purchased from the Parisian bookbinder and antiques dealer Leon Gruel by Henry Walters, only a handful of similar examples are known.

This casket is made of wood covered with leather that has been cut to create images and designs.  Iron straps surround the exterior, and there is a large lock on the front, suggesting the casket was intended to hold objects of great value.  When it arrived in the lab, the casket was locked.  There is no key and no record of it ever being opened at the museum.

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Art Conservator Q&A with Julie Lauffenburger

Julie Lauffenburger, Director of Conservation and Technical Research shares her passion for conservation, curating the Gold in the Ancient Americas exhibition and her journey to the Walters Art Museum.

Why are you so passionate about preserving art?

I am a bit of a history nerd. Just ask my children—always a historic site wrapped into a family vacation! Preserving art to me is about preserving the legacy of human creativity: what makes us human and what is universal about all of us wherever we live. I have always been fascinated by material culture and have always wanted to travel and see the world; preserving art ensures that material culture from around the world will be there for future generations to discover. It makes you feel like you are a part of something bigger.

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Conserving an Ottoman Helmet

Recently, while re-installing one of the exhibition cases of Islamic arms and armor, conservators noticed bright green corrosion around the copper rivets on one of the helmets. What was causing this corrosion, and could it be stopped?

Helmet engraved with floral patterns, before conservation treatment. Sixteenth century Ottoman Turkish or Persian. Walters Art Museum 51.1, acquired by Henry Walters, 1911.

Recently, while re-installing one of the exhibition cases of Islamic arms and armor, conservators noticed bright green corrosion around the copper rivets on one of the helmets. What was causing this corrosion, and could it be stopped?

Detail of corrosion on copper rivets, before conservation treatment.

The helmet engraved with floral patterns (WAM 51.1) was made sometime in the 16th century in Turkey or Persia (modern day Iran), and was purchased in 1911 by Henry Walters. A circular mark cut into the proper right side of the helmet indicates that it was once part of the Imperial Arsenal of the Ottoman Empire in Istanbul.

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Rediscovering Color on an Ancient Relief

The fragment of an ancient Roman marble relief Attendant of Mithras with signs of the zodiac (23.238) recently came to the conservation lab, giving Walters Art Museum conservators a chance to learn more about its colorful original appearance.

The fragment of an ancient Roman marble relief Attendant of Mithras with signs of the zodiac (23.238) recently came to the conservation lab, giving Walters Art Museum conservators a chance to learn more about its colorful original appearance.

The fragment was probably carved sometime in the first century A.D.  It is part of one side of a much larger carved marble relief that likely depicted the Persian creation god Mithras flanked by his two attendants and torchbearers Cautes and Cautopates, surrounded by depictions of the twelve signs of the zodiac. This fragment shows one of the attendants holding his torch downward and parts of the zodiac signs for Capricorn, Sagittarius, and Scorpio.

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Revealing the Splendor of Gilded Lacquer

cleaning and treatment of several objects from the Doris Duke Collection of Southeast Asian Art

The Walters recently received a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to perform the cleaning and treatment of several objects from the Doris Duke Collection of Southeast Asian Art. This collection, comprised of a variety of beautiful and unique pieces, has been in storage for some time, and many pieces require treatment. Conservator Stephanie Hulman, who is working on the pieces in the museum recently, shared some insight into the scope of the project and the work she is doing. Visitors can see her on the 1st floor of the museum, in the Special Exhibition Gallery, Wednesday to Friday, 1:30-4 p.m.

A large portion of Stephanie’s work involves a process called consolidation, which is a technique conservators use to re-adhere flaking media. Many of the pieces in the Duke collection have gilded lacquer surfaces, which can lift and flake in an improper environment. Conservators can carefully consolidate the lacquer layers, stabilizing them to ensure that the piece will remain in excellent condition for many years to come. In addition to consolidation, Stephanie and other conservators are cleaning some of the dust that has accumulated while the pieces were in storage, using carefully selected solvents and chemicals that will remove the dirt without harming the art underneath. One of the pieces, a Miniature Shrine, has been cleaned and can be seen in the gallery now in its full splendor, its gilded surface gleaming brightly.

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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.

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