A Puzzling Piece: The Walters Spanish Processional Cross

Recently in the Objects Conservation lab at the Walters, in collaboration with Curator of Renaissance and Baroque Art at the Walters, Dr. Joaneath Spicer, this 15-16th century Spanish Processional Cross has been the subject of a year-long in-depth study and conservation treatment, funded by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation.

Spanish Processional Cross, front (shown on the left above) and back (above right). The cross is from Zaragoza, Spain and dates to the 15-16th century. It measures 5.2 feet tall by 1.9 feet wide and is made of gilded-silver and enamel components attached to a wooden core.
Spanish Processional Cross, front (shown on the left above) and back (above right). The cross is from Zaragoza, Spain and dates to the 15-16th century. It measures 5.2 feet tall by 1.9 feet wide and is made of gilded-silver and enamel components attached to a wooden core.

This study was undertaken to learn more about the cross’ history and to carry out conservation treatment in order to make the cross stable enough to be on display in the galleries.

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Cartonnage: Fragments of a Mummy Wrapping (Part I)

Cartonnage is the painted material that covers many mummy bundles.  Like a plaster cast, it is made of layers of fabric (usually linen) that are wrapped around the bundle and then covered with a smooth, white layer of plaster.  After it is dry, the plaster surface can be painted with designs and Egyptian religious symbols.

Mummy and painted cartonnage of an unknown woman.  Egyptian, ca. 850-750 B.C.E.Walters Art Museum, 79.1
Mummy and painted cartonnage of an unknown woman. Egyptian, ca. 850-750 B.C.E.
Walters Art Museum, 79.1
Side view.  Walters Art Museum, 79.1
Side view.
Walters Art Museum, 79.1

The Walters Art Museum includes a number of examples of cartonnage, including several small fragments.  One of these fragments was recently in the Objects Conservation lab so that conservators could evaluate its condition and make recommendations about how best to preserve it.

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Consider the Coconut

Today, coconut is a common food, whether baked in a cake, stirred into a curry, or eaten fresh from the shell.  Because it is possible to buy coconuts at nearly any supermarket or grocery store, they are not considered especially rare or unusual.  But this has not always been the case.

A cross-section of a whole coconut.  The smooth, greenish skin and fibrous brown husk (also known as coir) are typically removed before coconuts are shipped to stores.  The copra, or interior of the coconut, contains the white flesh and coconut milk, both of which can be eaten.  The thin, dark shell can be used for a variety of purposes, and is sometimes incorporated into art objects.
A cross-section of a whole coconut. The smooth, greenish skin and fibrous brown husk (also known as coir) are typically removed before coconuts are shipped to stores. The copra, or interior of the coconut, contains the white flesh and coconut milk, both of which can be eaten. The thin, dark shell can be used for a variety of purposes, and is sometimes incorporated into art objects.

Coconut palms are not native to Europe, and in the past coconuts were imported or traded from faraway places in Asia and the new world.  The rarity, cost, and exotic nature of coconut shells meant that they were often treated as precious materials and mounted with silver, gold, enamels, or jewels.  During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, coconuts were often included in treasuries and chambers of wonders.

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Henry Walters’s Watches

The Walters Art Museum contains a large collection of historic watches, many of which were collected by Henry Walters. Mr. Walters appears to have collected the watches mainly with an eye toward the beauty of their cases. Many of the watch cases qualify as miniature works of art in enamel, metalwork, and gemstone; yet recent conservation work has shown that the clockworks inside the cases may often be later replacements, pastiches, or else incomplete and non-functional.

The Walters Art Museum contains a large collection of historic watches, many of which were collected by Henry Walters.  Mr. Walters appears to have collected the watches mainly with an eye toward the beauty of their cases.  Many of the watch cases qualify as miniature works of art in enamel, metalwork, and gemstone; yet recent conservation work has shown that the clockworks inside the cases may often be later replacements, pastiches, or else incomplete and non-functional.

Henry Walters’s interest in the exterior beauty of his watches is evident in the care he took to display them in his personal collection.  The archives of the Walters Art Museum include Mr. Walters’s design sketches for watch display stands, as well as several surviving examples of the finished product.

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The Conservator’s Toolbox: X-radiography of a Japanese cloisonné enamel

At the Walters, we regularly take x-rays of objects, paintings, and books; this allows us to have “x-ray vision” and look inside objects.

An objects conservator in the Conservation Window with a set of cloisonné enamels which shows how they were made and holding the x-ray of the Dragon vase, the subject of this post. The Dragon vase is on the desk in the nest of tissue, lying down to keep it safe from falling over.

Recently in the Conservation Window, an objects conservator was talking with museum visitors about how conservators use x-radiography to non-destructively learn about how objects were made and also assess their condition, using a 20thcentury Japanese cloisonné enamel vase as an example.

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