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CURRENT COLUMN

Structural
Rigid Water Gels: New Treatment Options for Paper Conservators

Structural
Structural Remedies for Canvas Paintings

Digital
Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 4: Digital-based Material

Photos
Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 3: Photo-based Material

Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 2: Paper-based Material

First Steps
Organizing and Preserving Collections - Part 1: The First Steps

Natural Dyes
The Use of Natural Dyes in Textile Conservation

Butterfly
A Relocation Project

Challenges of Preserving Contemporary Artwork

Preserve Your Investment through Art Conservation

A Project Completed: Heritage Preserved

Old and New Methods for Cleaning Paintings

I Can See Clearly Now – Or Can I? Part 2

I Can See Clearly Now – Or Can I?

The E.J. Hughes Mural: An Expanded Project

Is She or Is She Not an Emily

Treating Art with Sensitive Media

Malaspina Mural: An Update

For the Artist: Testing Your Materials

Conservator as Art Historian

Alum Sizing and the Art of W.J. Phillips

Treatment of an Elizabeth Keith Wood Block Print

Structural Treatment of an Emily Carr

The Treatment of a Monumental Wall Hanging

Changing Images

Preserving a Rare Record

Gold Leaf: Imitation and Genuine

The Case Against Canvas Backings

Heritage Colours: Research Discovers Original Colours

Lighting Your Art: Balancing Seeing and Protecting

The Double-Sided Emily Carr Painting

Choosing a Period Picture Frame

How to Identify a Picture Frame

Stretching Canvas and Restretching Artwork

Mounting Textiles

Aging Paintings:
Some Causes and Effects

Chine Collé Prints

What's Your Favourite Color?

Backing Removals

Rips, Holes and Tears

Filling in the Gaps

DIY – Preventative Care of Paintings

Frame it Right

Fire, Water and Smoke-Damaged Paintings

Inherent Vice

Saturated Problems:
A Water-Damaged Painting

Moldy Paper

Conserving Time

Conserving Paper: Dos and Don'ts

Repair of Textiles

Conserving Wood

Rescuing Endangered Murals

Repairing Acid-Matte Burn

Art Services & Materials
Exhibition Openings & Events


Conservation Corner Back

Coming Apart at the Seams: A Polychrome Crucifix Project

by Cheryle Harrison
conserv-arte.ca

Polychrome crucifix, showing pre-treatment breakage

Polychrome crucifix, showing pre-treatment breakage

Carved wood, gesso, paint and sometimes gold leaf and other metals have long been used to transform sculptures into embellished polychrome objects. Early Greek stone figures had brightly painted hair and clothing, with the carved stone skin left unpainted. In medieval times, polychrome included decorated statues, altarpieces and interiors of churches painted with colourful patterns and designs. Polychrome on carved wood was widely used for sculpture in Europe and South America.

Polychrome is more than a decorative style, whether it’s used on an object or figure and whether its materials include precious or exotic pigments such as lapis lazuli or carmine red made from insects: it always tells a story. These stories illustrate times of religious and social history, economic development and regional influences, specialized materials and techniques and changing artistic styles and designs.

Many things may damage an artwork – water or fire exposure, poor storage conditions or the aging of materials. After an accidental fall, the damage to this approximately 350-year-old, nearly metre-and-a-half-tall polychrome sculpture included the partially crushed nose, bent thorns on the metal crown and partly separated shoulder and leg joints that wobbled when touched. Layers of thick dust, soot, ingrained dirt and accretions also covered this polychrome crucifix’s surface. As well, investigation of the figure’s joints revealed pre-existing, non-active worm damage that had resulted in numerous wormholes, structurally weakened areas and, from prior repairs, remains of old adhesive.

With the repairs completed, the crucifix has a new lease on life

With the repairs completed, the crucifix has a new
lease on life

The figure’s arms were detached to receive treatment. Injections of adhesive were used to strengthen, re-join and secure the arms and legs to the torso.

The fractured nose had wormhole damage, signs of wear, small broken pieces and detaching gesso and paint layers. These areas were treated and carefully repositioned, and some losses were minimally inpainted, achieving partial reconstruction of the nose. The crown’s few bent metal thorns proved to be stable, although too delicate to be bent back to their original positions, and were left alone.

The crucifix was then cleaned with soft brushes to remove loose dirt and dust. A customized cleaning solution was fabricated for controlled removal of grime and soot from the sculpture’s soiled surfaces. Accretions were softened with a gel and, under magnification, eased from the surface with a scalpel. As a buffer for future environmental conditions, several layers of a beeswax paste were applied, warmed with a controlled-air tool and hand buffed.

Regular maintenance, monitoring and conservation care of our antiquities and family treasures will contribute to the preservation of our memories and history.

Previously: Cleaning Acrylic Paintings: A Dilemma Solved
Next issue: Oscar Cahén, Painters 11 – Materials, techniques and treatments

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 Tue, Apr 7, 2015