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Wednesday, May 31 • 4:30pm - 4:55pm
(Treatment: Going Big) Resurrecting della Robbia’s 'Resurrection': Challenges in the conservation of a monumental Renaissance relief

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The "Resurrection" (c. 1520-24) by Giovanni della Robbia, a large-scale glazed terracotta relief, was on view at the Brooklyn Museum since the late 19th century. However, contemporary renovations of the galleries and aging restorations relegated the artwork to storage in recent decades. With its inclusion in the August, 2016 show "Della Robbia: Sculpting with Color in Renaissance Florence" at the MFA, Boston, the object was slated for its first full-scale treatment since being acquired in 1899. Examination, disassembly, cleaning, reassembly, inpainting and remounting of all 46 sections of the relief was completed in just ten months, involving the participation of 12 objects conservators, the Museum's mount maker and art handlers. This paper will discuss treatment approach, challenges posed by the extant mounting materials, and the development of a new mounting system. It will also highlight observations about Giovanni's workshop techniques, the use of TL dating and multi-spectral imaging to learn more about the materials present. Working as a team under a tight deadline is a challenge that many conservators face. The large scale of the project forced conservators to be innovative in their approach and design the treatment to maintain consistency while remaining flexible when unique challenges arose. Many treatment decisions confronted compromising questions such as: which 19th century restoration materials should be kept as part of the object, saved separately as samples, or discarded? How should the historic backboard be treated if it is still to function as an adequate support? When is it appropriate to treat one section of the object uniquely from the others? Addressing these concerns required thorough understanding of the materials and history of the object drawing from comprehensive examination and analysis. Discoveries about original workshop techniques are also important as much of the literature related to the della Robbia workshop focuses on the earlier generations, Luca and Andrea. Observations include the use of two different types of clay; original repairs made with glaze visible on the verso; sketches incised in the clay; and evidence of hand-modeling and coiling techniques. Close examination also revealed a wide extent of gilding and cold-painting, much of which has been lost over time. Multi-spectral imaging illuminated subtle patterns on the two main figures of the relief—Christ and the patron, Niccolò Antinori not visible in normal light. Due to the in-depth nature of intervention required and the many hands at work, organizing the treatment required customizing the system of documentation. Consistent protocols were developed to address past restorations, establish conservation materials, degree of intervention, and aesthetic compensation. The new mounting system retrofitted the wood backboard that has been with the object since it arrived in the United States, with high density form-fitting inserts that support the terracotta elements from the back. Remounting was one of the most difficult, innovative and challenging processes of the treatment, and as such strategies used to find the correct spacing and order of installation of pieces may be helpful for conservators working on similar types of objects in the future.

avatar for Sara Levin

Sara Levin

Assistant Objects Conservator, Mack Art Conservation
Sara Levin is a Project Objects Conservator at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City and Assistant Object Conservator at Mack Art Conservation where she works on a range of modern and contemporary objects and sculpture. She received a Master of Science in Art Conservation from the... Read More →

avatar for Lisa Bruno, [PA]

Lisa Bruno, [PA]

Carol Lee Shen Chief Conservator, Brooklyn Museum
Lisa Bruno is the Carol Lee Shen Chief Conservator of the Brooklyn Museum Conservation Laboratory, one the first museum conservation facilities in the United States. A member of the Museum staff since 1993, Bruno has also been an adjunct professor at the New York University Institute... Read More →

Wednesday May 31, 2017 4:30pm - 4:55pm CDT
Crystal Ballroom A Lobby Level, West Tower