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Tuesday, May 30 • 4:00pm - 4:30pm
(Objects) Tempting Fate: Lessons Learned from the Treatment of Giovanni della Robbia's Adam and Eve

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Recent examination and conservation treatment of the Walters Art Museum's large scale relief of Adam and Eve (27.219), attributed to the workshop of Giovanni della Robbia circa 1515, has shed new light on the complex history of this object during the 19th and early 20th centuries when it moved least four times among collections in Europe and America. On continuous view at the Walters since 1909, the relief is currently located on a stairway landing in a high-traffic area of the museum, hindering access and photography. In 2013, an unfortunate incident of damage provided the impetus for a year-long effort to examine, document, and treat the relief to provide better records of condition, stabilize loose fragments, and remove dirt, grime, and excess restoration materials. The project was conducted in close collaboration with James A. Murnaghan Curator of Renaissance and Baroque Art Dr. Joaneath Spicer. Examination and treatment were conducted largely in the public, and physical constraints of the landing area prevented the use of solvent extraction equipment. As a result, cleaning methods were restricted to mechanical, aqueous, and low-VOC solvent methods. Frequent interaction with museum visitors, while not originally part of the treatment plan, became a valuable and highly visible form of conservation outreach in the galleries. Loose or detached fragments were consolidated with Paraloid B-72 on days that the museum was closed to visitors. Several loose sections were separated to facilitate removal of corroding iron pins. Removal of overpaint and excess fill materials revealed many sections of glazed terracotta that had long been obscured, including portions of the inscription with gaps and possible transpositions of text. Removal of restoration material from the join edges provided evidence that the relief is partly assembled from fragments and may once have been larger, surviving today in reduced form. Examination of cleaned surfaces and glaze analysis by x-ray fluorescence spectrometry (XRF) provided evidence that many sections of glazed terracotta were manufactured in the 19th century. The pink clay body and layered glaze structure of these newly-made pieces more closely resemble those of painted maiolica than the buff-colored clay body and single, opaque glaze layer characteristic of the della Robbia. Archival research suggests that the current assembly and newly-made sections may have been created in Italy in 1870 or before, possibly with the intent of sale to the South Kensington Museum. Integration of damages, losses, and 19th -century terracotta sections was undertaken in consultation with Dr. Spicer. Ultimately, the decision was made to tone losses and prior restorations with only minimal additional filling or resurfacing of prior fills. As a result, the appearance of the relief is unified at a distance, but damages, restorations, and differences between the two types of terracotta are visible on close inspection. The treatment of the Adam and Eve has thus revealed it as a complex hybrid object, combining 16th-century fragments with previously unrecognized 19th-century restorations. Additional research on 19th-century restorations in glazed terracotta is recommended, as little information on the subject is available.

avatar for Gregory Bailey, [PA]

Gregory Bailey, [PA]

Booth Family Rome Prize Recipient, American Academy in Rome
Gregory Bailey received an M.A. in Art Conservation from Buffalo State College in 2011. He is currently the recipient of the Booth Family Rome Prize in Historic Preservation and Conservation at the American Academy in Rome, researching the craft origins of Venetian enamels on copper... Read More →

Tuesday May 30, 2017 4:00pm - 4:30pm CDT
Crystal Ballroom B Lobby Level, West Tower