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Wednesday, May 31 • 3:30pm - 4:00pm
040. (Objects) Investigation of Gold Residues on Glazed Renaissance Sculpture: Gilding the Virtues

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Glazed terracotta figures depicting the Christian virtues Faith and Hope by Benedetto Buglioni (1459-1521) were loaned to the Museum of Fine Art, Boston (MFA) from a private collector for inclusion in the exhibition Della Robbia: Sculpting with Color in Renaissance Florence. The figures are glazed white with apparent “modern” gilding on the halos, as well as on the base of the chalice held by Faith. Conservation was undertaken at the MFA revealing extensive gilding residues over the surfaces (as well as residues of white lead and of gesso-like layers) which prompted an in-depth research project to investigate the decorative patterns that originally covered the surfaces of these sculptures. This investigation contributed significantly to understanding the history and original appearance of the sculptures. Gilding remains and residual patterns were documented and photographed with both short and long wave UV light for possible enhancement of remaining gilding adhesive. The gilding residues and waxy green exudates on the ”modern” gilding on Faith were sampled for analysis with SEM-EDS, Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FT-IR), and X-Ray Fluorescence Spectroscopy (XRF) by the MFA’s Research Scientists. Samples of the modern gilding on the halos of both Faith and Hope were prepared as cross-sections and evaluated to identify the materials, distinct layers or applications of gilding, and differences or similarities between gilding on the two sculptures. Museum curators were consulted about prevalence of gilding on glazed ceramic and in artwork of the Renaissance and provided literature about textiles produced in Florence before and during the period of the Buglioni workshop. Access was provided to the museum’s sample collection of Florentine Renaissance textiles in order to compare patterns evident in the gilding residues to textiles manufactured at the time the sculptures were made. Results of the investigation provided substantial evidence that elaborate patterned gilding covered the “clothing” possibly resembling textiles being produced in Renaissance Florence, which was a center of textile production noted for embroidery of gold thread on velvet. In addition the research confirmed that the current dominant gilding on both of the halos is not original, but obscures original gilding on the halos of both figures. The original gilding was applied with a thin adhesive and fired at a very low temperature, but without bole or a substrate layer. The later 19th or 20th century “gilding” on Hope proved to be brass paint and on Faith gold leaf over a substrate. Prussian blue was identified in a sample of the green exudates on the “modern” halo gilding from the figure of Faith, providing a terminus post quem of the early 1800s. These variations also indicate the sculptures were not paired throughout their history.

Speaker(s)
avatar for Abigail Hykin

Abigail Hykin

Conservator, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Abigail Hykin is Conservator of Objects at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Besides work on Della Robbia sculpture, her recent projects have included the treatment of a 12th century Chinese sculpture, Guanyin, Bodhisattva of Compassion and Nishida Jun’s massive ceramic Zetsu No... Read More →
avatar for Catherine Mallinckrodt

Catherine Mallinckrodt

Conservator, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts
Casey Mallinckrodt received a MA in conservation at the UCLA/Getty Program in Conservation of Archaeological and Ethnographic Materials and previously received a MFA from Yale University. She has been a Kress Fellow in Object Conservation at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and worked... Read More →


Wednesday May 31, 2017 3:30pm - 4:00pm
Riverside West Exhibit Hall Exhibit Level, East Tower

Attendees (28)