Conservation of a Ghiberti Workshop Polychrome Madonna and Child
This project focused on research, examination, stabilisation treatment and adjustment of the previous retouching of the above sculpture
This privately owned sculpture was recently purchased, and had undergone some conservation/restoration work before the sale, involving the removal of a darkened/brown varnish layer, as well as some new retouching to the faces of the Madonna and Child and their garments. The current owner asked for a conservation assessment, with particular regard to the retouching.
My work involved examination including assessment of the polychromy under magnification and in flat, raking and UV light and D-stretch (photo manipulation software) to help understand added and altered materials, previous retouching and layering. It included research into comparative sculptures – notably a series of other Madonna and Childs from the Ghiberti workshop, to help inform findings from this examination.
The garments of both figures had been almost entirely scrapped of original polychromy through generations of previous redecoration and retouchings – although traces of original flowered punchwork decoration on the Madonna’s mantle were found, as well as the imprint of punchwork brocade on her dress. While the skin and faces of both figures appeared not to have been scraped down in the manner of the garments and base, there were multiple losses and abrasions, as well as layers of repaint, applied over each other – presumably undertaken when there was previous damage, flaking, loss or simply to renew the appearance or features.
My conservation work was minimal intervention. It did not attempt to remove the multiple retouchings, which are a part of the history of the piece, but it aimed to balance elements of the previous very recent work. Work involved the stabilisation of the decorative layer, including filling and toning out distracting losses around the faces of the Madonna and Child, and adjusting the recent retouching. The adjustment was undertaken working under magnification, using UV light, as necessary to reestablish the position of the original eyebrows on the Madonna and the definition of the Child’s eyes, as possible. Lightly retouching was undertaken in these areas using information from any retained evidence of earlier layers and from other versions of the sculpture.