Special topics in art history
Museums play a key role in preserving old master drawings for future generations. These delicate artworks undergo careful examination and treatment by conservators. Techniques include using ultraviolet light, microscopic analysis, and special solutions to reduce damage. The goal is to minimize distractions from the original design, not to make the drawing look new. Created by Getty Museum.
Want to join the conversation?
- Is there a concern that applying too much weight during conservation will also damage the paper?
Also, is there a concern that the conservator could over-dry the drawing?(9 votes)
- Yes, applying too much weight could damage a drawing. If too much were applied locally (as for example at3:10with a weight across the corner of the sheet over her repair) this might result in an impression along the edge of the weight.
Applying too much weight overall to a damp sheet could result in an overall loss of surface texture. Most historic papers have a much richer surface than for example cheap modern printing paper, and this is important to preserve.
And yes, if paper becomes too dry it becomes brittle and could easily fracture with any manipulation or handling. Large museums such as the Getty will have their conservation studios, storage and display areas air conditioned to keep drawings at their optimum temperature and humidity levels.
Conservation is extremely difficult because every treatment has these risks if it is applied wrongly. However all conservators go through thorough training to ensure that they are aware of them. This will include formal study as well as several years working alongside more experienced conservators. They are also trained to constantly monitor and review the results of their work.
Certainly in this video the treatment was carried out in a sensitive and controlled way and appeared entirely appropriate to the drawing.(13 votes)
- Can you use similar techniques for subduing foxing on non-detachable paper as in pages of a rare book?(3 votes)
- I don't think it would be a good idea as the ammoniated water could bleed on to the other pages and risk text being lost. Not all pages of a book tend to be symmetrical. Especially for old texts. Sometimes the wording of certain books can be even a few centimeters off and could end up causing a whole new set of problems to worry about. I think in this example the conservator is doing it to a very thin ink drawing. I'm sure there are other reasons why she took the picture off the mount or support. I would rather take it to a professional conservationist who knows what they are doing.(5 votes)
- Why isn't natural degradation considered a part of the natural creative process, and left unchecked?(4 votes)
- Also, I think the idea is that the degradation wasn't there when the art was made--it wasn't part of the initial design. So we want the art to look as new and original as possible.(2 votes)
- Why doesn't the conservator wear cotton gloves? The oil on her fingers can affect the drawing...(3 votes)
- From the author:Cotton gloves are not worn because they decrease feeling and thus increase the risk of a tear. Clean hands are now preferred and many libraries and special collections now avoid the use of gloves for this reason.(6 votes)
- 1.) What is the conservator looking for when she uses the microscope?
2.) What happens if the ink does show that it'll run when she tests the solubility?(3 votes)
- Is there any way to prevent foxing?(2 votes)
- Foxing is mildew, so it has to do with humidity. In a room with ideal humidity, it won't occurr.(3 votes)
- At1:44. What if the ink isn't soluble? What would they do to assure that it wouldn't bleed if that was the case?(2 votes)
- What is Japanese Tissue, and what does it do?(1 vote)
A fundamental role of a museum is to care for its collection and preserve it for future generations. European drawings from the 1300s to the late 1800s -or old master drawings- are particularly vulnerable- they are on paper and hundreds of years old. Conserving an old master drawing is a balancing act. All drawings have their own set of condition issues that need to be assessed individually. Here, a Getty Conservator carefully examines a 500-year old German drawing. She first removes the drawing from its mount (or support). She inspects the drawing lit from below. This makes it easier to see the marks left by the wires of the paper mold; stains; a watermark; a tear- with a darkened area that shows where it had been previously repaired; and at the corner, the shadow of the piece of paper that had been used to attach the drawing to a mount. Next she examines the drawing under ultraviolet light. The brown spots are called "foxing." These are marks left by mold. Finally, she studies the drawing under a microscope. Now, the conservator tests the solubility of the ink to ensure it won't bleed during treatment. She places the drawing on a vacuum table, a device that extracts the liquids used in the treatment, out of the paper. She uses this small brash to apply an ammoniated water solution to reduce the brown "foxing." This solution subtly releases the color of the foxing, which distracts from the appearance of the drawing. She carefully alternates the application of ammoniated water with that of ethanol, in order to reduce "tide lines"- irregular lines or blemishes left behind as the ammoniated water solution dries. Wearing magnifying lenses, she examines tears and prepares them for mending and reinforcement. She takes the piece of Japanese tissue and carefully applies wheat starch paste to mend the tear. Japanese paper has very strong fibers, is chemically neutral, and can easily be identified and removed. She allows the paste to set by putting the drawing between blotters and weighing it down with glass blocks and weights. To complete the conservation treatment, the entire drying is humidified and then placed under weights with blotters to remove the moisture and flatten it. This process extends over a two-week period and the blotters are repeatedly replaced to facilitate drying. The goal of conservation isn't to make a drawing look "new" again. Rather, it's to safely reduce the damage that distracts from the design and bring the sheet closer to the artist's original intent. Evidence of age is still present, but now recedes into the background so that you may focus on the drawing.