Caring for photographic materials – part 3!

All types of objects are affected by one or all of the agents of deterioration, and photgraphic materials are no different.  Photogrpahic matrerials are most sensitive to the incorrect tempertautre and relative humidity, light and air pollution.

Light causes the images to fade leading to eventual loss of the image.  Some photographic process will result in fading occurring more quickly as they are more light sensitive than others.  Ultraviolet light is the most dmagaing part of the light spectrum and so must be ellimated from the location a phptpgraph is to be displayed.  This can be done by applying a special film on to the window glass that anbsorbs the UV out of the natiral light coming in. While on display photographic materials should not illuminated above 50 lux and they should not be left on permanant display. 

Light damaged photo.  Image copyright of Sarah Allen.

Light damaged photo. Image copyright of Sarah Allen.

High and fluctuating temperatures exacerbates image fading and accelerates the rate of deterioration.  Similarly with relative humidity high and fluctuating levels cause the most damage.  Physical and chemical damage will occur if the environment is too humid, and if too dry physical damage such as cracking, fissuring, peeling will occur. Different types of photographic materials should be stored at different temperatures:

- Subzero (-20º – 0 ºC): Cellulose nitrate, cellulose acetate, early colour film & prints
- Cold (0º – 8º C): otherfilm based negatives
- Cool (8º – 16º C): glass/metal based photos
- Room (16º – 23º C): well processed black and white prints.

Pollutanats from both the environment, storage materials and the photographs themselves can cause deterioration. Pollutants can cause yellowing of prints and oxidisation of silver. Photographic processes that use cellulose acetate can give off acetic acid when they are degrading. The following methods can be employed to prevent damage by from pollutants:

- Reduce pollutants by using filters if possible
- Increase air movement to avoid microclimates
-  Use good quality housing to mitigate effect of poor air quality

As if all of the above wasn’t enough to cause deterioration there are biological and physical factors to add in to the mix too!  Mould and pest insects can cause damage:

Mould stained photograph.

Mould stained photograph.

Silverfish damage to a photograph.

Silverfish damage to a photograph.

Common furniture beetle (woodworm)  damage.

Common furniture beetle (woodworm) damage.

And then there’s us of course!  Poor handling, storage and display can all lead to physical damage, inlcuding breakages and tears.  


Preventive conservation housekeeping plays a key part in looking after photographic materials, as it does with any collection.  Here are some of the basic steps that should be taken:
 - Keep research and storage areas clean. Use a vacuum fitted with a HEPA filter
 - Regularly check for mould, insect or rodent activity
 - Avoid using household cleaners
 - Place away from heat/water sources (e.g. radiators)
 - Do not store photographs near photocopiers
 - Avoid using carpets in storage areas if possible
 - Do not store photographs in freshly painted rooms

So in summary, some key points to remember for the care of photographic materials:
  – Get to know your collection;
  Identify the different photographic processes in your collection, particularly those susceptible to degradation.
  - Handle items correctly;
  This is one of the main causes of damage to photographs but one of the easiest to mitigate.
 - Monitor the environment – and improve where needed; 
  Be aware of poor quality primary enclosures and containers, other possible contaminants and biological activity. Monitor environmental conditions to ensure they’re suitable.
- Carry out regular condition checks;
  Monitor the condition of the collection regularly, consulting a specialist conservator if there is cause for concern.

Alex, Emily, Lucy, Melinda, Sarah and Zena

Bursting at the Seams

Originally posted on Attingham Park:

Costume is a very evocative part of any collection. It provides a very personal insight into the lives of the individuals who wore them, and can often be linked to key phases in their lives. An example of this that we have mentioned before is our collection of 1953 Coronation Robes, which we were able to reproduce and have on display for the ‘Hidden Lives: Royalty, Glamour and War’  exhibition. In contrast with this formal costume though, the pieces in this blog are from a more light-hearted occasion exemplifying the 8 th Lord Berwick’s playful side.
The coronation robes on display as part of our Hidden Lives exhibition.

The coronation robes on display as part of our Hidden Lives exhibition.

As alluded to in previous posts, the 8th Lord and Lady were fond of dressing up. We have multiple photographs showing some of the many occasions upon which they donned their glad rags for a do. The particular costume and…

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William Kent, the reluctant Gothick

Originally posted on The Country Seat:

If asked what style of architecture one would associate with William Kent, one of the leading designers of the Georgian era, most would say Palladian and, if pushed, they might argue that his interiors are distinctly Baroque.  Yet Kent is also regarded as the creator of the ‘Gothick’ style of architecture; a blend of historical Gothic elements but applied, initially, within the structure of classical rules. This quickly evolved to have greater historical rigour, laying the groundwork for the more zealous interpretation by Victorians such as A.W.N. Pugin.  However, it could be argued that Kent was merely satisfying the stylistic whims of a patron and in his use of ‘Gothic’ elements, was actually continuing the Elizabethan practice of creating ‘symmetrical Gothic’, a visually impressive approach built on Renaissance principles.
Design for the east front of Esher Place, c1732 (copyright: Merton Heritage & Local Studies Centre)

Design for the east front of Esher Place, c1732 (copyright: Merton Heritage & Local Studies Centre)

William Kent was born in 1685 in Bridlington…

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Our favourite objects – part 9!

Considering I’m the new boy here at Knole, picking a favourite object was surprisingly simple. I’m finding the more you explore, the harder it is to choose something. This means the thing I’ve picked probably won’t be the same a month from now! For now then, I’m settling for the Sackville and Curzon family Pedigrees.

The Sackville family pedigree.

The pedigrees are such a fantastic object because they demonstrate how important connections were in the in the medieval and early modern world. They serve as a way to link the Sackvilles with other important families (including royalty) thus establishing a dynastic pedigree for a family only recently raised to the aristocracy. They also parallel certain objects within the house. The Sackville’s obsession with heraldry and symbolism can be seen throughout the house and the pedigrees can help us understand this more.

The Curzon family pedigree.

What are pedigrees for?

Basically a means to boast about how powerful and well connected a family is! There are two pedigrees in our collection, one of the Sackville family commissioned by Richard, 3rd Earl of Dorset in 1622.

Richard, 3rd Earl of Dorset

Richard, 3rd Earl of Dorset

The second is the Curzon family pedigree, commissioned by Edward, 4th Earl of Dorset in 1635 to honour his wife, Mary Curzon. The Sackville’s who were still relative new comers on the aristocratic scene, having been raised to the peerage in 1567 used the pedigree in order to try and establish some dynastic respectability. Pedigrees could be used to show connections already well established great families, even royalty.

Edward, 4th Earl of Dorset.

Edward, 4th Earl of Dorset.

Aristocratic connections:

Every one of the great families you’ve ever heard of is connected in some way, and I find these connections astounding! The idea of 6 degrees of separation can be really seen in the aristocracy of England, and these pedigrees really help you understand it. The Sackville’s needed to show how well connected they were and so we are shown the connection to the monarchy itself through the marriage of John Sackville (grandfather of the 1st Earl) to Margaret Boleyn. The newly ennobled Sackville’s proved their worth by linking themselves to not only the Boleyn’s, but the Howards (Dukes of Norfolk) and the Fitzalans (Earls of Arundel) as well.

 Sackville/Boleyn (Bullen - get it?) arms from the Sackville armorial pedigree.

Sackville/Boleyn (Bullen – get it?) arms from the Sackville armorial pedigree.

Heraldry is all about symbolism, and for a ‘new’ family like the Sackvilles this symbolism is even more important! If you’ve been to Knole you’ll know that the place is dripping with heraldic symbols. From the leopards that adorn staircase and screen to picture heraldic vair patterns embedded the frames. It’s worth knowing a little bit about these arms as you can then notice them where most people might not. Hidden heraldry can be seen around the Dover painting in the Great Hall and the glass bottles in the Leicester Gallery are actually inset with the Sackville arms if you look closely.

The blue and white stripe is the ‘vair’ pattern in the Sackville arms, meant to represent the fur of a grey squirrel.

Picture frame in the great hall with Sackville leopards, ducal coronet and the vair pattern found in the Sackville coat of arms. Click on image to enlarge.

The Sackville coat of arms on a glass bottle.

The family tree is a great way to see a) viewed itself and b) wanted the world to see them. They wanted to present an image of established power and good breeding, basically genealogical propaganda. This is why a link going back to the Norman Conquest is shown so prominently. Herbrand de Sackville seen in the roundels below, was the first Sackville in England. He came over in the 1070s to help manage the new Norman lands in England.

The roundel to the left can be seen in the Cartoon Gallery at Knole, clearly taken from the representation of the roundel at the head of the illustrated pedigree.

The Bodiam connection.

This is of particularly personal interest for me as before I worked at Knole I was at Bodiam Castle, given to the National Trust by George Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Marquess of Kedleston. The Curzon pedigree at Knole shows a direct connection between the Sackvilles of Knole to the Curzon family. Not only this, but the pedigree also shows that the Sackville’s had an even more direct connection to Bodiam through the marriage of Margaret Dallingridge, daughter of the original builder of Bodiam Castle. From Bodiam’s construction to it’s acquisition by the NT, it was connected to Knole and the Sackvilles (even if it was a pretty minor link!).

In the end the sheer artistry and skill makes them amazing to me. Our idea of medieval life can be so austere, especially when thinking about the lineage of great families, but heraldry so often has little bits of humour as well as serious boasts. The Sackville shows a connection to the Shelley family (of poet Shelley fame), whose arms include actual shells. OK it may not be comic genius but who doesn’t like a good pun?

 Marriages are illustrated by handshakes, all very polite.

Marriages are illustrated by handshakes, all very polite.

 Understanding them can make going to other places even more interesting too. If you recognise this coat of arms you’ll be able to pick it out on a pedigree at Hever Castle like I did just the other day! I love these pedigrees because they look fantastic and tell the story of a whole family!


Light and crewel work sofas


A great (or not so great) example of light damage to textiles. A problem we suffer with a lot at Knole.

Originally posted on Osterley Conservation Team Blog:

Crewel work sofa in Long Gallery, in-between Tudor stair and Drawing Room.

Crewel work sofa in Long Gallery (image: Laura Brooks)

If you’ve ever been in Osterley’s Long Gallery, you can’t have failed to noticed the sofas residing at both ends of the room, especially if you were with a child who had been given a wheel by the front of house team, that required them to find examples of different creatures throughout the Principal Floor (the first floor).  In the case of the Long Gallery, one of the creatures is a snail which can be located on one of the sofas (we won’t spoil the fun of looking for it by telling you the snail’s exact location).  During the recent winter clean, the team had a chance to get up close with the sofas, their cushions and bolsters, and inspect their condition.

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Two views of a massacre

Originally posted on Treasure Hunt:

Probably Pieter Breughel the Younger, The Massacre of the Innocents, at Upton House. ©National Trust/Angelo Hornak, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

Probably Pieter Breughel the Younger, The Massacre of the Innocents, at Upton House. ©National Trust/Angelo Hornak, image supplied by the Public Catalogue Foundation

The team at Upton House are raising funds to conserve the painting Massacre of the Innocents, possibly painted by Pieter Breughel the Younger (1564-1638).

The Upton Breughel awaiting conservation. ©National Trust

The Upton Breughel awaiting conservation. ©National Trust

It has been in need of attention for a while, and is now looking a bit sorry for itself, covered in stabilising tissue ‘plasters’. A JustGiving page has been opened to help raise the £15,000 required for the extensive investigation and treatment.

The picture shows the massacre of children ordered by Herod following the birth of Christ. But there is also a political undertone to the imagery: it is set in a Flemish village, with the figures clad as in Breughel’s own time. It is thought to be a semi-veiled reference to the atrocities committed…

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Conservation trial for the Spangled Bed continues.

Following the removal of the two curtains from the proper left side of the bed back in October last year (Phase 1), (view the blog about that here),  the curtains went to the National Trust Textile Studio.  Now read what was discovered as the curtains were removed and what happened next, a report from our conservators:

To facilitate removal the proper left and outer foot valance also had to be removed. This revealed alterations to the foot posts which appear to have been cut down to allow the bed to fit into the room, but most importantly the foot post had dramatically bowed outwards. This observation, in tandem with the previous dislocation of the proper right cornice, would seem to confirm the suspicion that pressure was being exerted onto the bed structure from the ceiling above. This has triggered further investigation into the ceiling structure. No further removal of textile elements will be undertaken until more is known.

It also became evident that the head and foot curtains had been swapped around in the past. It was decided that rather than treat one curtain, a pair should be examined together in order to cover all possible issues in terms of conservation treatment.

Phase 2 -  Examination, photography, documentation and research

 It is important to become familiar with the object before embarking on treatment and the team has taken time to think through the various processes, weighing up what can and cannot be done, and revising treatment options and costs. Professional photography before conservation will allow comparison after treatment has been completed.

The proper left side head curtain before the conservation process begins.

The proper left side foot curtain before conservation.

Head curtain detail showing original colour and spangles beneath the net covering on a side border. The border fabric matches that of the bed coverlet and headcloth and is a different design to the vertical appliqué panels of the rest of the curtain and the foot curtain below.

Foot curtain showing light damage at the left side and original colour at the centre and right side.

Detailed documentation of the make up of each curtain, the materials, fabrics and stitching patterns found will mean that their original appearance is becoming better understood.

Careful examination is revealing the complexity of the structure of the curtains which, in conjunction with research on their history before they came into the possession of the Sackville family, may help provide a clearer understanding of their original use.

Research has been undertaken into the removal of the animal based adhesive which had been used in a previous repair attempt to hold areas of applied decoration in place on the silk satin and which is now discoloured. This is on going.  Several small pieces of silk satin are in store at Knole and these will be used to carry out initial tests. Wet cleaning is now being considered for both the figured silk linings and the embroidered silk satin, where the dust has become ingrained into the fabric.

Phase 3 – Deconstruction

Coarse red net encases both curtains and work has started on unpicking this and the stitch repairs which are worked through all layers. The linings are extremely fragile and very rare early damask and have been dated to between 1585-1610.  The plan is to remove the linings, wet clean them and mount them onto a support fabric whilst further tests are undertaken on the silk satin.

Conservators removing the heavy net layer

The fragile and splitting damask lining of the head curtain.

Alex, Emily, Lucy, Melinda, Sarah and Zena