Here at Knole we’ve decided to make use of an opportune space to create a temporary conservation studio set up right in the middle of the house. You will be able to come and see us working on conservation activities and learn more about our project. The idea for having a Pop up Conservation Studio arose from two different situations. Initially the delay in the project timetable is going to push back the opening of the Knole Conservation Studio opening to May next year. Secondly with the removal of the Spangled Bed we were left with an empty room at Knole – not a usual occurrence!
We decided that both of these could work in our favour and the idea of a Pop up Conservation Studio was formed. We know from our other conservation activities and feedback from the wonderful film in the Spangled bedroom that conservation is of great interest and is really enjoyed by our visitors. We also have a huge amount of conservation work to complete over the next three years!
Therefore from now on, running into the foreseeable future we will be taking on various conservation projects in the Bedroom. For anyone who hasn’t see our wonderful film showing the dismantling of the Spangled Bed, don’t panic it is still being shown. We will start getting on with some important conservation work ahead of the opening of our brand new conservation studio!
One of the Spangled Bedroom tapestries ready to be worked on in our newly freed space.
The programme of conservation is still being developed but we’re confident there will be something of interest for everyone. We have already had an upholstery conservator working in here making presentation case covers for the Spangled Dressing room suite of furniture. In the next couple of days (October 15th & 16th) there will be a gilding workshop in this space, illustrating techniques used in making decorative surfaces.
Gilding in action
Staff and volunteers will be finding out about the ancient craft of gilding and discovering how some of the furniture and frames at Knole were gilded. Gilding used to be considered a secret art with gilders working behind screens and curtains to protect the light sheets from blowing away in a breeze. We will be working at gilding wooden surfaces previously prepared with traditional gesso and bol (layers of fine chalk and clay with animal glue).
By experimenting with how gilding was made we can get a much better understanding about how best to conserve the gilded items in our collections. We have plenty of gilded furniture at Knole and the more we understand it, the better we can look after it. You also never know what interesting stories it might uncover!
Gilded figure on the headboard of the King James II bed prior to conservation and cleaning.
When the Conservation Studio and the Hayloft Learning Centre open next year, we will continue to experiment with and study gilding technologies. We will also be able to offer workshops so that visitors can learn this ancient skill, as well as methods of heritage science research and analysis.
Today we’re looking at yet more exciting work in the Spangled Bedroom at Knole. This time it’s all about tapestries! With the bed temporarily living in the Great Hall ready for its own journey away we were able to take down the final two tapestries leaving the walls completely bare. These tapestries went through a careful cleaning and documenting process before being sent off to the De Witt in Belgium. This is a specialist tapestry workshop where the tapestries have been carefully cleaned before being returned to Knole. For a better understanding of how the tapestries were cleaned in Belgium then have a look at our previous blog post ‘How Do You Wash Your Tapestries?’.
The final two tapestries arrived home this morning and have been placed, still rolled and packed, back into the Spangled Bedroom before the next stage of their journey can commence.
Sue and Alice hard at work on one of the tapestries
Some of you may remember when we prepared the first tapestries for travel in November 2014. Now that the Spangled Bed has been removed from the room there is plenty of space to work in now. This meant that we were able to set up our tapestry tables right there in the room.
This has a few benefits for us. To start with it means that we don’t have to roll the tapestry, transport it up to the Needlework Room (up some very steep and narrow stairs!) and then unwrap it again. Anyone familiar with the National Trust’s 9 agents of deterioration, to be found in our Manual of Housekeeping will know that the less we move any object the better. Every time an object is handled it increases the risk that it will somehow be damaged.
By taking our tapestries straight down onto the tables to be worked on we reduced the risk and work factor by a lot!
The other big positive about doing this work in the Spangled Bedroom was that we were able to do it in front of our wonderful visitors!
Sarah and Lolly making a temporary repair to the galloon edge.
We all enjoyed talking to our visitors about the work we were doing. It really allowed people the opportunity to see things that are so often hidden away behind closed doors. Here at Knole we are getting more and more excited about doing this kind of work in front of visitors as we really get going on building our brand new conservation studio! When the studio opens it will provide a unique experience for visitors so make sure you come to check it out in a few years.
The rich colours of the back of the tapestries gives a better idea of how bright and vibrant they would have looked when new.
We used special ‘Musreum Vacuums’ to carefully clean the surgace dirt from the front and back of the tapestries.
Until then there’s plenty of interesting conservation works to be seen at Knole. Now that the Spangled Bedroom is providing more space you may just see more conservation projects appearing in the near future…
Knole Conservation Team
Last week we looked at the first stage of dismantling the Spangled Bed here at Knole. This involved dealing with the textile elements of the bed ready for wooden frame to be taken apart.
This is what the bed looked like with all of the textiles removed. As you can see the conservators were not able to remove the textile from the bed posts themselves or the tester (the top of the bed). This can be done at a later stage.
In order to remove the tester from the bed we needed to set up two scaffold towers either side of the bed and rest a platform between them to support the tester after it was removed from the posts.
The bed is constructed using simple pegs and so there was no need to remove glue or any other adhesives. It was a straightforward matter to lift the tester up off the four posts. Four people then supported the tester while furniture conservators used mallets to disengage the posts and slide them safely to the ground.
All we had to do now was lower the tester down to the floor and the bed would be gone. The whole process of getting the bed from this….
The top of the tester showing the years of dust that had built up.
…took no more than half an hour. Amazing what you can do with a little planning and teamwork!
So now the bed is down and everything is ready to be sent off for specialist conservation.
It’s worth remembering that during the deconstruction of the bed the documentation and recording of the process and different pieces was meticulous. It is so important with historic furniture like this that we know exactly where each and every thing came from. As each part of the bed was removed it was properly labelled so that we could keep a careful track during its various travels.
We’re looking forward to seeing the bed in when it comes back from conservation. Until then we’ll keep you up to date with all the exciting happenings here at Knole!
Knole Conservation Team
July was a busy and exciting time at Knole. After long a long period of preparation the day finally came when we dismantled the glorious Spangled Bed at Knole. This is one of the three state beds here along with the James II Bed and the King’s Bed. The textiles of the bed date back to the 1620s, roughly 50-60 years older than the other beds. Our first record of the bed at Knole is in 1706 after it came down from Copt Hall (another family house) along with a lot of other furniture.
The significance of the bed continues to grow as we learn more and more about its origins and construction. As part of our ongoing conservation work the bed has now been taken apart and waiting to be taken away for treatment that will likely take about 2 years.
Considering this bed has not been dismantled for centuries we needed to plan everything very carefully before we acted. The first stage involved conservators from the National Trust Textile Studio at Blickling removing the hangings and other textile elements to be packed ready to for transport.
Halfway through the packing process on the Great Hall dais
This involved the construction of bespoke boxes to houses each item safely and securely for their journey. The two mattresses from the bed have been stored safely at Knole whilst the rest of the textiles have been packed and can be seen on the dais of the Great Hall right now.
Piece of the spangled textile wrapped in acid-free tissue.
The first three days of our bed week were all about the textiles. Once the mattress and textiles had been removed it was time to start thinking about dismantling the woodwork. Look out next week for part two of the Spangled Bed story!
Knole Conservation Team
Earlier this year, back in May, we commissioned some cleaning tests to be carried out on one of the Raphael cartoon copies in the Cartoon Gallery – Elymas the Sorcerer.
The tests were carried out to enable us to understand better the conservation needs of the paintings. The test will give us a much clearer idea of how long the cleaning of the whole Cartoon will take, what materials will be needed and what can be achieved by the conservation.
Solvents were used on cotton wool swabs – this removed the outer varnish layer, a layer of dirt under this and also poor quality retouching. The layers of grime and dirt that came off can be seen in the below photo. After cleaning, the patch was re-varnished with a matt varnish to protect the surface.
Dirty cotton wool swabs from the cartoon cleaning
The results are fantastic. For years it has been increasingly hard to read the underlying painting. The following images show just how much detail will be revealed by cleaning which has to be done with extreme care on the unstable cracked paint surface – for example, an area of 2.5 square feet took over 3 hours to clean. When the time comes to clean the Cartoons in their entirety, the surface will have to be consolidated and the paintings lined beforehand.
Alongside the conservation we’ve been looking more closely at the history of the Knole Cartoons. The original Raphael Cartoons were commissioned by Pope Leo X in 1515. Painted by Raphael (1483-1520) and his assistants, they are full-scale designs for tapestries that were made to cover the lower walls of the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel. The tapestries depict the Acts of St Peter and St Paul.
We don’t know the exact sequence and commissioning process of the Knole cartoons as we haven’t yet found them in the accounts of Copt Hall – another Sackville house, sold in 1701 when all the contents were removed to Knole. Our set is unusual because of its size. The original cartoons – the ones the weavers used to create the tapestries and which are now reassembled from cut strips and were originally displayed at Hampton Court (now moved to the V&A) – are much larger than the ones at Knole. It is possible that calling our paintings “cartoons” is misleading because it may be that they were intended as paintings for an interior in the manner of the originals. Hopefully we may find an answer when we look more closely at the archives.
If long-time readers of this blog cast their minds back they may recall that in November of 2012 paintings conservators came to Knole to remove and restore some of the grotesque paintings in the Cartoon Gallery.
After two and a half years of being away the last and largest grotesque has finally returned and has been reinstated on the south wall of the gallery.
The largest piece of canvas just after it was removed. Considerable damage and unsympathetic repairs resulted in the jigsaw effect you see here.
Voila! The conserved grotesque back at Knole and ready to go up on the wall!
The grotesque has been the subject of intense restoration work since it left Knole. The original vibrant colours have been brought back and the patches blended beautifully with the main canvas to recreate the piece of art that had been lost for so long. The canvas has been mounted on a special polyester sailcloth lining in order to give further protection to the canvas. It’s now ready to be reattached to bare wood panelling.
There are a few more things we need to do before we can mount the canvas. In order to gain access to the wood panelling we needed to take down the magnificent pier glass mirror that hangs there.
After building our scaffold tower and carefully bringing down this (rather heavy) mirror we noticed a certain amount of woodworm damage in both the panel and the mirror itself. This is not particularly surprising given the prevalence of woodworm and all sorts of other creepy crawlies throughout the house!
Some tunnels left by hungry furniture beetle (woodworm) in the panels behind the grotesque.
We carefully brushed the excess dirt and frass (wood dust and woodworm excrement) into vacuums before applying a light coating of ‘Constrain’ insecticide. After leaving this for an hour to dry we returned to find it still a little damp. As we needed to get the job done by the end of the day we decided we would help it dry a little faster!
Sarah using a hairdryer to gently dry the Constrain solution.
Now we’re ready to reinstate the grotesque!
Siobhan (our outgoing Project Conservator and incoming Conservation Studio Manager) and Martha (our incoming Project Conservator) lifting the grotesque into its old home.
Home again at last!
Back home and looking fabulous once again!
Knole Conservation Team