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
After a long, cold winter the conservation team are taking every sunny opportunity to get out and do some of our more pleasant outdoor jobs. For those of you that don’t know Knole well we have a portion of our collection outside exposed to the elements 365 days a year. This includes a pair of prehistoric elk antlers that measure 7 foot from tip to tip, a lead fish tank and a considerably array of busts and other statuary.
When the winter is finished battering our poor outdoor objects we swoop in at the first sign of a sunny day to give them some tender loving care. Our first mission (as always) is to give everything a good dust and clean. We work our way along the loggia making sure that every piece is carefully dusted. You’d be amazed at the amount of dust a pair of antlers can hold onto over a year!
Cleaning elk and waxing Romans.
Some of the busts in particular have fallen foul of pigeons over the last year so we have been very carefully cleaning off their droppings where we find them!
For the antlers, this is all the help they get. Once they have been de-cobwebbed and dusted we leave them alone. Step two for the busts and lead work in Stone Court and Green Court is to provide some kind of protection against the elements. We do this by applying a thin layer of microcrystalline wax polish developed by the British Museum which protects and damp and dust. Long-time readers of the Knole conservation team blog may know that this is something that we regularly use inside the house as well as out. It provides a protective barrier layer and can be applied to almost any surface! We make sure we get into every nook and cranny on the detailed statues ensuring they have the best possible protection. With the application of this wonder substance we’re done!
Knole Conservation Team
The latest entry in our favourite objects series is from Hannah who is one of our wonderful conservation volunteers here in the house. Keep reading to find out what she thinks is best about Knole!
As Knole is such a big and beautiful house full to the brim of interesting objects the idea of choosing one favourite piece presented a difficult task, one which I tried to approach from a variety of angles. I looked for the most grand object, the oldest, the biggest, the most expensive, the most detailed etc. (the list goes on). Over my month of work experience back in 2013 my favourite object changed from week to week – from the portrait of Frances Cranfield hanging in the ballroom, to the stunning silverware in the King’s Room, to the royal bed in the Venetian Ambassador’s Room; and yet, there was something about each of these objects that did not quite stick.
He was once Vita Sackville-West’s bedroom doorstop!
Shakespeare at home at the bottom of the Great Stairs
Every time I walked through to the Great Staircase however, my eye was caught by this funny little wooden doorstop, carved in the form of William Shakespeare. I was intrigued by its quirky appearance and when I finally got up close and saw the sentimental quote, ‘We shall never look upon his like again’ carved into a scroll in his hand, I was sold. I still look at him fondly whenever I walk through that part of the house and if there was ever a fire he is the first thing I would save.
‘We shall never see his like again’ inscribed on Shakespeare’s scroll
He is not particularly grand, large or detailed but he is unique and will always hold a special place in my heart. To me he represents a love of literature and a tribute to those who create wonderful worlds for the rest of us to get lost in. As it turns out, choosing a favourite wasn’t such a difficult task after all.
Following Emily’s farewell post, I thought I would take the opportunity to introduce myself as Knole’s new House Steward. My name is Lucy and I am already a familiar face around the property, having joined the Conservation Team in November 2010. Since then I have learned so much both from the team and this remarkable building as well as successfully completing a Master’s degree in Heritage Management in 2013.
I feel honoured to be able to play an ongoing part in the Inspired by Knole project as well as having the opportunity to care for the property on a daily basis. The next few years will be very exciting for us with lots to look forward to. Both the Conservation Studio and Hayloft Learning Centre will open next year, thanks to funding from the HLF. This will allow us to explore new ways of integrating conservation and learning not only for school groups but for lifelong learners as well. New spaces such as the Gatehouse Tower, previously unseen by the public, will be welcoming visitors for the first time and providing the Conservation Team with a brand new set of challenges.
This year we will begin preparing a new storage space to accommodate parts of the collection during the project work. The work will allow us to install improved lighting and conservation heating and give us an opportunity to display the collection in new ways. I’m excited about the redecoration of the Great Hall, due to begin this autumn, as well as assisting specialist conservators to dismantle the Spangled Bed this July, ready for conservation works to take place.
The team and I are looking forward to sharing our experiences with all our blog followers so please watch this space for updates!
This is my last blog post as the House Steward of Knole. Its been an amazing four and a half years. I’ve learnt so much working with this collection and through the Inspired by Knole project. I’ve had some fantastic opportunities to develop my skills and knowledge in conservation and learn new things. Archaeology is now passion thanks to all of Knole’s amazing discoveries in recent years. I’ll miss being a part of the team and project going forward and the exciting times ahead, but I’ll get to experience it all from (perhaps the less stressful) point of view of a visitor. After eight years I’m also leaving the National Trust. I’m off to British Museum to move the stored collections to new facilities in the World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre. I wish all my colleagues at Knole continued success with the project and look forward to visiting when its complete.
I hope you all continue to enjoy reading about the wonderful work of the Knole Conservation Team, I know I’ll certainly be signing up as a new follower!