Focus on the Ballroom – Part Two

Our last Ballroom blog featured the challenges faced in looking after the fixtures and fittings in the room, this post will feature some the fantastic objects housed in the Ballroom.

The Cassone

The cassone, or marriage chest, is one of the most striking pieces of furniture in the room. These chests formed part of a bride’s dowry and were often used to store linens. Although the chest itself dates from around the mid 19th century, the painted panels are much older, dating back to around 1460.

The gilded surface of the chest is dusted into a conservation vacuum cleaner using a soft, pony hair brush. The painted panels are much more fragile so these are cared for by specialist painting conservators when necessary. The team regularly need to inspect the inside of the chest check for mould or pest activity which can be a problem in confined areas which have very little air flow. Hidden away from the light, the silk lining is still a deep, rich red.

The beautiful silk lining has retained its rich red colour as it has not been exposed to light.


The silver candelabra’s and ice buckets are cleaned during the winter using silver cloths and are covered with Tyvek ‘hats’ to protect them from dust. During the open season, the team dusts the silver using a soft pony hair brush.

One of three very heavy candelabra’s on display in the Ballroom

The huge candelabra’s are extremely heavy and awkward to move so are lifted down onto a work table by two team members. To make them easier to clean, they can be taken apart. Each separate piece is engraved with a number so each piece can be returned to its correct position.

The different parts are all numbered, when the candelabra’s are taken apart for cleaning we know which bits to put back where.

We always where vinyl gloves when handling silver so we do not cause damage to the surface, caused by natural oils on our skin.

The Boulle Clock

A key feature of the Ballroom is the sound of chiming clocks, three of our five clocks are displayed in here. The largest of the Ballroom clocks is the Boulle clock, which stands over 2.5m tall when sat on its pedestal.

The clock is wound every Wednesday by the same person, so they get to know how the clock runs and can notice any subtle changes. Despite the mechanisms keeping good time, the case is very vulnerable. With no environmental control possible in the room, relative humidity fluctuates which can cause damage to the furniture, particularly those like the clock made from a mixture of materials.

Damage to the surface of the tortoiseshell and brass inlay caused by the physical stress of fluctuating relative humidity levels

Organic materials are particularly sensitive to changes in moisture levels in the air, swelling and contracting at different rates. This movement, over time, has caused the brass inlay on the Boulle work clock to lift and the tortoiseshell to split, exposing the wooden base. To clean the case, we use soft brushes so the loose brass doesn’t snag and get pulled away.

You can search our blog archive to read more about the Ballroom and items from the collection in it.

Lucy, Sarah, Melinda and Emily


4 thoughts on “Focus on the Ballroom – Part Two

  1. Pingback: Boulle’s eye « Treasure Hunt

  2. I was just wondering how you clean the brass on Boulle furniture, if indeed you ever do? You mention dusting it, but do you ever polish it in any way? If so then that must be quite tricky with the different metals and the tortoiseshell etc all intertwined. Or do you generally just leave it alone?

    • Hi Emile,

      We use a pony hair brush to remove dust, but other than that we do leave it alone without any other cleaning. The metal is in reasonably good condition and as it doesn’t get lots of visitors sticky hands all it, so it doesn’t look dirty. I’m not sure how we would clean it to be honest. Very minimal Autosol with cotton buds maybe, we would need to ask a conservator.


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