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.
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.