‘..beauty's waste hath in the world an end’: Decay, Conservation and the Making of Meaning in the Museum
Museum conservators have an extended engagement with physical objects which have been neglected, broken or have suffered damage during their journeys through time. Their narratives and connections are also broken. From the museum perspective, such broken things are failing physically and aesthetically to meet condition which is defined as the ideal state for their life in the museum. Conservation remaking deals with both the material and immaterial.
The contradictions and paradoxes implied in this dual acknowledgment and denial of the impact of time on things through conservation interventions will be explored using the example of early modern English embroideries and tapestries. These embroideries, made in schoolrooms or by non-professional women at home, present miniature worlds that include elaborately worked representations of women as queens, fashionable ladies, goddesses or shepherdesses in Biblical, classical or allegorical frameworks. Made using flat stitches or elaborate raised work combining silk and metal threads with semi-precious stones, the passage of time means that, all too often, their present physical condition is, literally, a pale echo of their original strong colours and complex layers. Metal threads have corroded, pearls have become lost, lace has twisted, threads are rubbed or twisted, making lovingly worked details incomprehensible. Faces, once depicting the fashionable red and white complexion – the Petrarchan colours of love, have become faded and worn, their underlying padding exposed as a tangle of silk threads.
Such degradation, particularly when it affects the human face, is accompanied by a loss of meaning and identity. Rather than delight and wonder, the reaction becomes one of disgust and incomprehension. This paper will explore the inextricable link between preservation and its obverse – decay and approaches to the acknowledgement of time in the museum. It will explore how degradation affects visitors’ responses to degraded objects and the role of conservation in engaging with degraded materials while acknowledging the passage of time.
iShakespeare Sonnet IX.
Conserving Penelope with Patience and Perseverance: a case history of a large 16th Century Appliquéd Hanging from Hardwick Hall
The presentation will focus on the conservation treatment of the ‘Penelope’ hanging, a large 16th century appliquéd wall hanging made for the Countess of Shrewsbury at Chatsworth, and displayed at Hardwick since the late 16th c. Originally one of a set of at least five hangings, only four now survive, each depicts noblewomen from history and mythology, flanked by personifications of the Virtues. Penelope was the faithful wife of Ulysses and the virtues of patience and perseverance which she embodies are represented by the figures either side of her. These hangings are rare examples of the rich and sumptuous textiles used for interior decoration and are remarkable survivals, being made partly from textiles taken from vestments acquired during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. They have been extensively studied and published by the textile historian Santina Levy.
Due to their age and fragility the condition of these hangings has been a concern for several years. Recent fundraising by the Trust has secured a grant from the Wolfson Foundation which has enabled the NT Textile Conservation Studio to undertake the treatment of the ‘Penelope’ hanging as a feasibility study, to inform the future approach for the remaining hangings.
From the 1840s to the 1890s the hangings were displayed unsupported on easel-like frames, in 1909 they were placed in large glazed frames to protect them, and are still displayed like this in the Entrance Hall. The relationship of these hangings with the historic interior continues to give rise to discussion concerning their future re-display.
This presentation will look at:
Dr Laura Ugolini
Tel: 01902 321890