Conservation in action: a 16th century print gets a makeover

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By | From the Collections

The 16th century print, derived from the Crucifixion painted by Tintoretto for the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice in 1565, shows Christ in the centre, with two criminals being hoisted up on their crosses on either side. Tools and construction materials lie around the holy women and Saint John the Evangelist at the foot of the cross; the Virgin has fainted. Two soldiers play dice and a man digs nearby.

Close up of Carracci's engraving

Close up from Carracci’s engraving of The Crucifiction of Christ, 1589. WI no. L0073762

The print is in fact three three separate sheets, lined adhered to a backing sheet. In this format it is very long, over 1205 mm (height approx. 512mm).

It came into the Conservation Department as part of the Library’s Conservation and Priority plan for 2012-13, which identifies items in need of conservation or preservation. It had suffered a lot of edge damage, having been folded so that it could fit into a box, and it was also very dirty.

The whole item was first photographed and documented. It was then surface cleaned with a chemical sponge to remove surface dirt on the print. The sponge is thick, porous dry cleaning material which works like a large “eraser”, drawing  the dust, and dirt into the cells of the sponge material.

Chemical sponge for surface cleaning

Chemical sponge with dirt absorbed from surface cleaning.

The print was then put in a humidification chamber where the paper was slowly humidified to ensure that there would be even wetting and no staining. Once this was completed the item was placed in a bath of warm water.

Engraving in a warm water bath

The engraving in a warm water bath

After two hours it was removed from the bath and the backing sheet was peeled off.

Removing the backing paper from an engraving

The backing paper peeled back from the engraving

The three loose prints were then returned to the bath to wash off any remaining loose adhesive.

Three prints in a warm water bath

The three loose sheets back in the bath

The three prints were then realigned and backed with a matching colour, light weight, Japanese paper. Finally, the print was mounted into a window mount so that it could be accessed and handled with ease.

And here are the ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots of this conservation makeover:

Carracci engraving before cleaning

Before: the engraving before conservation work

After: the engraving after conservation work

After: the engraving after conservation work

The engraving is now back in its home in the Library stores, ready to be requested for viewing by visitors to the Library.

Author: Amy Junker Heslip, conservator at the Wellcome Library



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