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Exhibitions and Projects
7 February – 6 March 2019

Revelations, February 2019

Reliquary of Saint Pope and the decorative technique of applied brocade

At the end of the Middle Ages, a decorative technique of applied brocade (ger. Pressbrokat) was developed. Low reliefs were typically made by pressing different materials into finely carved molds through a tin foil. Painted or gilded, they were then attached to the wooden surface of paintings or sculptures. Reliefs imitated the brocade fabrics. The technique was popular in most of Europe for about a hundred years, until the middle of the sixteenth century. The technique was replaced by other techniques of fabric imitation, such as sgraffito, where the pattern was scraped out of paint applied to the gilt.

Aging caused typical, frequent and extensive damages to reliefs. Layers separated, detached and fell off the support. A variety of component materials respond to environmental changes differently. Their binding properties change over time. Due to the lack of knowledge of this extremely rare technique in Slovenian patrimony, inadequate treatment of such surfaces also occurred.

Knowing the materials and creative techniques can help to determine the time and place or even the authorship of artworks. This knowledge is also extremely important in the conservation-restoration treatment. It is crucial to determine the material composition, state of preservation, type and causes of damages prior to the intervention. Through these findings we determine the working plan, what is possible and what is right to do.

The wooden sculpture of a young pope in the National Gallery of Slovenia’s collection is painted while the papal tiara and the cope are gilded. His gown is made in applied brocade. The tin foil was originally painted to imitate gold. Originally a relic box was located in the middle of the chest. The selection of component materials shows the influence from the German territory and the pomegranate pattern is influenced by the North Italian workshops.

The reasons for the conservation-restoration treatment were structural and aesthetic. The most damaged area was the applied brocade, where only about a third was preserved. Later layers have changed the relief pattern further. The gilded cope and tiara and the painted parts are well preserved. The very darkened surface was visually disturbing and aesthetically unacceptable. The key goal of the conservation-restoration treatment was to prevent further damage and to render possible the displaying of the statue.

There were several attempts to save the applied brocade and different materials wereapplied to it in the past. The recent treatment of this area was therefore limited to fixing/consolidating remnants of the relief. Surface cleaning and the removal darkened schellack layer from other parts were successful. Minimal retouching completed the treatment.

The applied brocade most likely originally represented the main decorative element of the sculpture. For better understanding of the artwork we present a drawing of the remains of the relief pattern and an attempt to partially reconstruct the pomegranate pattern, which was done according to similar examples. Graphic reconstruction may not be able to satisfy fully the presentation of the three-dimensional technique, therefore further possibilities are offered by digital technology.

The conservation-restoration treatment with accompanying documentation was carried out at the Conservation and Restoration Department of the National Gallery within the framework of the diploma work of the student of restoration Erica Sartori. Her thesis with an in-depth study of the technique was rewarded with Prešeren Prize for UL ALUO students for the academic year 2017/18.

Martina Vuga, Erica Sartori

Alenka Klemenc

Andrej Hirci, Erica Sartori

ZVKDS Restavratorski center

Erica Sartori

7 February – 6 March 2019
National Gallery of Slovenia 
Prešernova 24
1000 Ljubljana