Session 3: Wall Paintings

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This third session of the Congress focused on the complexity and challenges of wall paintings. We were taken around the world with four captivating talks by panellists Sibylla Tringham from the UK, Kaoru Suemori from Japan, Kathrine Segel from Denmark, and Chiara Pasian from Malta. 

The first panellist, Sibylla Tringham, brings us the challenges of conserving wall paintings with a 30-year perspective from the Courtauld Institute of Art, in the wall painting conservation department.  In this talk she expresses the idea of whether or not to undertake an interventive treatment. Although remedial treatments are essential in some projects in order not to lose the wall painting, Sibylla makes clear that no-intervention  is a valid option, since in many cases approaching the project with a site-wide objective may be the best practice. The decision, according to her, is the reflection of unique evaluations of significance and context, and it should answer the question: Can the painting be safely treated? She successfully explains these thoughts via some case studies. 

The second talk was given by Kaoru Suemori, a professor at the National Museum of Ethnology in Osaka, Japan, and his work on a cultural heritage project at the Fengguo Temple in China. Kaoru went into detail about the work done in the 1980s at the Temple and the subsequent problems that arose from it, most noticeably the appearance of large cracks in the walls of the murals. He left us recalling that it is essential to verify the relation of factors such as structure, environment, and materials to understand the condition of the complex objects that are wall paintings.

Kathrine Segel of the National Museum of Denmark and the Institute of Conservation at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts discussed the use of hydrogels to clean ingrained soot from medieval, lime-based wall paintings in Copenhagen for the third presentation. After careful analysis of the soot particles left on these prized church wall paintings, a mock-up test was created in the lab in order to assess the use of NanorestoreTM Peggy 6 hydrogels in combination with aqueous cleaning solutions to see if the soot that was previously deemed uncleanable by traditional dry-cleaning methods could be removed.

The final talk was presented by Chiara Pasian, a wall painting conservator and lecturer at the University of Malta. She discussed the design, testing, and implementation of the innovative idea of using water-reduced injection grouts for the stabilization of wall paintings. She went into detail with her step-by-step process in formulating a water-reduced injection grout using ethanol to be used in the conservation treatment of the Hadi Rani Mahal, Nagaur, India to help stabilize the delaminating wall paintings.

The Q&A session, chaired by Austin Nevin, Vice President of the IIC, was a blast and there was much interaction from the 125 attendees. Sibylla answered questions about how much re-evaluation of the treatments takes place; she answered that the start would be to do a condition assessment, and that it would be ideal if a return visit to site to re-evaluate the project could be added to the conservation plan. During the Q&A session Chiara was asked if the idea of mixing grout with ethanol is only for lime-based plasters or if it would also work with mud/earth-based plasters. The reply was that each project is unique and tests would need to be done in-situ to verify viability, but for this specific project the grout mixed with ethanol is applied only to lime-based wall paintings.

Author Byline:

Ana Vega Ramiro is a conservation Master’s student at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Namrata Patel is a practicing conservator in Mumbai, India.

Brittany Wallace is a recently graduated MA student in Colorado, USA.