The V&A's Sculpture Conservation Team and Museum Technical Services describe how the Cremona ceiling was conserved and prepared for installation in the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries. The domed ceiling, painted in about 1500 by Alessandro Pampurino, was originally located in a ground floor room of the Casa Maffi in Cremona, Italy.


Dismantling the ceiling

Victor Borges: The museum has a tremendous Italian Medieval and Renaissance collection. At the moment we are working on one of the biggest scale objects – in this case a fresco painting that originally was in a building in Cremona. The fresco painting was removed from the wall and attached to a wooden structure so it could be transported and installed in a new venue – in this case, the V&A. So the first step was to remove the ceiling from its gallery where it was installed. That implied many different challenges. One of the challenges was to deal with the structure of the wall painting - it was quite complex to dismantle the wall painting with its different parts. And the other challenge was to protect the wall painting and be able to complete the whole operation without damaging the painting itself.

One of the first steps was to look closely at the surface of the wall painting and diagnose the different alterations or the different problems that the painting would be suffering in situ. And we start thinking about the conservation of the surface and then preparation of the surface towards the installation. That involves protecting the surface, mainly. For that we decided to use a method using Japanese tissue with a specific kind of facing material consolidant.

Protection of the ceiling

Some solvents did affect the surface, so we had to think of other options. And finally we decided to use a material that is basically a mixture of resin and paraffin that could be easily removed … that doesn’t affect, doesn’t disturb the surface of the painting. The process of applying this tissue, once we found the method, was laborious because you have to cut the different parts of the different pieces of tissue by hand to avoid having very sharp edges which can leave marks on the painting and then applying it with a brush. We worked as a team and it probably took us around two weeks to complete the facing of the whole surface of the painting.

Reinstallation of the ceiling

Jonathan Kemp: This object, the frame that you see is probably from the 19th century as the original stucco of which the fresco is made is a two-part lime stucco, re-lined when it was removed and brought to the museum. Re-lined with gypsum and chicken wire and this wooden structure which when we came to de-install it last August, we did worry about whether we should be screwing directly our fixings, our pulley system that my colleague Phil James devised for its removal and subsequent re-installation. The framework itself has a lot of fixings from the previous installations and we decided, well, in fact practically we had to use this framework because there’s nothing else that you could secure to and clamping mechanisms would have been too laborious and probably impractical. So we have used it and it’s worked well and we’ll remove our fixings from our installation and leave those other iron fixings on.

Phil James: We had to devise methods to dismantle it and transport it for storage and conservation until it was re-installed here. So we essentially followed the methods we’ve used for de-installing it in reverse, which has worked efficiently and considering the stage it’s at now, has gone surprisingly quickly. But then I think that’s because we have the confidence that we’d gained in the de-installation in handling the parts now and understanding how the construction worked and how we could handle each part to get it in position and move it to make it fit with the next one. The most difficult part, actually I think, is getting the roundel in because we’re not sure exactly how or where it’s going to fit best and the museum wants to change its position because there’s a different understanding about its historical context in the ceiling. The next stage in the process, once we’ve got the roundel in, will be to have sections made for the frame so that it can all be bolted rigidly together then we can have the scaffold taken away, the ceiling will self support and once it’s suspended from the four points on the ceiling from the sides of the frame, then the supports can come out from underneath.

Removal of the tissue protection

Victor Borges: Right now we are at the stage when the wall paintings have got to be installed again in the new space in the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries. So what we are doing right now is precisely to remove this protective layer of tissue. And for that we have to – we are basically just using white spirit – what we are trying here is to re-activate again this mixture of resin and paraffin that we applied through the tissue, that is fixing the tissue in place. The white spirit is dissolving this resin and is allowing us to remove the tissue again.

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