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Saturday, May 31 • 11:00am - 11:30am
(Objects Session) Conservation at 33 1/3 RPM: the treatment of an Attic trefoil oinochoe

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Ancient vessels missing a third of their original fabric present complex ethical and technical challenges to conservators; such was the case with a 5th century BCE oinochoe in the collection of the Harvard Art Museums. The decorative painting features a woman playing a barbitos, a type of lyre associated with leisure and revelry. Its modern history begins sometime before 1903, when Henry Hucks Gibbs, Lord Aldenham of England, acquired it and lent it that year to an exhibition at London’s Burlington Fine Arts Club. The vase scholar John Beazley described it in 1939 as having “a mouth and neck hardly original, which had disappeared when I saw it, in bits, some years ago; was sold at Sotheby’s the year before last; and has since been cleaned and restored.” It is likely that he was describing the condition in which the vessel entered the Harvard museum’s collection.

Now unstable and with substantial, broadly overpainted losses in the body, close examination revealed that the neck, shoulders and handle were all fabrications of an earlier restoration. Removal of the overpaint also revealed considerable damage inflicted by previous restorers to the original slip painted decoration, by filing down the surfaces and edges of numerous sherds in an effort to make them fit together.

In different kinds of institutions and collections an object with such substantial losses could legitimately be treated in several different ways. The author discusses the rationale for several different possible approaches to treatment that were considered. Curatorial research and documentation of a similar vase by the same potter in the collection of the British museum helped establish convincing evidence of the vessel's original form. Armed with scale drawings and photographs, the oinochoe was reconstructed to a high state of completion and finish. A combination of conventional and novel techniques were used to re-create the complex neck, trefoil spout and handle, based upon a close study of their original material and techniques of formation. The techniques to be discussed and demonstrated in video clips include methods for the assembly and alignment of poorly fitting sherds, shaping and forming of replacement elements using a 1970's record turntable--complete with pitfalls to be avoided-- the mold-making and casting of elements with complex inner and outer shapes in simplified, one piece molds, and inpainting techniques and strategies. The rationale and methods of compensation for damage caused by earlier restorers will also be discussed.

avatar for Anthony Sigel

Anthony Sigel

Senior Conservator of Objects and Sculpture, Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies
Tony Sigel is the Senior Conservator of Objects and Sculpture at the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, Harvard Art Museums, and is responsible for the treatment of sculpture and three dimensional objects of all materials from pre-history to post-modern. He was... Read More →

Saturday May 31, 2014 11:00am - 11:30am PDT
Grand Ballroom B