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Saturday, May 31 • 2:30pm - 3:00pm
(Paintings + Wooden Artifacts Session) Panel Painting or Furniture? Ethical and Philosophical Conundrums in the Treatment of a Wooden Chest Lid from Germany

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The collection of the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum in Cologne, Germany includes a late medieval panel painting depicting Scenes from the Life of Jesus Christ: The Two Banquets. Originating from Cologne and dated around 1450, the panel once formed the cover of a wooden chest, and its two sides are today extraordinarily different in appearance, function, and condition. The recto, which would have been on the inside of the chest and only visible upon opening the lid, resembles an altarpiece depicting highly detailed figurative scenes from the life of Christ; the verso, or outside of the chest, is painted more modestly and consists simply of a monochromatic red paint layer with decorative gilding.

Owing to its exterior position and functional nature, the decorative verso has sustained a greater amount of wear and shows significant signs of use. Moreover, when the lid was separated from the body of the chest, the hinges were removed from the verso, the panel was framed as a painting, and the recto with the figurative scenes was treated as the primary work of art: this side has been carefully preserved and retouched. Meanwhile, the verso was subjected to sub-par treatments, poor-quality conservation materials, and neglect. 

For the double-sided display of the panel in the context of its original function in the exhibition „The Painters’ Secrets: Cologne in the Middle Ages” taking place from September 20 2013 - February 9, 2014, the verso required treatment during the summer of 2013. The extreme discrepancy in condition between the two sides necessitated the methodical development of a restoration concept prior to treatment.

The major questions throughout the treatment centered on the level of intervention appropriate in order to reflect the functional nature of the object, while bringing the verso to a condition more akin to that of the recto and to a state of preservation more consistent with the other works within the exhibition. Treatment decisions were required that reflect the work’s original function as well as its recent history as a painting, while acknowledging the physical changes it has experienced over time. Specific challenges included developing a philosophy of retouching exposed ground, exposed raw canvas, large areas of loss, and loss to the gilded pattern.

This paper will treat the historic use and context of the object and provide information regarding its materials and construction. More importantly, it will develop an overview of the ethical and practical considerations of the restoration of this object, as well as present a summary of several similar case studies. The treatment philosophy is proposed as a potential model for complex objects with similar challenges.


Kari Rayner

Intern, National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
Kari Rayner is a student at the Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts at NYU specializing in paintings conservation. She will begin her fourth year internship at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. in September. She graduated in 2011 with a double major in... Read More →

Saturday May 31, 2014 2:30pm - 3:00pm PDT
Bayview A-B