Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) on a Wooden Door and Sea Shells Decoration at the Immaculate Conception Parish, Guiuan, Eastern Samar

Students from the University of Melbourne Saiful Bakhri, Sophie Russell and Mark Barnes, and conservator Dr Nicole Tse with Anna Carlos and Jim Vasquez from the National Museum of the Philippines, conducted Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) on cultural heritage at the Immaculate Conception Parish in Guiuan, Eastern Samar.

RTI and its versatility

Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) developed by Cultural Heritage Imaging is a computational photographic method that records an cultural objects’ surface shape and colour, allowing the interactive re-lighting the objects from any direction. Today’s RTI software can be downloaded from the Cultural Heritage Imaging website.

RTI is a very useful technology for recording objects in high detail. The light from the camera flashing at different angles reveals lines, holes, brush strokes and other details that may not be visible with normal photography. RTI images can make objects look ‘3D’ without the need for 3D modelling software.

Recording cultural objects, paintings and buildings is an important part of maintaining our cultural heritage. This might include writing condition reports, taking photographs or keeping lists. RTI scanning is another way we can record important cultural heritage with high detail. This means we have a digital record of the object that we can safely archive for future use. If the cultural heritage becomes damaged or destroyed, we can use the RTI scan to recreate, rebuild or reconstruct as close as possible to the original. It may even be possible to 3D print smaller objects. RTI scans can also reveal details in craftsmanship, patterns or damage that we cannot see with our eyes alone. Lastly, RTI images are a great way to engage people with cultural heritage, especially if they cannot visit the heritage in person.

Capturing the Wooden Door

The Immaculate Conception Parish in Guiuan, Eastern Samar has several large, carved wooden doors. Unfortunately, flood water caused damage to some of these doors during Typhoon Haiyan in 2013. Wooden objects like these are also vulnerable to pests such as termites and mould. In 2018 the National Museum and the Parish decided to create a fibreglass cast of one half of a set of doors from the south western entrance of the church, which local wood carvers Alfredo Menosa and Eric can later use to carve a new door. The door has intricate carvings showing plants, flowers, angels and fish. It was decided to RTI scan the door because as it is made of wood, it sits facing the outside of the church and it is immovable during a natural disaster it is particularly vulnerable to damage.

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Stuffed with Problems: The Challenges of Dealing with a Taxidermy Object

by Sophie Philips 

Cultural materials present conservators with a range of challenges. Issues of degradation, material instability, the choice of best treatment method, or maybe no treatment at all; all these issues are part of the thought and decision-making process that goes into working with cultural material. Some materials present a danger to the health and well-being, which brings up a whole host of challenges. Taxidermy is one of those risky items!

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Louise Lateau en Extase

By Alexandra Taylor

 

Part One: Investigating Louise Lateau en Extase

The Ecstatic Visions and Bleeding Skin of a Belgian Hysterical Woman

From the get-go this painting demanded rigorous, round-the-clock TLC. Equally as fascinating as the treatment was the narrative behind the work. Louise Lateau en Extase by Franz (François) Sodar is the relic of an age where Victorian science clashed vociferously with spirituality. Lateau’s character came to symbolise “the marvellous”, exciting the sympathy of bystanders and igniting current debate around the laws of nature and religion.

According to the British Medical Journal (1871, p. 479) Lateau was ‘subject to much hardship in early life’, raised on a ‘plus que frugal’ diet with little to no education. Lateau was forced into taking charge of a crippled old woman from the tender age of eight and, during the 1866 cholera epidemic, spent her time nursing and burying its victims. Devout Lateau then, having impressed divine favour, supernaturally began to receive the stigmatic marks corresponding to those left on Christ’s body by the Crucifixion. The prominent Belgian physician Dr Lefebvre, Professor of General Pathology and Therapeutics at the University of Louvain, refined all aspects of the phenomenon that befell Lateau in his investigative study Life of Louise Lateau; her life, her ecstasies and her stigmata.

According to Lefebvre, the first sign appeared on the 24th of April 1868 as a large gushing cut on Lateau’s side. She sought the advice of a priest, ‘the director of her conscience’, who kindly reassured her and then ‘advised her not to speak of it’ (Lefebvre 1873, pp. 17, 24). Lateau suffered in silence until, on the 8th of May, other stigmatic marks materialised flowing ‘in quantity’ from her hands and feet (Lefebvre 1873, p. 24). Lefebvre (1873, p. 24) notes that the haemorrhages recurred ‘generally about noon’ every Friday and, despite wrapping the victim’s hands in leather gloves, nothing could be done to stop the bleeding. Lefebvre (British Medical Journal 1871, p. 479) confirmed how “otherworldly” these oozing wounds appeared under a microscope, ‘most had a triangular form, as if made by the bites of microscopic leeches’.

From the 17th of July onwards, the bleeding was accompanied by fits of ecstasy during which Lateau claimed to have distinct visions of the whole scene of the Crucifixion. This regular spectacle soon attracted the interest of other physicians and ecclesiastical authorities, as well as members of the general public who would flock en masse to assemble in front of the cottage. This crowd would have included our painter, Franz (François) Sodar, who painted Louise Lateau en Extase from the memories he had from his visit on the winter of 1879.

Although many people like Sodar and Lefebvre were convinced by this holy phenomenon, the British Medical Journal published an article in 1871 (just three years after the arrival of Lateau’s first holy lesion) that rallied against divine intervention, drawing upon the studies of Dr Henry Lee as proof of fraud. Instead of fastening a piece of easily perforated leather to Louise’s hands as Lefebvre had done, Dr Lee secured mittens of lead held together with a steady starch bandage. When the wrappings were removed upon his next visit, fresh wounds were revealed. Dr Lee held the lead to light and found it peppered with tiny holes ‘large enough to emit a needle’ (British Medical Journal 1871, p. 479). Thus, on the 13th of May 1868 Louise was discharged as an imposter. Following this, the British Medical Journal (1871, p. 479) sarcastically purposes ‘here we must irreverently suggest that [Lefebvre’s] microscopic leeches were probably needle-points’.

The British Medical Journal  concludes its column with the following passage in reference to the twelve-year-old Welsh fasting girl Sarah Jacobs. As desperate as Lateau for fame and fortune, and with the encouragement of her parents, Jacobs starved herself to death in 1869.

‘Have we not lately displayed our love of the marvellous in the attention bestowed upon the Welsh fasting girl? And was not the investigation which resulted in her death by starvation, rendered most unnecessary by the conviction entertained by an ignorant and unreasoning multitude that the possibility of a human being living for several months without food or drink was a legitimate subject for inquiry? And now we are asked to believe that the ecstatic visions and bleeding skin of this Belgian hysterical woman there is something opposed to or above the ordinary laws of nature. We protest against such a conclusion, as calculated to bring disgrace upon science and discredit upon theology.’ (1871, pp. 479-480)

Part Two: Treating Louise Lateau en Extase

Consolidation Sandwich

The condition of the work, according to Managing Conservation in Museums, was deemed to be in unacceptable. Upon seeing the painting for the first time, we determined that the following issues required some careful consideration.

  • Active/inactive mould outbreaks across verso and recto
  • Stretcher bars showed signs of bora infestation
  • Severe abrasion to canvas recto had left paint friable and in need of consolidation
  • Two major tears required repair and infilling/inpainting to retain areas of great significance: subject’s face and stigmatic hands
  • Canvas loss at bottom edge needed a canvas fill
  • There was significant paint loss across the entire recto
  • Discolouration across 1/3 painting surface
  • What looked to be a previous tear repair with wax resin needed to be removed
  • Overall surface spotting/staining/dirt

The most immediate threats (mould and bora outbreaks) were eliminated quickly and sufficiently. During this, we were taken aback by the paint loss. Fortunately, we’d prepared for this and had lens tissue pockets in place around the most friable areas. However, the entire recto surface was very fragmentary and further damage seemed inevitable unless consolidation could take place.

Before we could begin, it was necessary for the surface to be made planar. A custom-designed support system had to be inserted beneath the primary support. Our “sandwich” was created from a single layer of blue board with Mylar insert set up against the canvas verso and three layers of recycled foam core cut to shape around jutting keys, held together with cellotape. All material tailored to the exact height of the bars (200mm) fit within the stretcher frame. Japanese tissue bridges adhered from the stretcher bars to the makeshift support held everything in place. Once the wheat starch had set and the support seemed firm, we were able to flip Louise over so that the recto faced upwards, as indicated in the diagram below (note: not to scale).

Once the canvas was planar consolidation could begin. 5g Aquazol 200 resin in 22.5g deionised water and 22.5g isopropanol was prepared. In order for the application to be precise (leaving as little shiny residue on the paint surface as possible) we each chose to work with dental tools under the Grimwade Centre’s Möller-Wedel Stereo Microscope. 10% Aquazol 200 was wicked cleanly beneath the flaking paint, proving to have strong penetrative and adhesive qualities suitable for consolidation.

In the most friable areas the surface tension was reduced by applying 1:1 water to isopropanol. In this instance, a brush soaked the solution up whilst the dental tool took aim. The brush, hairs heavy with the mixture, was placed against the stem of the dental tool enabling the consolidant to dribble down the stem and into the shattered paint. Heat was sometimes applied with a hot spatula (40ºC) through silicone release film in order to plasticise both the Aquazol 200 and the paint layer. Different techniques had to be implemented in the most challenging area around the proper left arm, as demonstrated in the video below.

Video 1: consolidation DT, video no. 1 by Alexandra Taylor 09/03

Part Three: Filling Louise Lateau en Extase

Louise Now Filling Fine After Canvas Insert

As indicated in the diagram from Part 2 DT (see Image 3 and Diagram 1), very little canvas along the bottom remained tacked to the stretcher edge. Most of the canvas had fallen away, leaving a weak, open weave prone to further fraying and disintegration. We decided that a canvas fill was necessary to keep what remained intact.

The canvas chosen for fill had to not only mimic the weft and warp ratio of the original, but an equal total grams per square metre had to be met. We were specifically looking for a canvas of 270gsm, and Kim successfully managed to track down the only local store to stock it! Chapman and Bailey at 350 Johnston St, Abbotsford, housed the linen we needed, with an equal weft/weave count of 32 x 32 per 20mm2 and identical body to suit. Once the canvas had been wet out, re-stretched and dried, the filling process could then take place.

The shape of the original canvas was traced onto the new and the negative was cut out. Care had to be taken as the bottom edge needed to remain one piece of linen – one dud slip of the scissors was all it took to send us back to the drawing board. The pressure was on! Spot inserts for losses off the edge also had to be cut to shape, the smallest being roughly 2mm wide. When all sections were pieced together, 25g of pre-prepared Polyamide thread was used to adhere canvas together, as demonstrated in the video below. Heat was applied with a spatula set at 85ºC through silicone release film. This plasticised the adhesive and, once cool, resulted in a smooth adhesion.

 

Video 2: canvas fill tear repair DT, video no. 2 by Alexandra Taylor 23/03

 

Acknowledgements

Firstly, I would to thank Ian Gourlay for his trust and support in deciding to share Louise Latau en Extase with The Grimwade Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation. I would also like to express immense appreciation for my treatment partner Kim Vernon, whose intuition and expansive material knowledge drove this project forwards. Finally I would like to acknowledge our supervisor Dr Nicole Tse for her immeasurable guidance throughout our conservation treatment.

References

  • British Medical Journal 1871, ‘Ecstasy and Stigmatism’ in The British Medical Journal, Vol. 1, No. 540, May 6th 1871
  • Keene, S. 1996, Managing Conservation in Museums, Butterworth-Heinemann, Oxford
  • Lefebvre, F. 1873, Life of Louise Lateau; her life, her ecstasies and her stigmata, (Eds. Spencer Northcote J), London, Burns and Oates

The Sky is the Limit…ation

by Madeleine Ewing

Part I: First Impressions Last

Welcome to the online conservation treatment diary for the portrait Untitled (Woman and Child). The aim of this blog is to provide an accessible platform through which each stage of the conservation process may be documented and reflected upon. Content will include pre-treatment, during-treatment and post-treatment updates in order to capture real-time problem solving and progress.

So, let’s get started!

Very little is known about the history of Untitled (Woman and Child). It’s currently part of the private teaching collection at the Grimwade Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation and was acquired as an academic donation. The painting has been treated by student conservators at least twice before myself and its condition is fair overall. Other than the losses along three separate tear repairs, the paint layer is stable and the strainer is structurally sound.

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The glass spouted vessel: What is it?

by Karen Thompson

Over the next four blog posts I will take you through the treatment of this unusually shaped little glass vessel.

It arrived in early 2018 for conservation as part of the hands-on ‘Treatment 2 subject. It is was a gift to the Ian Potter Museum of Art (IPMoA) in 2011, and the collection titled it Glass Spouted Vessel.

Image 1: Front of glass vessel

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Memoirs of a Great Jar

By Sholeh Magzub, Student objects conservator completing a Masters in Cultural Materials Conservation at the University of Melbourne, Australia.


The First Steps: Making Treatment Decisions for an Ancient Egyptian Jar

An integral part of any conservation treatment is the undertaking of a decision-making process which takes into consideration ethical and practical factors. Conservators are often required to balance the needs of the stakeholders, the artist’s intent, and ethical conservation standards throughout the planning and implementation of their treatments.

Within an Australian context, these ethical standards are provided by the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Materials (AICCM) Code of Ethics and Code of Practice (2002), which delineates a detailed approach for holistic and ethical professional practices of conservation.

As a student conservator at the University of Melbourne, Australia, this code of ethics took a front seat in guiding the treatment plan designed for the conservation of an Egyptian beer jar in the university’s collection.

Figure 1- Four side profiles of the Egyptian jar with pointed base before commencing treatment. Photographs by Sholeh Magzub.

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Treatment Blog 1: Can You Be-Leaf It?

by Hannah Stewart

Figure 1: Before Treatment photo of Eustace Leaf in Frame (Alfred William Eustace, Australian Landscape, c.1880. Grainger Museum Collection, 0000.5039)

Embarking on a major treatment is full of excitement and trepidation, especially when working on a painting with such a very unusual support!

My major treatment project is a leaf painted by Alfred William Eustace (c 1870s) belonging to the Grainger Museum. Eustace emigrated to Chiltern in North Eastern Victoria in 1851 and began painting to capture the spirit of the Australian bush. Canvas and paper were not often readily available on the goldfields, so Eustace turned to large juvenile white box gum leaves. It is not unheard of for artists to paint on leaves, but while that was often a departure from the norm.

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Treating Rose Grainger’s Gown

by Rachel Jones

 

Image: Accessories once owned by Rose Grainger, from the Grainger Museum. These include a sash (top left), collar (middle centre), an unknown accessory (middle right) and a muff (middle bottom).

Use of animal furs for fashion is a debated topic in contemporary society due to animal rights activism and the continuing use of real animal fur, even with faux fur alternatives available. No matter a view on use of fur in clothing made today, vintage clothing made entirely from or containing fur is a testament to how fur has been used in the fashion industry for hundreds of years. Animal pelts are recorded to have been used in Ancient Egypt, through to the aristocracy in Europe where the wearing of fur could define wealth, separating one’s self from the peasantry (Pequignot, A 2006, pp. 245-246).

The taxidermy of animals for display has been recorded as occurring from the 16th century, where various preservatives were used in order to keep the object from deteriorating and being attacked by insects (Pequignot, pp. 246). Preservatives took various forms from the first recorded taxidermy, and from the mid-1700s materials that are now deemed extremely hazardous to humans, such as arsenic and mercury, were used in the making of pesticides and preservatives (Sirios, PJ 2001, pp. 65-66).

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There’s a Chair in There – Determining Age through Materials and Typology

Ladder-back chair purchased by Rose Grainger while living in London (1901-1914). Grainger Museum Collection, 01.0126

by Jessie Gray

 

The ladder back chair, an artefact from the Grainger museum, came with very little information about its history and materials. The 1909-1914 date given to the object relates to its acquisition by Rose Grainger, correlating to the period when she was living in London. The chair’s label may have offered more information but unfortunately it is scratched and not completely legible.

Conservation specialist Robin Hodgson examined the chair and assessed it as being made in England, due to the use of English oak in the manufacturing of the frame. She also gave a rough manufacture date of 1830’s, citing typology and material use. With further research, I was able to compile material and typological evidence that supported her view.

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Striking a balance: Conservation vs Industry in a treatment of coining tools from the Perth Mint.

by Claire Rowson

 

Before Treatment

Coining master tools from the Perth Mint have finally arrived at the Grimwade Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation at the University of Melbourne where they will be undergoing a month-long treatment and analysis on corrosion products forming on their surfaces.

These tools are part of a collection of the Mint’s manufacturing output since 1986 (Goldcorp 1999). Despite careful storage by tool makers and fabricators, the collection is exhibiting the full rainbow of known iron corrosion products. It is thus likely that this initial treatment will lead into and inform a mass conservation project of these objects over the coming months.

Continue reading “Striking a balance: Conservation vs Industry in a treatment of coining tools from the Perth Mint.”


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