Cleaning the Processional Frieze
This is the third in a series of guest blogs written by visiting students who are working on the conservation of the decorative scheme created by William Hole. This post was written by Pearl O’Sullivan from the Courtauld Institute of Art.
Last Monday I began working as a student conservation assistant on the cleaning of wall mural in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. A week (and piles of dirty cotton wool) later, I find myself in the midst of an exciting conservation treatment. This treatment, removing decades of disfiguring dirt, is revealing the paint layers of an early Scottish history as depicted in painted wall murals of artist William Hole.
My work last week was mainly focused on the processional frieze painted on canvas and adhered to the wall in the lower level of the Gallery’s central hall. Sitting atop the central bird cage scaffolding – harnessed-in securely- I began by testing and then cleaning areas of the gold painted stucco. The result was immediately illuminating, revealing a brighter and more reflective surface – warmly lit by the red lights hanging in the central hall.
Working on the south wall of the frieze has brought me face-to-face with many historic figures from Scotland’s historic past. The clean has relieved these figures of a heavy dirt deposit layer, freshening up many of their century-old faces and costumes. The experience has also encouraged me to freshen up on my knowledge of Scottish history – costume, armour and ornament!
Below the frieze, in the spandrels of the architrave, there are twelve heraldic shields representing different boroughs of Scotland. These are immediately visible to anyone looking up from the ground floor to the frieze and ceiling above. During cleaning, severe levels of dirt were removed from the surface in these areas – exposing glossier surfaces and brightly gilded crests on these proudly positioned symbols of Scottish cities.
During my time cleaning the frieze, we were visited by a number of photographers from the national press. I was happy to have my picture taken but was nevertheless, still slightly taken aback to see my own beaming face in the newspaper the following day.
This week I have moved to cleaning the ceiling paintings of the patterned night sky with gilded stars. It is hotter and grimier working at height on the removal of often severe and uneven surface dirt. Rest assured I’m still smiling (not so widely as to catch drips of ceiling juice!) and am still thoroughly enjoying myself working on this stellar conservation project!