The Conservation Department at the Worcester Art Museum was founded in the 1930's, making WAM one of the earliest museums in the country to demonstrate its commitment to preservation. Today, WAM's mission statement includes the care and preservation of the collection as a key feature. The Conservation Department is made up of highly trained conservators whose specialties include Objects, Paintings, and Works of Art on Paper. Working together, the conservators carry out treatments and technical analyses of the artwork, and establish standards for exhibition and storage of the collection.
Treatment of artwork varies depending on the needs of the individual objects. Stains in paper can be removed, discolored varnish on an oil painting can be cleaned, or a broken pot from ancient Greece can be reassembled. The information gathered through technical analysis is shared with curators, and through this collaboration, a new understanding of the collection is achieved.
The Conservation Department has a commitment to education and thus has taken the responsibility of teaching students at all levels who are intent on learning about conservation. In recognition of this commitment, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has awarded a grant for two ongoing post-graduate Conservation Fellowships. For more information, contact the Department.
Museum visitors may recall watching a conservator in the galleries, a decade ago, cleaning an early 16th-century Flemish painting of the Holy Family on its exodus from Bethlehem. Her work began a many-year process to clean and restore the piece. Now completed and recently returned from a major exhibition overseas, the work hangs in the Museum's permanent galleries. The painting, by Antwerp artist Quentin Massys (1465-1530), was originally part of an assemblage of eight panels commissioned for an altarpiece in a convent near Lisbon. At the time, it was an important royal commission for the Portuguese convent to attract a Flemish master to paint the panels. When the convent was disassembled in the early 19th century, the panels were sold. Six panels reside in the National Museum of Lisbon, Worcester eventually purchased another, and the eighth is in Rio de Janeiro. Art historians agree that the Worcester panel is best, painted by the hand of the master himself.
Painting conservator Rita Albertson, who has been working with the Massys for the last five years, uncovered alterations to the work made in a previous restoration in the 19th century. Trees and shrubbery were added in the background, and hairstyles were alteredpresumably to make the piece more appealing to 19th-century viewers. Rita obscured the 19th-century additions in order to achieve a painting that is more in keeping with the artistıs original intent. Following the conservation, the painting was shipped in March 2002 to the Groeningemuseum in Bruges, Belgium, where it was featured in an exhibition beside another panel from the original eight hung together for the first time in nearly 200 years. Mounted for the centennial of a landmark show, this exhibition, The Age of Van Eyck, explored the influence of Van Eyck and his contemporaries on the art of Mediterranean Europe. In the three months of the exhibition, more than 300,000 museum visitors viewed the painting. Now, itıs your turn. On your next visit to the Worcester Art Museum, be sure to see and enjoy this significant work for yourself, and take pride that its home is in Worcester.
Original border pieces from a sixth-century Roman floor mosaic are being reunited with its large, central panel as part of an 18-month conservation project at the Worcester Art Museum.
The Worcester Hunt mosaic, the largest floor mosaic brought to America, was excavated in the 1930s from a villa in Daphne, a suburb of the ancient Roman city of Antioch, now a part of Antakya, Turkey. For more than six decades, the mosaic has been the centerpiece of the Worcester Art Museum's Renaissance Court. Conservation of the mosaic and its border panels represents the final phase of conservation work associated with the Worcester Art Museum's landmark 2000 exhibition, Antioch: The Lost Ancient City.
Cleaning of the Worcester Hunt began in October 2001, when conservators from the Worcester Art Museum team began stripping away layers of previous restorations, which had dulled and discolored the surface. They have also removed patches of concrete used in the 1930s to fill areas where the original stone tiles, or tesserae, were missing.
In July 2002, with a $40,000 grant from the Florence Gould Foundation, the Museum began its preparations to rejoin the border pieces. Because of space limitations in the Renaissance Court, the border elements could only be placed on two sides of the mosaic. Expected completion of the border installation project is mid-September 2002. Following the installation, conservation work will resume to clean the mosaic and fill and retouch areas lost over time.
We are excited to be able to experience the Worcester Hunt with its borders attached, for the first time since its discovery in the 1930s, said Museum Director James A. Welu. We will really be able to appreciate the interplay between the mosaic and its borders in the Renaissance Court, which provides vantage points from two levels and many different angles.
At the center of the mosaic stands a hunter, circled by various animals and depictions of hunters on foot and horseback attacking dangerous game-a lion, tiger, bear, and others-with swords, spears, and bows and arrows. Hunting was a favorite activity for the Roman elite and was commonly documented in Antioch and throughout the Roman world. The border images, which face inward toward the center of the mosaic, depict hunters pursuing their prey through a foliage of entwined acanthus leaves.
Five institutions-the Worcester Art Museum, Princeton University, the musée du Louvre, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and Harvard University's affiliate Dumbarton Oaks through the sponsorship of the Bliss family -supported the excavation of Antioch, which had been destroyed by a major earthquake in the sixth century. The excavation unearthed an extraordinary collection of floor mosaics, including the monumental Worcester Hunt.