Sharon Cather - The Courtauld Institute of Art

Sharon Cather

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Professor Sharon Cather

Professor Emerita

Sharon Cather was educated at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and at Princeton University, where she worked particularly on the drawings of Gianlorenzo Bernini. After teaching in the History of Art Department at the University of Cambridge, she helped establish the Conservation of Wall Painting Department at The Courtauld in 1985.

Responsible for the Department’s research agenda, Sharon supervised fifty-eight MA dissertations, resulting in thirty-two publications, as well as other research at PhD level. She was also the main supervisor of the Department’s conservation, research and teaching projects in China, Georgia, India and Malta, and Project Director of the Leon Levy Foundation Centre for Conservation Studies at Nagaur (Rajasthan). She played a central role in the implementation of the MA-level teaching in conservation undertaken at Dunhuang (China) in collaboration with the Dunhuang Academy and Getty Conservation Institute, and in 2014 was awarded The People’s Republic of China Friendship Award (China’s highest award for foreign experts who have made outstanding contributions to China’s economic and social progress).

Sharon served on the editorial board of Zeitschrift für Kunsttechnologie und Konservierung, and on other bodies including the Paintings Committee of the Church Buildings Council and the International Scientific Committee for the Conservation of the Marble Floor of St John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta, Malta. She was a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, the International Institute for Conservation, of which she was Vice-President from 2010 to 2014, and the American Academy in Rome.

Research and fieldwork programmes (a selection)

  • Passive conservation of the medieval wall paintings of Hardham Church was a 5-year research project focusing on this important English Romanesque scheme that aimed to develop and assess the efficacy of passive conservation measures, advance current practice for regular monitoring of physical condition, and establish protocols for environmental monitoring for both diagnostic and management requirements. The project, led by Sharon Cather, was undertaken in collaboration with English Heritage. This major research programme was funded by the Pilgrim Trust and English Heritage.
  • Dunhuang, China: Collaborative educational programme with the Dunhuang Academy and the Getty Conservation Institute The Mogao Grottoes at Dunhuang form the most important site of Buddhist painting in the world, with 45,000 m2 of painting dating from the 5th to the 14th centuries. This collaborative programme focuses on education of those who will have long-term responsibility for the preservation of the paintings throughout the site and at the many other grotto sites in China. The programme, begun in 2005, continues into 2017.
  • Conservation of the wall paintings of Agios Herakleidios in the Monastery of Ioannis Lampadistis, Cyprus This World Heritage site is significant for the quality of its wall paintings and accumulation of structures. Among these, Agios Herakleidios is the earliest, with major wall painting schemes of the 13th and 15th centuries. Conservation began in 2006 the programme was completed in 2012 in collaboration with the Department of Antiquities and the Bishopric of Morphou, and supported by the A. G. Leventis Foundation.
  • Nagaur, India: Conservation of the wall paintings of the Ahhichattragarh Fort and Palace Complex In collaboration with the Mehrangarh Museum Trust, ,the Courtauld began conserving the important 18th-century Rajput-Mughal wall paintings of this vast site in 2005. The programme of conservation continues to 2019 with generous support from the Leon Levy Foundation.
  • cather-sharon_clip_image002_0003Petra, Jordan: Conservation of the wall paintings of the Biclinium in Siq al-Barid The Petra National Trust commissioned The Courtauld to conserve this most important surviving wall painting of the Nabataean culture. Its extreme significance is due to its quality, subject matter, extreme technical complexity and completeness. Conservation, undertaken by Stephen Rickerby and Lisa Shekede, began in 2006 and was completed in September 2010. The project was presented at the IIC Congress in Istanbul, and is featured on the cover of the preprints.

PhD supervision included

  • Sreekumar Menon, ‘Early Period Buddhist Wall Paintings of Ladakh from the 11th to the early 13th Century: Materials, Techniques and Conservation Implications’ supervised with David Park
  • Na Li, ‘A Scientific Approach to Interpreting the Damage and Ongoing Mechanisms of Deterioration Caused by Fire to the Wall Paintings of the Mogao Grottoes, Dunhuang, China’
  • Chiara Pasian, ‘Non-Structural Lime-Based Injection Grouts with Reduced Water Content for Decorated Surfaces’, supervised with Francesca Piqué
  • Amarilli Rava, ‘Re-adhesion Interventions on Wall Paintings: Bonding Mechanisms and Assessment Methods’
  • Sibylla Tringham, ‘The Distribution of Consolidants in Painted Plaster’
  • Charlotte Martin de Fonjaudran, ‘Cleaning Asian Wall Paintings: Constraints and Development of an Open-Source Image Analysis Workflow for in-situ Evaluation of Topographical Surface Changes’ (2014)
  • Austin Nevin, ‘Fluorescence and Raman Spectroscopy for Analysis of Protein-Based Paint Media’ (2008)
  • Robyn Pender, ‘The Behaviour of Moisture in the Porous Support Materials of Wall Paintings: An Investigation of Some Environmental Factors’ (2000)

Research interests

  • Conservation theory, in particular methodological developments
  • Environmental causes of deterioration, their diagnosis and mitigation
  • Analytical methods, with emphasis on portable and accessible techniques
  • Technology of wall paintings globally
  • Methods and materials of remedial interventions

Selected publications

Edited books

  • Art of Merit: Studies in Buddhist Art and its Conservation (Proceedings of the Buddhist Art Forum 2012), ed. with D. Park and K. Wangmo, London 2013
  • The Decorative: Conservation and the Applied Arts (Contributions to the IIC Vienna Congress, 10-14 September 2012), ed. with A. Nevin et al., London 2012.

Essays and articles

  • ‘Conservation research at Dunhuang: the pivotal role of Cave 260 for conservation education and policy’ (with Xudong Wang, Bomin Su, S. Rickerby, L. Shekede and Xiaowei Wang) in An Unbroken History: Conserving East Asian Works of Art and Heritage (Contributions to the IIC Hong Kong Congress, 22-26 September 2014; Studies in Conservation, 59, Supplement 1), London 2014, 17-20.
  • ‘Vast and dispersed: developing portable facilities for non-invasive analysis and recording of heritage sites in China’ (with Bomin Su and Zongren Yu), in An Unbroken History: Conserving East Asian Works of Art and Heritage (Contributions to the IIC Hong Kong Congress, 22-26 September 2014; Studies in Conservation, 59, Supplement 1), London 2014, 141-44.
  • ‘Choices and judgment: the professional conservator at the interface’, in Conservation of Ancient Sites on the Silk Road (Proceedings of the Second International Conference on the Conservation of Grotto Sites, Mogao Grottoes, Dunhuang, People’s Republic of China, June 28-July 3, 2004), ed. N. Agnew, Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles 2010, 22-32.
  • ‘Analysis of protein-based media commonly found in paintings using synchronous fluorescence spectroscopy combined with multivariate statistical analysis’ (with A. Nevin, A. Burnstock and D. Anglos), Applied Spectroscopy, 62:5 (2008), 481-9.
  • ‘Micro-Raman and fluorescence spectroscopy for the assessment of the effects of the exposure to light on films of egg white and egg yolk’ (with I. Osticioli, A, Nevin, M. Becucci, D. Anglos, A. Burnstock and E. Castelucci), Journal of Raman Spectroscopy, 39:2 (2008), 307-13.
  • ‘The analysis of naturally and artificially aged protein-based paint media using Raman spectroscopy combined with Principal Component Analysis’ (with A. Nevin, I. Osticioli, D. Anglos, A. Burnstock and E. Castellucci), Journal of Raman Spectroscopy, 39:8 (2008), 993-1000.
  • ‘Stratigraphic analysis of organic materials in wall painting samples using micro-FTIR Attenuated total reflectance and a novel sample preparation technique’ (with C. Martin de Fonjaudran, A. Nevin and F. Piqué), Analytical & Bioanalytical Chemistry, 392 (2008), 77-86.
  • ‘Issues in the conservation of mural paintings: past and present’, in Mural Paintings of the Silk Road: Cultural Exchanges between East and West (Proceedings of the 29th International Symposium on the Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Property, Tokyo, January 2006), ed. K. Yamauchi, Y. Taniguchi and T. Uno, London 2007, 173-9 (also published in the Japanese version of the Proceedings).
  • ‘Trans-technological methodology: setting performance criteria for conserving wall paintings’, in Far East Asian Mural Paintings: Diagnosis, Conservation and Restoration (Proceedings of a conference at Ravenna, May 2004), ed. R. Mazzeo, Ravenna 2006, 89-95.
  • ‘Assessing causes and mechanisms of detrimental change to wall paintings’, in Conserving the Painted Past: Developing Approaches to Wall Painting Conservation (Post-prints of an English Heritage Conference, 1999), eds. R. Gowing and A. Heritage, London 2003, 64-74
  • ‘Aqueous extraction of soluble salts from porous materials: alternatives and contra-indications’, in Mauersalze und Architekturoberfläche (Hochschule für Bildende Künste, Dresden, 1 – 3 February 2002), eds. H. Leitner et al., Dresden 2003, 167-72

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