Wall Painting Conservation

The Courtauld is one of the foremost centres in the world for education and research in wall painting conservation. Established in partnership with the Getty Conservation Institute in 1985, and led for over 30 years by Professors David Park and Sharon Cather, the wall painting department has pioneered an interdisciplinary, preventive approach to conservation. Its research promotes the diagnosis and control of deterioration, underpinned by an improved understanding of wall painting materials and techniques. In addition to the research undertaken by faculty members and PhD candidates, a significant amount of original research is also realised by post-graduate students as part of Courtauld fieldwork projects both in the UK and across the globe.

Fieldwork Projects

The department is currently involved in two major fieldwork projects – a collaborative project with English Heritage to conserve the important medieval murals at Longthorpe Tower in Peterborough (UK), and another at Nagaur Fort in Rajasthan (India), undertaken in partnership with the Mehrangarh Museum Trust.

 

Longthorpe Tower, Peterborough

Hidden under layers of limewash until 1945, the wall paintings at Longthorpe Tower are an extraordinary survival of 14th-century wall painting and one of the most important mediaeval secular schemes in northern Europe. The paintings depict an exceptional array of scenes that mix religious and didactic themes with morality tales, heraldry, images of birds, animals, mythical creatures and a rare depiction of the Wheel of Five Senses. While the interpretation and meaning of the paintings are still debated, the scheme offers insights into the priorities and ambitions of a socially aspirational family, and a very personal view of the mediaeval world.

Unparalleled in their completeness, the survival of so much painting from this period within a secular context is remarkable. Working in collaboration with English Heritage, and building on investigations carried out by The Courtauld in the 1990s, the department has begun a new project to address the conservation and presentation of the paintings. Find out more about the project:

Nagaur Fort, Rajasthan (India)

Nagaur Fort in Rajasthan is one of the finest surviving examples of Rajput-Mughal architecture. Dating primarily from the 18th century, this large fortified palace complex had fallen into disrepair. With the help of a series of grants from the Getty Foundation, the Mehrangarh Trust embarked upon a major initiative for the conservation of the fort. In 2005, The Courtauld began its long-term involvement in conserving the site’s important wall paintings.

You can find out more about the wall paintings at Nagaur Fort here, as well as information about the conservation of the wall paintings in the Sheesh Mahal and Hadi Rani Mahal. In 2012, as part of this project, the Leon Levy Foundation Centre for Conservation Studies was established at Nagaur with the aim of fostering professionalism in conservation.

Wall Painting Conservation Faculty

Current Faculty Research

Austin Nevin

  • Conservation and heritage science: applications of spectroscopy for the analysis of molecular materials in paintings and tracking degradation of pigments and polymers, from kermes lakes in Italian wall paintings to cadmium sulphide degradation in modern art
  • Pigment synthesis and chemistry: historical recipes and trace impurities
  • Digital humanities: linking conservation documentation and results from technical analysis for interdisciplinary research, from dispersed altarpieces to comparative technical study
  • Conservation practice: critical assessment of wall painting conservation in Sweden (funded by the Swedish National Heritage Board)

Sibylla Tringham

  • Consolidation of decohesive paint layers and plasters (in particular, methods for visualising consolidants in painted lime plaster)
  • Environmental causes of deterioration and passive approaches to their mitigation
  • Imaging techniques for conservation
  • Remedial approaches to wall painting conservation

Emily Howe

  • Non-invasive and sample-based analysis of wall painting materials and techniques (in particular polarised light microscopy and SEM-EDX)
  • English medieval wall paintings, their making and function in ritual and devotion
  • The history of wall painting conservation, with particular reference to the British Isles

Current PhD Candidates

Sanjay Dhar

Assessing and managing risks to Buddhist wall paintings in Ladakh

Supervised by Dr Christine Stevenson with Prof. Deborah Swallow and Emily Howe

Funded by AkzoNobel Scholarship

Yeonjoo (Amanda) Hahn

Buddhist temple wall paintings in South Korea: a conservation assessment 

Supervised by Dr Austin Nevin with Sibylla Tringham

 

Sreekumar Menon

Early period Buddhist wall paintings of Ladakh from the 11th to early 13th centuries: materials, techniques & conservation implications

Supervised by Prof Aviva Burnstock with Emily Howe

Funded by AkzoNobel Scholarship

Pu Lan

Connections in the making and meaning of the art of Bhutan and Tibet in the 17th and 18th centuries: a study of the wall paintings at Tango Monastery

Supervised by Dr Stephen Whiteman with Dr Christian Luczanits (SOAS)

Funded by The Robert H. N. Ho. Foundation

Amarilli Rava

Readhesion interventions on wall paintings: an assessment of organic, water-based adhesives

Supervised by Prof Aviva Burnstock with Dr Emma Richardson (National Physical Laboratory/UCL)

Survey of Historic Wall Paintings in the British Isles

Begun in 1980 as the National Survey of Medieval Wall Painting, this project was renamed in January 2018 to reflect the much more ambitious scope that it has developed over the years. Coordinated  by David Park, the Survey was originally funded by the Leverhulme Trust, with extensive photography undertaken by the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments. The Survey archive is housed in the Conservation of Wall Painting Department at The Courtauld. This enormous archive contains records not only of all surviving and recorded medieval wall paintings throughout the British Isles, but also extensive records of post-medieval wall paintings from the grandest Baroque schemes to paintings in humble domestic contexts. It also contains similar records for medieval polychrome sculptures, paintings on wood, and painted sculptures. It is probably the most comprehensive archive of its type in the world, including not only photographic records but conservation reports and art-historical information (both published and unpublished). It has been drawn on for many scholarly publications, such as Wall Paintings of Eton published in 2012, as well as other research-related activities such as the exhibition Wonder: Painted Sculpture from Medieval England held at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds in 2002-03.

The Survey is constantly updated, not least with the continuing discoveries which make this such an exciting field. The Courtauld is enormously indebted to those who have provided important records for the archive, including most recently Muriel Carrick, well known for her published research on domestic wall paintings in Essex and elsewhere in England, including the catalogue to the exhibition Essex Domestic Wall Paintings 14th-18th Century which she organised at the University of Essex in 1989.

The Survey archive is available for consultation by all interested students, scholars, conservators and members of the public. Those wishing to consult the Survey should email wallpaintingsurvey@courtauld.ac.uk

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