Darius Painter’s Amphora. The history of restoration

The Apulian amphora attributed to Darius Painter is one of the objects in custody of the Department of Art and Archaeology of the Ancient World of our museum, curated by Ludmila Akimova.

The restoration and conservation work on the amphora lasted more than 10 years and was carried out in three stages: in 2004-2005, then in 2010 and finally, in 2014-2015.

(Fig. 01 , 02 , 03 ) The vase came to us in a very bad state. It consisted of numerous fragments, many of which had significant damage. Formally, we divided the damages into two types: the wartime damages, and the results of the old attempts of restoration.

(Fig. 04) The impact of fire and other damaging factors during the WWII were the reasons why the varnish and ceramics on some fragments darkened a lot; here and there, the surface of the sherds was covered with black splatters. (Fig. 05) Some fragments were exposed to such high temperatures that the black varnish changed its colour to maroon. (Fig. 06) In some places, glassy build-up formed on the surface. On the inner surface of the fragments of the body dense, dark crust fused with the surface.

(Fig. 07) The edges of many fragments were filed off. On some of them, we could see paralleled notches – the marks from a tool it was done with. (Fig. 08) At the join spots of the fragments on the surface of the red figures, brownish traces of seam filler, tenaciously adhering to the surface of the vase, were visible. On the inside of the fragments of the body laid a loose layer of white build-up. All these second type damages gave us the reason to assume the possibility of an Italian XIX century restoration, since such methods were characteristic of it. Perhaps, before there were other traces of early restorations, but, unfortunately, that information has not survived.

(Fig. 09) Fortunately, in some areas the original decoration made with yellow and white paints on black varnish was preserved, although it was badly worn. (Fig. 10) The purple paint of Laius's chariot survived as well.

The first known conservation treatment of the vase in our museum was performed in 2004-2005 by the conservator Irina Makarova. The amphora was partially cleaned, and the existing fragments were reassembled.

In 2010, the amphora was transferred for restoration to the Grabar Art Conservation Centre, where we, together with the conservator Irina Sivova continued conservation and restoration of the piece.

At the time, we counted more than 130 fragments comprising the body and neck with handles, the footplate consisted of 14 fragments.

(Fig. 12) We had to disassemble the initial repair due to its roughness and the fragility of the vase, as well as the need for complete surface cleaning. In addition, by this time the curator had found more fragments of the body that needed to be inserted.

We cleaned all the available fragments with distilled water and ethyl alcohol. We did not employ thermal cleaning of the amphora to remove soot and dark splatters due to the absence of substantial pre-conservation analytical research. We could not confidently say that the original paint layer would be safe after the exposure to high temperature. In addition, this rather harsh method was not yet worked or applied at the Grabar centre at the time.

(Fig. 12 , 12а ) The work was complicated by the fact that many of the fragments were significantly filed down during the previous conservation and as a result joined together poorly. This reduced the bonding strength and made it difficult to restore the original shape of the vase. Restoring the shape of a large spherical vessel, broken into many sherds, alone is a complex task. Usually, when more and more parts are joined together, the number of inaccuracies gradually increases, which leads to shape distortions and misalignment of fragments. The XIX century restorers solved this problem by filing down the sherds which joined poorly. We reaped the dubious benefits of such treatment. Sometimes it was necessary to re-adhere whole blocks of fragments several times to minimize the differences between them.

We filled the losses on the vase with tinted alabaster polymer. The colour of the finishing plaster was achieved by adding dry pigments so that it corresponded to the colour of the ceramic sherds of the amphora.

(Fig. 13 , Fig. 14 ) As a result, we have reassembled the bigger part of the vase, except for the missing rim and footplate, but it did not feel completely satisfactory. The fact is that according to the rules of conservation-restoration, we did not have the right to recreate the form of an object, if some of its fragments or precise analogies do not support it. Therefore, the shape of the amphora restored based on the endpoints of the assembled part, which was methodologically correct, but significantly distorted the elegant proportions of the vessel.

However, there was a chance that in the process of further work with the collection of transferred art some more original fragments of the amphora would still be found.

And that is exactly what happened. We finished the abovementioned stage of restoration at the Grabar centre in 2010, and some time after that, the curator Ludmila Akimova and research fellow Dmitriy Kalinichev found a significant number of sherds, which formed the missing footplate and rim of the vase, as well as complemented the painting on the body.

At that time, it was not possible to continue conservation. The newly found fragments had to wait for their time.

In early 2014, the museum received a request for the publication of an image of the amphora in the catalogue of the Great Apulian Vases from Ceglie. It was a long project conducted by the Berlin antiquities collection, together with the Getty Conservation Institute and Museum. It dealt with the research, conservation and description of the scenes of the thirteen South Italian vases coming from the collection of Baron von Koller, which was sold in 1828 after his death to the Royal Museum of Berlin by the Italian antiquarian and restorer Raffaello Gargiulo.

The first results of the studies by our western colleagues showed that Gargiulo had restored the vessels: they had additions and overpaintings on top of the original decor. Therefore, while working with the collection, they paid great attention to research and work with materials of old restoration.

To make the publication more complete, our foreign colleagues asked us to provide photographs and an article about the Darius Painter’s amphora, which also came from the collection of Baron von Koller.

( Fig.15 ) I note in parentheses that in July 1916 an exhibition was opened in the Berlin antiquities museum, consisting of the newly restored vases from the Baron von Koller’s collection, accompanied by a documentary story about the restoration in the workshops of Raffaello Gargiulo.

This large-scale international project marked the beginning of the next and final, third phase of conservation, which we again conducted together with the conservator from the Grabar centre Irina Sivovaya.

(Fig. 16 , Fig. 17 ) By this time, additional fragments of the body were found, as well as sherds making the rim and the footplate whole, a total of 82 fragments.

(Fig. 18) Each subsequent restoration is usually more complicated than the previous one. This time, in order to insert all the newly found fragments, we had to not only remove large pieces of plaster fillers in the lower and upper parts, but also partially disassemble the actual body of the vase.

(Fig. 19 , Fig. 20 ) A big challenge was the insertion of the newly found fragments of the body with the painting.

(Fig. 21 , 21а , 21b , 22 , 23 , 23а ) We would find the place for each fragment and then, in each case, decide how to insert them. Fortunately, we managed to do it in all the cases.

(Fig. 24 , 25 ) Given the large size, height and weight of the amphora, its fragmented state, we reinforced it along the inner surface by strengthening the lower part of the body and the footplate from the inside with mica-coated paper.

To facilitate the assembly of the vase and ensure its better stability, our metal conservator Mikhail Tulubensky designed an internal support structure consisting of a large base with a vertical axis fixed in it. Later, this design made it possible to work with the amphora under the increased load conditions, for example, when conducting 3D photography.

Before beginning the third stage of treatments, together with the staff of the Department of Physical and Chemical Research of the Grabar Art Conservation Centre A. Mazina and S. Sokolov we conducted a study of the original materials of the amphora and tenacious wartime layers.

(Fig. 26 , 27 ) As a result of the long work of many people, we were able to fully reassemble this unique amphora. Thanks to that, our museum has acquired a new exhibit and an image of a fully restored amphora and an article describing both its history and treatments have been included in an international catalogue.

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