Johann König, The Rape of Europa

Author Johann König
Title The Rape of Europa
School Germany
Date 1621
Material Parchment on copper base
Technique Distemper
Workshop Paper Сonservation

Johann König's The Rape of Europa was sent to the Graphics Conservation Workshop in 2009 during the preparations for "Known and Unknown" exhibition (2010) and publication of the catalogue of paintings from the museum collection.

Painted on very thin parchment in distemper technique, originally the painting was stretched over a thick copper plate; its margins were folded over the edges of the plate and fixed with coarse glue. Later, as the parchment dried with time, tears and rips started to form at the edges, the parchment was deformed and paint losses appeared. The margins were glued and re-glued to the base numerous amounts of times, which led to the parchment edges being stained green with oxides of copper.

Later the parchment was lined with Japanese paper using flour glue. But the tears weren't consolidated and the edges weren't cleaned of the layers of gelatinous glue they had on them. As a result the edges started to peel off the lining paper; constant attempts to fix it resulted in the margins tearing off almost entirely and parts of them were lost.

A researched preceded conservation treatments, to determine the compounds of the paints and binders. A binder used for paints turned out to be gelatinous glue, the one used for fixing the parchment on its copper base was joiner's glue, and wheatpaste was used for lining.

The first step was consolidation of the flaking paint with adhesives. After that the hardened joiner's glue at the margins was softened with adhesive compresses. After the copper plate was removed it was time to remove the paper lining as well. To avoid deformation of the parchment and paints a dry method was used: the lining paper was removed with a scalpel. Another layer of gelatinous glue was found underneath it; the back side of the parchment had to be cleaned of it as well.

The next step was mending the torn off margins of the parchment and tears on the image: the edges of the tears were put together and fixed with Japanese paper. The fillings were made with Japanese paper imitating the original base material. We used a mixture of rabbit glue and wheat starch glue as a binder.

The piece was placed in a conditioning chamber for moistening, after that it was straightened and dried under a small press.

To avoid damaging the parchment in the future Conservation Council decided not to stretch it over an old copper base. The painting was fixed on a cardboard sheet with Japanese paper strips. A mat and a frame were made for exhibiting the piece, and the copper plate was fixed to the back of the cardboard. After that the painting was ready to be exhibited.