Krater with an ivy branch

Title Krater with an ivy branch
Date III century BC
Material Ceramics
Workshop Objects Conservation


The conservation of the pieces from the Transferred arts collection started in 2002 in The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, almost at the same time as the documenting the collection and its attribution. Numerous ceramic pieces exhibited at the Archeology of War. Return from Nonexistence exhibition were conserved at that time. Some of those objects found their place in the permanent display at the museum. The work on them continues to this day. We have accumulated considerable practical experience and worked out the best methods of conservation for the collection. However, each piece needs an individual approach and extensive research.

We started analyzing individual fragments and whether they belonged to the same piece in 2007. A photograph of a krater with an ivy branch on it was found in a German catalogue of lost treasures (Dokumentation der Verluste. Antikensammlung. Band V.1. Berlin 2005), under № V.I. 4983. From the catalogue we know that it was found in Campania in Italy, purchased in 1909 in Rome and given to Bode Museum in Berlin. It is clear from the photo that it had previously been restored. It was assembled from many pieces, the seams were retouched, and the rim was reinforced with metal brackets. The amount of pieces was not specified, as it was unknown whether there were any losses. The restoration was likely carried out before 1909, as it arrived to Bode Museum already assembled. Thanks to the tremendous job analyzing and discovering disassembled fragments, the conservation process started with determining whether they belonged to this particular krater.  The fragments were badly damaged, burned, more than 50% of the black varnish was destroyed in an open fire, on some fragments it was destroyed completely. Because it was heated unevenly, and due to the large size of the krater (57 cm in height, 67 cm is the diameter of the rim) the fragments were severely deformed. Putting them together proved to be extremely difficult. Besides, some fragments' edges were crudely filed down. This method was well-known from some other exhibits. Most likely, it was a so-called conservation from the 19th century.

Cleaning of the fragments was done with the methods developed previously, as all the pieces from the collection have characteristic surface contamination, burn marks, such as soot and grime, vitrified mass incrustation, only removable mechanically, and salt deposits on the surface. A trial heat treatment of severely contaminated fragments did not yield positive results. The soot partially burned down, however, the contamination remained. Since the allowed temperature in conservation treatments is not high, we could not remove the contaminations containing chemicals that only burn at temperature, that is higher than allowed. As of today, there is no method of restoration of varnish destroyed in a fire. The image of an ivy branch has burnt down, only its outline remains. The gilding was completely lost on the rim, the so-called egg pattern, and the ivy branch itself. The remaining gilding can only be seen in the creases of the paints that were applied under the gilding, and only under a microscope.

Assembling the piece was difficult. There were about two hundred separate fragments, which were impossible to put together without distorting the shape of the vessel. To minimize the distortion it was necessary to determine the correct order in which to put the fragments together. But the large amount of losses made it extremely difficult. The filed-down pieces would not fit together well enough, which in its turn compromised the strength of the bond.  The fragments had to be assembled in tiers, level by level, at the same time filling the losses with polymer-modified plaster and consolidating the seams where the fragments did not fit together well. A mold was made from polyurethane foam in the shape of the vessel, to help with putting the fragments together. As a result, 178 fragments were put together, however, the amount of losses was still significant. The search for missing pieces was continued and was partially successful. But not all the pieces were found in the end. Besides, we still have no information whether the missing pieces were present before 1941. This is why the decision was made to fill in the losses. There were no disputes over retouching: since the whole surface of the krater was covered with black varnish, the fillings were black as well. The gilding was not reconstructed, as the goal of contemporary conservation is to preserve the pieces and minimize interventions. Recreating the original look of the piece is secondary, especially for archaeological pieces. The use of reversible materials makes the possible disassembling of the vessel in the future easier. For example, if the missing pieces are found, which has happened before with the Berlin collection.