Restoration of the wooden sculpture The Apostle John

Title Restoration of the wooden sculpture The Apostle John
Conservator(s) Ludmila Sinitsyna
Workshop Objects Conservation

The complex restoration of the polychrome wooden sculpture Apostle John (height 178 cm), 16th century, Germany, took over a year. The sculpture was delivered for restoration in a critical condition: it had extensive damage to the wooden base with numerous deep cracks and splintering. The sculptor had to fill the cracks with inserts, as a result of faulty workmanship, which led to shrinkage and cracking of the wood fibres. Later on, the inserts also became deformed and began to fall out. The face of St John was particularly badly affected by the deformation of the wooden base. When the sculpture was created, it was carved separately and then connected with dowels to the rest of the head. Today we can see the irreversible deformation at the joint on the left cheek of the apostle. Shrinkage of the base had caused them to move apart by up to 8 cm. The ground and paint layer were in a similar state of damage: peeling, crumbling, deformations; tearing, and peeling of the paint layer from the base.

The entire surface of the sculpture was under a thick layer of dirt and greasy soot, which covered the colourful layer on the clothes. The red colour of the himation was visible (evidently, it had once been washed), but the blue (the back of the himation) and green (chiton) could not be seen at all.

In the process of restoration, the primer and paint layer were reinforced and the canvas was touched up. The difficult process of cleaning effectively meant uncovering the paint layer from the black oil deposits. During the restoration, an enormous amount of work was carried out to consolidate the wooden base: areas of deteriorated wood were reinforced, all mobile fragments were glued, and numerous gaps were filled, as well as cracks. The largest losses in the face and neck of the apostle were partially repaired. Retouches were made where necessary.