An ancient Egyptian burial shroud dated back to the II century BC is one of the most significant pieces of the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts collection.
The work on the piece had continued for several months, from September 2015 till June 2016. Specialists from renowned museums and research institution of Moscow, Paris and New York were invited to take part in the project. The process of conservation was carefully recorded: the museum is now in possession of gigabits of footage. Conservation specialists and art lovers around the globe can access parts of this footage thanks to the website made especially for this purposes.
Conservation treatments were preceded by technical and technological research of the piece. It included paint layer analysis (studying of pigments and adhesives used to paint the image and during previous conservation treatments), as well as IR and UV photography. The research helped to evaluate the preservation state of the shroud and to determine the techniques used to create the piece, as well as the degree to which time and other external factors have affected the shroud.
Just like most archaeological pieces the shroud has been subjected to conservation treatments more than once. In XIX century the shroud was lined and stretched on an underframe. The research had shown that gelatinous glue was used for lining. The natural aging process caused the glue to dry out. In its turn, it resulted in increased rigidity and brittleness of the threads, led to numerous fractures and deformations of the canvas, as well as to swelling and chipping of the paint layer. Besides that the glue had soaked through the paint layers staining the surface of the shroud.
We must agree, however, that this unprofessional (from the point of view of modern approach) conservation helped to preserve the piece in a relatively good state, despite the numerous losses.
Our main task was to suspend the ongoing deterioration and to make it possible to exhibit the piece. During the work classic archaeological textile conservation methods were used, as well as techniques to treat tempera paintings and graphics.
The biggest challenge on the first stage of the work was to remove the XIX century backing. The large amount of gypsum contained in the pigments made it impossible to use water based solutions. For several months the conservators had been removing the lining millimeter by millimeter with special spatulas.
The fabric of the shroud free of the old backing was transferred to a smooth surface. After that the deformations were fixed. It was quite challenging to decide on the consolidation solution. After numerous trials it was decided to consolidate the remaining image with fluorine-based solution.
The shroud was then backed again, this time with dense and translucent Indian cotton. Microscopic research and a detailed research of similar images on other shrouds and Fajum portraits helped to make a reconstruction of the woman's face and the overall composition of the shroud. The face had been printed on a special fabric and placed under the remaining fragments of the shroud.
After the conservation treatments were finished, the shroud was put into a specially made frame. To minimize the harmful effects of the environment the piece was covered with a museum glass (plexi).
The project was succesfully finished in April 2016. At the moment the shroud is presented at the permanent exhibition of the Room 6 Hellenistic and Roman Egypt, Coptic Art, in the main building of the Museum.