Conservation of the Darnault mirror: Striking a balance

Nancie Ravenel and Gordon Hanlon

Abstract

This paper will discuss the decision making process and experimentation undertaken in designing a compensation method for a French Rococo gilt wood mirror frame, dating from 1751. Based on analysis of cross sectional samples, the gilt wood mirror frame appeared to retain its original water gilt surfaces under thick grime, a patchy layer of white paint, and a darkened layer of glue size next to the gold. In some areas, the gilding was in extremely good condition, retaining almost pristine areas of matte and burnished gold. However the frame had suffered water damage, and many areas of the gilding were in extremely poor condition with an exposed pock-marked, porous, and friable gesso layer. These extremes of conditions seriously compromised the mirror’s overall unity. The highly deteriorated surface was no longer representative of the French eighteenth century aesthetic and the object could not be displayed in the context of other objects from the same period. The conservation treatment had to be fully meaningful, yet retain the original material for documentary purposes.

The compensation method would have to be fully separable from the original gilding, yet look and wear like water gilding. The final appearance of moldings in which the original gilding was isolated with a synthetic resin and regilded in a traditional manner will be compared with a molding where major losses were isolated, filled and gilded and minor losses were isolated and inpainted.

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