Deconstructing Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Terracotta Modello for the Fountain of the Moor. Really.

Tony Sigel


Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s magnificent terracotta Modello for the Fountain of the Moor in the collection of the Kimbell Art Museum, was created in 1653 and is one of the largest in Bernini’s oeuvre. This talk describes the author’s recently completed technical study and conservation treatment of the sculpture.

The technical study was undertaken to discover both Bernini’s original clay modeling techniques and understand its condition and restoration history. The vicissitudes of the last three hundred fifty years had left it unstable and badly soiled with substantial losses and poorly executed restorations. The analytical methods included close surface examination, X-radiography, entomology, pigment analysis and Pyrolysis GCMS to identify earlier surface coatings.

The discussion of the conservation treatment describes the damage, losses and condition issues that necessitated the treatment, and the practical and ethical considerations faced in choosing those areas of loss areas to be restored, and those to be left un-restored.

A step-wise progression of cleaning techniques including the Lynton ND:Yag laser allowed a finely calibrated approach to this irreversible process. Earlier restorations were removed that obscured compelling details of the original work. The treatment methods and materials were tailored for strength, stability, and reversibility- the materials held to very few well studied and understood types– to avoid possible negative interactions in the future, the re-use of old staple/dowel holes, and simplified future disassembly methods. The techniques, tools, and materials discussed will include disassembly; surface cleaning with a variety of methods; detachable, structural plaster of Paris fills; and the re-creation of a set of Bernini’s original modeling tools for use in direct modeling of recreated loss areas. Finally, inpainting methods and materials for terracotta will be discussed, and the ethical acceptability and use of so-called invisible restorations.