Saturday, March 13, 2010

Abbey Strand- Painted Ceiling

This project focused on a
decoratively painted timber beam ceiling (early C17th) originally from Midhope castle which is now located in 'Abbey Strand', a late C15th three-story building located next to the Palace of Holyrood at the bottom of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. The building now houses the Historic Scotland bookshop and the treatment of the ceiling was carried out alongside conservators from South Gyle’s structural painting conservation unit.

This ‘beam and board’ timber ceiling was created during the Scottish ‘Renaissance', a period during the reign of James VI (1567-1625) when there was a flourishing of creative activity. A unique collection of painted ceilings, mainly of this type of construction have been found throughout the country.

The oak support beams were painted on all three sides with a design involving geometric patterns, scroll-work and sunbursts. Working in a water-based glue tempera medium or 'distemper' the design was outlined in black over a white chalk ground and then filled in with color. It is unlikely that the decoration received a protective covering by the original artist as often their intention was to achieve an entirely matte surface finish.

Close-up of flaking paint

It was noted that the paint was actively flaking and required immediate attention and stabilization. Distemper paint is often under-bound and appears to be powdery, it is inadvisable to make direct contact with the paint layer during treatment as this is likely to remove it. Therefore it was necessary to work through Japanese facing tissue.

Brushing a weak gelatin solution through Japanese facing tissue

A gelatin solution was chosen to consolidate the powdery and flaking paint because it does not not affect the refractive index (RI) of this paint, hence not changing the appearance, and is not an alien material. However is is very hygroscopic and vulnerable to fluctuations in relative humidity (RH) so a controlled environment is essential.

A cotton swab is used to apply light pressure to lay down the areas of lifting paint whilst removing excess gelatin solution and solublilized surface dirt. The facing tissue is then carefully removed whilst still damp and the painted surface is allowed to dry naturally.

Finished treatment: the delicate surface has been stabilized, flaking areas laid down and surface appears slightly brighter due to removal of some surface dirt.

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