Restoring a neo gothic saint - or two...
When the statue of Saint Teresa of Avila arrived she was wearing some uncharacteristic green eyeshadow. To be fair, in her teenage years Teresa was hailed as a ‘bit of a looker’, but once she’d had her conversion the trinkets and make-up were definitely ‘out’. While cloistered religious tend to a pale complexion, St. Teresa’s face appeared insipid when compared to the three other figures I had restored. Given that they were darkened by the oxidisation of old varnish, their faces were quite ruddy in comparison. A previous restorer had given her rounded pupils, whereas the originals were a little ovate, idiosyncratic of medieval polychrome figures.
Pimples on the Wimple.
On the base of one of the statues was the name of the studio and its creator, ‘Pr. Verloo, sculptor in Sottegem, Belgium’. Unfortunately, he had omitted a date so we cannot be certain when he sculpted these figures. (As always we were careful to preserve the original legend for historical reference.) The density of decorative detail found on them suggests any time between 1890 – 1910. Before the advent of the keyboard, schools taught basic skills of calligraphy and draughtsmanship; useful primary training for those who would become decorative artists of the day. As I ran my fingers across the edge of St. Teresa’s wimple, it seemed that her wimple had pimples resembling braille; an indication of it having originally been decorated with jewels or pearls of some sort.
Years of air born incense and detritus had stained the paler colours of her mantle more severely than those areas painted gold. I searched the statue for clues to the original colours in the deep folds of her garments. It is surprising how these often escape the rigours of age. I mixed several colour samples to achieve the right shade of buff.
The corrugated surfaces of these statues makes them particularly difficult to clean and repaint; the ridges being susceptible to scuffing. However, I was able to clean and prepare the surface sufficient for the new colours to adhere well. Once cleaning had been accomplished areas of the decoration, which had been selectively ‘touched up’ many years ago, became obvious.
Cleaning also revealed more clearly the extent of the woodworm infestation. The complex decoration had to some extent camouflaged its presence. The woodworm had travelled from the base, up one leg and as far as the hands. This is my chance to say that it was a very ‘holey’ statue... (Some puns never get old!)
These areas were treated chemically, to ensure the blighters tunnelled no more. David removed approximately a quarter of the base, which had been badly affected, and replaced it with one he had carved to match the original.
Saint Teresa Restored.
Repainting densely decorated Gothic statuary is somewhat like running a mini-marathon. It is difficult to describe just how physically demanding it can be. Painting a fine line on a flat surface can’t compare to the twists and turns of three dimensional drapery. However, when all is complete, its rewarding to see for the first time (maybe in this case 100 years), the statue of St. Teresa looking as good as it was meant to be.