- 1 Technical structure research and material identification under guidance of J. Olszewska-Świetlik P (...)
1Conservation and restoration of a tabernacle (ill. 01) from a church in Marianka Pasłęcka was a long, multistage process, which, research and documentation included1, lasted almost three years.
Fig. 1 The open tabernacle from the church in Marianka Pasłęcka
View before treatment, with a monstrance’s inside
Credits N. Gruszczyk
2Initially, there was a plan to perform the conservation of a painted door only, but after having a careful look at the artefact we realized it was impossible to unhinge it. The medieval hinges were hot-hammered. The only way to rescue the painting on the door was to take the whole tabernacle out of the wall. After removal, it turned out that the wooden construction needed immediate conservation intervention.
- 2 Nowiński, J., Ars Eucharistica. Idee, miejsca i formy towarzyszące przechowywaniu eucharystii w szt (...)
- 3 Ibidem, p. 39-40.
- 4 Ibidem, p. 131-157.
- 5 Ibidem, p. 162.
- 6 Ibidem, p. 167-202.
- 7 Jurkowlaniec, G., Chrystus Umęczony. Ikonografia w Polsce od XIII do XIV wieku, Warszawa, DiG, 2001 (...)
- 8 Nowiński, J., op. cit., p.224.
3The way of storing the Eucharist has changed through the centuries. In Christian antiquity (until 4th – 5th century A.D.) the Corpus Christi was kept in Christians’ homes.2 In the early Middle Ages (4th – 8th century A.D.) reserving the Eucharist in churches became more popular. It was reserved in caskets called scrinium or capsa and in boxes called, precisely, pyxis3. Their form evolved and became more elaborate. Finally the increasing need for ensuring the safety of the Eucharist developed the form of a hanging tabernacle – tabernaculum pensile in the 9th century.4 The turning point in the history of storing the Eucharist was the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), which defined the dogma of Transubstantiation and ordered the Eucharist to be locked away.5 Their decisions were implemented in Poland in the first half of the 13th century. Then, the Synod in Gniezno (1407-1411) required that the place to reserve Corpus Christi must be clean, worthy, separate, distinguished, decorative and securely closed. The realizations of the injunction were usually expanded, freestanding tabernacle constructions or cupboard tabernacles placed in the wall niche (armarium), such as the one discussed.6 It was often surrounded by murals of appropriate themes. There are many such tabernacles in Poland. The earliest one is in a church in Bejsce (the south part of Poland, 1360-1380 or about 1400).7 However, paintings on the door, such as in the one described, are found very rarely. In Europe the earliest image of Christ in Sorrows painted on a tabernacle can be found in Rodig in Bavaria (1330). In Poland it was quite popular in Pomerania (a region of north Poland), but nowadays few of them have been preserved, among others in Chełmno (the turn of the 14th century) or Mątwy Wielkie (mid-15th century) – both of them almost unreadable. In the early modern period the need of the faithful grew to be close to the Eucharist. This resulted in placing the tabernacles in the centre of the main altar’s retable and the cessation of the cupboard tabernacle form.8
4The tabernacle takes the form of a cupboard or wall-cabinet, with dimensions of 108 x 80 x 40 cm, made of wood, closed with a forged iron bar and massive doors (Ill. 02) with the representation of Vir Dolorum painted on the inside.
Fig. 2 The tabernacle's door
Tabernacle’s door with its original, elaborate, well-functioning lock
Credits N. Gruszczyk
- 9 The construction of the church began in 1342. In the first place the chancel with the vestry was b (...)
5The grating is closed with two, decorated, well-functioning locks, which have been used up to now, as well as a more elaborate lock on the outside of the door. The interior of the cabinet is decorated with a red paint layer and paper, silvered stars. The bright green paint layer on the edges of the boards forms a framing for the red interior. The tabernacle is kept in the gothic church of St. Peter and Paul9 in Marianka Pasłęcka (a village in the northeast part of Poland). It is placed in a slightly bigger niche cut in the north-eastern wall of the chancel, at the height of 142 cm from the present level of the floor. This is its original position (Ill. 03). The lack of signatures and inscriptions makes it difficult to determine accurately the time of creation and the maker of the artefact. In the literature on the subject it is dated variously: to the first quarter, middle or second half of the 15th century. Only a careful formal analysis allowed us to determine its inception in the first half of 15th century.
Fig. 3 The tabernacle in its original location
The chancel of the St. Peter and Paul church in Marianka Pasłęcka in Poland
Credits : J.M. Arszyńska
6The representation is based on a central composition (Ill. 04).
7Fig. 4 The painting Man in Sorrows
The inner side of the tabernacle door before the treatment
Credits N. Gruszczyk
8At first glance what stands out is a distinct contrast of colour patches, typical for the Middle Ages. The main element of the composition is a naked figure of Christ with Arma Christi, wearing a short perisonium with two, long festoons. He is standing on a floor of black and light-grey tiles, against a blue, unreal space. There is a crucifix with a plate behind him and the chalice with the Host next to him. The painting is edged by a green and red bordure around. The blue background is decorated with silvered paper stars. Modelling of the painting is not developed, but based on black, exprenssive lines of drawing. The form of the body of Christ is characteristic for early-medieval painting, especially wide elbows and fin-like feet. On the other hand, such a short perisonium and open eyes are typical for gothic art. Similarly, further discussions and analyses supported by historians of art resulted in a proposal of dating the artefact to the first half of 15thcentury.
9The cabinet consists of six oak boards and each of them is approx. 4-5 cm thick. The side planks are fastened to the upper and lower ones with pitched, roofed dovetails. The two rear boards are nailed with wooden pegs and iron nails. The iron grating is attached to the cupboard by three hinges, while the door by two.
10The painting Vir Dolorum is painted with pigments characteristic for the Middle Ages, such as natural malachite green, natural azurite, plant black, ceruse, organic red (glazes on the paper stars – Ill. 05), vermilion and iron oxide red. The last two are used also in the interior of the cupboard.
Fig. 5 Vis/UV photographs of the sample of paper star stratygraphy
1. azurite paint layer, 2. starch glue, 3. paper, 4. priming, 5. varnish - mixtion (?), 6. silver foil, 7. organic red glaze.
11The representation is painted on a chalk-casein priming. The binder of all paint layers is oil-casein emulsion, used to grind the paints – fat tempera on the painting and thin on the interior boards. The artist was painting by imposing one or two paint layers, creating quite flat colour patches. Only in the blue background there is a dark-grey underpainting. The form of the presentation is shaped mainly by the vivid, black drawing, which specifies the details of the figure of Christ. Fortunately, the painting has never been overpainted.
- 10 Kwiczala-Sojecka, M., Cadastralcard of the artefact , entry from October 1969.
- 11 Gawryluk, M.,Cadastral card of the artefact , entry from October 1979.
12The state of preservation of the artefact was diversified. In the worst condition were the elements that had contact with the damp walls of the church. The reasons for a high degree of dampness were a roof leak, a cement band on the church’s walls and the bad shape of the terrain around the rarely frequented building. A matter of a great concern was the degradation of the painting. It is worth noting that in the cadastral card of the tabernacle from 1969,10 the condition of the artefact was defined as follows: a good condition, pale colours. In the next cadastral card from 197911 it is written: The painting on the inner side of the door is very damaged, almost illegible with trends to continue shedding. It requires the conservation intervention. Those records show how quickly such a significant change could occur in this centuries-old artefact.
13The moisture of the wall had seeped into the tabernacle boards, particularly into the bottom one. The dovetails and bottom joints were in the worst condition. Water had penetrated the wooden structure, weakening the deeper fibres. Consequently, the connectors were degraded up to 60%, being unable to fulfil their function any longer. The surface of the bottom tabernacle boards was porous, the wood was supported by a grid of late wood only. Softer early wood was completely damaged (Ill. 06).
Fig. 6 Wood destruction
Focus on the bottom dovetails
Credits N. Gruszczyk
14The top board was in the best condition, although even there cracking and darkening had occurred. However, the durability of oak spared the paint layers on the other side of the boards from destruction, because the damage concentrated on the outside surface only.
15On the metal elements, which had direct contact with moisture, far-reaching corrosion has developed – active at the moment of the removal of the artefact from the wall. There were corrosion products in colours from yellow through orange to red. The flat iron surface was uneven and porous, as the result of pitting corrosion. Delamination and many losses of metal were caused also by the layer corrosion. Bars, up to 2-3 mm thick, were often corroded in their entire thickness (Ill. 07). Fortunately, it did not cause any damage to the structural elements (e.g. the hinges).
Fig. 7 Layer corrosion
Layer corrosion on the steel bar
Credits N. Gruszczyk
16Changes in temperature and humidity caused movements of the wood. Consequently, the paint layers with the priming started to separate from the support assuming roof-shaped ridges and creating new lacunas.
17A dark, quiet and damp church was an ideal place for biological damage. The main pests here were fungi and silverfishes. The fungi attacked the outer surface of the construction, causing characteristic cracks of the wood across its fibres. Moreover, there were some whitenings on the surface of the wood, just after the tabernacle was removed from the niche.
18The big unknown were extensive losses of the paint layer (Ill. 04, 08), especially of the light colours (flesh colour, goblet, bright tiles) and the area along the door’s edge (green and red bordure, sections of the background and crucifix bordered with them).
Fig. 8 Fragment of the painting
Fragment – missing flesh colour – especially the Christ's face, some parts of the background and the crucifix
Credits N. Gruszczyk
- 12 Consultations with microbiologist J. Karbowska-Berent PhD; Strzelczyk, A. B., Karbowska-Berent, J. (...)
19There were no deposits or other distinctive signs of microbial or fungi infection, but the sharp, jagged edges of cavities drew the researchers’ attention. It was found that the possible organism that could get to a tabernacle located 1.5 m above the floor, and cause such destruction, is the silverfish.12 It often feeds on substances such as casein, present in the priming and paint layer. On the other hand, it is averse to copper, which is present in azurite, which is a component of the background layer, virtually untouched by biological attack. Regardless of the reason for such severe defects, one of the most important parts of the painting – Christ’s face – was almost completely destroyed. The traces of eyes and lips were the only ones preserved.
20The damage caused by human activities started from the very first interventions while clamping the lock on the outside door. For this purpose, the nails were driven through the wood and bent on the painting-side, which resulted in distortions of the wood and loosening of the paint layer. Furthermore, there are 50 gunshot holes of unknown origin on the whole surface of the painting, of which 48 have a bullet inside. It is interesting, that there is no trace of similar damage on any other element of the artefact, so the shots were aimed precisely at the representation of Christ in Sorrows. Moreover, there are yellow emulsion paint stains on almost the entire surface of the painting. It probably flowed on to the door while the chancel walls were painted. Stains caused leaching of the paint layer. Another effect of human lack of awareness is the washing of Christ’s skin, probably done with a wet cloth. This resulted in a blurring of the residually preserved figure. Next, damage mechanically caused by a human is a deep hole (9x4.5 cm) probably cut in order to get to the lock from the side of the painting. Similar, but much bigger (about 40 cm) loss of timber appears in the rear boards. The other damage is the result of use – mainly scratches and abrasions. Most of the abrasions were caused by hitting and rubbing the bar against the door. The deepest ones are the traces of prominent alligator-clips and rosettes. There is also fraying at the edges, where the door was often caught by hand.
21The primary objective of conservation work was to stop the destructive processes, which focused on the wooden construction of the tabernacle, the metal fittings and the painting. At each conservation-restoration decision, the benefit of the artefact in accordance with the conservation ethic was undoubtedly taken into account. Simultaneously the opinion of the pastor of the church, who was trying to satisfy his congregation in all possible ways, could not be ignored. Therefore, ensuring the tabernacle’s safe return to its original site and enabling him to do his duties were the next targets to be met.
22A high degree of moisture in the wall gave a status of archaeological damage to the boards that required rapid intervention immediately after arrival to the workshop. Drying wood became very brittle and fragile, so it was necessary to reinforce it before the wood dried. Simultaneously, the necessary conservation of metal elements was to be carried out.
23Before we started these treatments it was necessary to apply a protective facing and padding to the painting, using paper napkins and polyvinyl alcohol. After removing them, it was decided to perform the consolidation with fish glue introduced through paper napkins. This treatment softened hard paint flakes and caused them to lie down, gently cleaning the entire painting at the same time and reducing some whitenings. Sensitivity of tempera paint layers requires very delicate handling, so overall cleaning was not continued, and further treatment was focused only on the removal of the most disturbing emulsion paint stains. Applying compresses of methylcellulose was the chosen method. All of the above treatments constituted a minimum of conservation intervention.
24The main restoration problems were the decision on the arrangement of the tabernacle, and the degree of the reconstruction of the painting. The artefact is going to be returned to its original location – the gothic church, which is still used by the parish community. It should satisfy the aesthetic requirements tailored to the level of damage of the tabernacle and the interior of the church. The biggest problem was the decision to designate the degree of the reconstruction of the representation. There were big losses in the supporting panel (approx. 5%), priming (approx. 35%) and the layer of paint (approx. 40%). The scene was readable but lacking many important details such as the face of Christ.
25Conservation and restoration were a multi-step process, involving different areas of conservation. The aspects described below were identified as the most interesting ones.
26The tabernacle was built into a wall of very high humidity. Despite the undertaken preventive measures, quite rapid change of conditions after transporting the artefact to the workshop, carried the threat of rapid drying of soaked boards, which would result in their destruction. It was decided to proceed as quickly as possible with the impregnation of wood, so that the released water would be immediately replaced by resin. The selected resin was 5% solution of Paraloid B72 in toluene, because it is resistant to water, solutions of acids, bases and salts, and insensitive to UV rays, does not cross-link and has good hardness and adhesion to various substrates. The selected solvent allowed for adequate penetration of resin into the wood. Due to the size, extensive form and the presence of corroded iron elements, which required individual treatment, it was impossible to impregnate by immersion in the solution. After tests were conducted, it was found that applying the consolidant with a brush was inefficient. It could only be employed as a supplementary method. In parallel, further attempts were made to develop some different, effective methods of applying the resin, which should do the following:
provide the access to impregnate the entire thickness of the boards,
supply the resin at the speed adjusted to the rate of wood absorption,
allow for efficient performance of the treatment, including regular inspections.
27Tests were carried out on the bottom board and the edges of rear and side boards. The method tried first was injection. Theoretically, it meets the above conditions. The tested method was a static injection The solution, placed in an open syringe was to flow through a needle, placed in a crack in the wood. The free penetration of the wooden structure was to be achieved exclusively by hydrostatic forces. The tests were performed with a 5% solution, syringes of different capacities and needles of different sizes. The tools were compiled in various combinations, but each time the solution penetrated freely only for the first few minutes, then the needle became clogged. This was probably caused by a high degree of wood destruction, which had led to fragmentation and crushing of the fibres, clogging the needle. The other reason was the fact that the wood around the injection sites quickly became saturated with the resin, which dried on the perimeter of the supersaturated area, preventing further propagation of the solution.
28The second method was soaking through a compress. To prevent it from drying out, it was necessary to ensure a continuous supply of the consolidant and reduce evaporation of the solvent. To this end, a drip was developed. A glass container was placed on a tripod above the working area and a polyethylene tube perforated at the end was attached to it. The end of the tube was wrapped in gauze, which formed a compress. For regulating the flow of the consolidant, two glass taps were mounted on the tube. The method proved to be suitable for impregnating the horizontal surfaces of the boards (Ill. 09). In order to prevent too rapid an evaporation rate, during treatment the tabernacle was covered with a sheet of polyester. The huge advantage of the method was the possibility of controlling not only the flow rate of the consolidant, but also the size of the compress.
Fig. 9 Wood consolidation
Wood consolidation with the solution of resin supplied by a drip
Credits N. Gruszczyk
29The boards were sequentially impregnated, by turning the cupboard from side to side, so that the impregnated surface was always horizontal. For the most devastated places, where the use of a compress would bring the risk of the emergence of stains in the interior, a dynamic injection impregnation method was employed (using a standard piston).
30After the wood consolidation, the surface of each of the boards was cleaned of stains and glares by gauze compresses soaked in acetone and synthetic brushes, which allowed us to remove the resin from narrow crevices and hollows of the wood. Subsequently, the necessary repairs of the boards were performed.
- 13 Consultations with a metal conservator K. Wantuch PhD; http://www.farbyprzemyslowe-impa.pl/pliki/T (...)
31At first, corrosion products had to be removed. For this purpose it was treated chemically and mechanically with tools such as steel wool, scalpel, sandpaper and microgritter. Then the surface was protected against the development of further corrosion. Elements that touch the wall of the niche had to be painted with a zinc paint. When the moisture level dangerously rises, damaging corrosion processes develop in the layer of paint instead of iron.13 The lattice and locks did not require such protection. It was enough to clean them, cover with a layer of tannin and Paraloid D44 resin in xylene. Lubricating the locks improved their working mechanisms.
- 14 An off-white shade wood putty diluted by water.
32The purpose of conservation and restoration of the paintings was not to achieve a state approaching the original one, but, the clarity of form, allowing the artefact to be returned to the church in order to continue its cult functions. Supplementing a thin layer of priming (56-117 microns) was mainly applied as a support of fragile edges of the paint layer. The mass was introduced only in places where there was an apparent difference in height between the board and the layer of the original paint, which carried the risk of future flaking of paint layers. In addition, the abrasions left by grating, brushing against the door, and gunshot holes etc. were treated as traces of the tabernacle’s history and have not been completed. The applied mixture was a ready-made wood putty.14 It was impossible to work the applied putty with water, because the sensitivity of paint layers did not allow for its use. After the trial of solvents, it was decided to use white spirit mainly, only in critical places turning to acetone or a mechanical method of levelling with a scalpel to a very thin layer.
33Then it was decided to proceed with complementing the paint layers. Firstly only on the priming fillings. Watercolours were chosen as paints for reintegration. The fillings of the blue background were washed to match the original colour of underpainting – a mixture of black and burnt umber, and green and red parts were washed with a mixture of black and burnt umber. The chosen colour was going to darken the bright colour of the priming additions before applying the next layer of retouching.
- 15 The risk of the resin being affected by humidity is not significant, since the climate conditions (...)
34When the painting was ready for the final stage of restoration, it was decided to cover it with varnish, to create an isolation under the retouching and a protective layer that will not change the original appearance of tempera paint layers. Tests were made on three different batches of colour. On the basis of the observation of sample areas lasting 48 hours, the dammar matte varnish was selected. It only gently and evenly saturated the painting’s colours.15 The final reintegration was performed with dispersion acrylic paints, characterized by the gloss and colour saturation similar to the greasy tempera paint which the representation was painted with.
35The purpose of reconstruction was to make the painting more readable and reintegrate it in a distinguishable way, so hatching was the method selected for retouching. The degree of reconstruction was a compromise between the two extremes:
The tabernacle is not a museum artefact. After the treatment it is going to be returned to the church, where it will be placed in its previous location. It has not been determined if it will fulfil its primary functions, but probably will be accessible to the faithful as an object of worship. It is the argument for a full reconstruction.
Each reconstruction distorts, to some extent, the reliability of the artefact as a historic object. One can never be absolutely sure of its relevance, even after careful analysis and research. This is an argument against the reconstruction.
36Subjects of discussion were both the reconstruction of Christ’s figure, especially his face, the reconstruction of the cross, especially the titulus plate and the extent of reconstruction of schematic tiles and monochrome backgrounds. Decisive here were the artefact’s function and finding archival photographs showing the painting with a still existing, relatively clear representation of Christ (Ill. 10). The shape of the defects pointed to the presence of signs on the cross, but none of the available sources reported its exact appearance. This limitation has designated the boundaries of reconstruction. It was decided to restrict reintegration to the areas of priming supplements, and to the central parts of the painting – the figure and chalice – preserving the character of a destroyed, historic painting. Other losses were left in the uniform colour of the wood. In conclusion, the planned reconstruction took place only where it was possible to determine the original modelling. At the same time it was noted that such a schematic background allows the viewers to create the impression of a complete painting in their minds.
37Combining the information from the surviving remnants of paint layers, archival photographs and paintings of similar performances, attempts were made to recreate the painting as faithfully as possible. First to be reintegrated were places where the priming complement was applied and where the original one was without preserved paint layers - some parts of the blue background, green and red bordure (Ill. 10).
Fig. 10 Archival photograph
One of two archival photographs showing a relatively clear painting
Credits : HUBATSCH, W., Geschichte der evangelischen Kirche Ostpreussens. Bilder Ostpreussischer Kirchen, vol. II, bearbeitet von Iselin Gundermann, Göttingen – Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1968, ill. 275
38In reintegrating the red and green bordure, measures were taken not to create sharp contours, because it would impose an alien, acute form of additions. In such places hatches were rarer and did not reach to the edge. Then work on the reconstruction of the chalice started. After underpainting with light-grey, some warm-grey hatches were plotted. Then the reconstruction of the contour drawing was made, with a suggestion of ornament on the nodus, which was faintly visible in the archive photos. At the final stage of reconstruction, reintegration of the figure was performed, trying to get as much information as possible from the archival photographs and preserved remnants of paint layers. Additionally – especially for the face – printouts of the archival photography had previously been made, to determine retouched details by drawing tests. After completing the reconstruction (Ill. 11, 12), the final dammar matte varnish was applied.16
Fig. 11 Fragment of the painting after conservation and restoration
The figure of Christ has been distinguishably reconstructed by hatching
Credits : N. Gruszczyk
Fig. 12 The tabernacle
After conservation and restoration
Credits : N. Gruszczyk
39The treatment of the tabernacle from Marianka Pasłęcka involved both some obvious, necessary decisions and some controversial ones. In each case the benefit of the artefact was taken into account in the first place. It is shocking that the most serious destruction of this medieval artefact occurred probably over the span of several years in the 20th century. It seems that for the protection of monuments no treatment is as important as changing the consciousness of the owners or guardians of the artefacts. The lack of proper care has led to the current destruction of the tabernacle.
40The described tabernacle was saved. The executed reconstructions are limited and unobtrusive, but the authentic work of the artist living in the 15th century has been lost forever. The performed treatment may protect the tabernacle against further destruction, and the reconstruction may help to visualize the original aesthetic conception, provided that this time it is not neglected as it was in the second half of the 20th century.