1The Gothic painted decoration in the interior of the village church of St. Peter and Paul in Marianka near Pasłęk (northern Poland, Elbląg area) constitutes a complex of paintings with complicated form and content, which was created over the course of first half of the fifteenth century.
- 1 BOETTICHER A., Die Wandmalerein in der Kirche zu Marienfelde, Kr. Pr. Holland, Sitzungberichte der (...)
2These paintings have been researched by art historians since 1892, when they were discovered during refurbishing works in the church. 1 However, until 2012, they had not been completely revealed, and as such had not been available for thorough analysis. Now, they make up one of the largest and better preserved examples of mediaeval painted decorations of church interiors in the region.
3The paintings are located in nave. The pictorial content of the decoration comprises the following scenes: Annunciation (fig. 1), situated on the east wall, north of the chancel arch, and the Intercession - a fragmentary figural scene with enthroned God the Father, Christ and St Barbara – south of the chancel arch. Starting from the east side on the south wall is the Apostolic Cycle, which continues on the north wall, reading from west to east side (fig. 2).
Fig. 1 East wall of the nave
Left of the chancel arch: The Annunciation (Virgin on the right side and Angel on the left)
Credits © S. Kudła
Fig. 2 South wall. Apostolic cycle
St Andrew and St John, St James the Elder and St Thomas.
Credits © J.M. Arszyńska
4The first (easternmost) window splay on the south wall (in the nave) shows the best preserved part of the decoration – the image of the Virgin and Child (fig.3). This scene was first revealed in 2011 during the conservation works.
Fig. 3 Window-splay
Virgin and the Child
Credits © J.M. Arszyńska
5On the north wall, in addition to the above mentioned Apostolic Cycle, there is also a scene depicting the Ecstasy of Mary Magdalene, which is located on the eastern part of this wall (fig.4).
Fig. 4. North wall
Next to the first window from the right is the scene of the Ecstasy of Mary Magdalene.
Credits © S. Kudła
- 2 Ibid. p. 16-20
- 3 SCHMID B. Bau und Kunstdenkmäler der Ordenszeit in Preussen, vol. 1, Marienburg 1939, pp. 124-125
- 4 KOSTECKI R. Herby w kościele gotyckim w Mariance, by courtesy of the authorof a paper to be publi (...)
6In addition to the figural scenes, very important elements of this decoration are the coats of arms of the founders (members of the Teutonic Order) placed on the south and north wall. On the north wall, the Stegelitz family’s coat of arms is located under the representation of the last two Apostles, while, on the south wall, there are three heraldic representations: the Reuss von Plauen’s coat of arms and two other coats of arms that are difficult to identify. Previous researchers assigned the first unidentified coat of arms either to the von Creytzen2 family or the family of von Lubichau.3 Currently, after the removal of thesecondary layers of whitewash, the coat of arms revealed slightly different details. Now, it is difficult to assign this unidentified coat of arms to a particular person. Presumably, there was line of knights, whose coat of arms was very similar to the one in the church in Marianka.4After a virtual reconstruction of the original colour scheme, it was possible to determine that the shape and colour of this crest is close to that of the von Schönbug family.
- 5 See for example: AZE S., VALLET, J-M., Chromatic degradation processes of red lead pigment, ICOM (...)
7The study on mural paintings in Marianka involved the analysis of techniques and technology of painted decoration, which had not been the carried out previously. The investigation was very interesting, because it was necessary to establish the nature of the pigment, which had changed into black and brownish-black in some parts of the figural representations. Most surprising were the black nimbuses around the heads of the Saints, which led to the assumption that it could not be the effect intended by the artist. The phenomenon is common on lime-based Gothic wall paintings. 5 In this work the supposed colour changes of the pigments were also discussed. After identification of the discoloured pigments, it was possible to make a virtual reconstruction of the original colour scheme of the murals.
8The program of research focused on the examination of technique and technology of mural paintings on the south and north walls in the nave and also paintings on both sides of the chancel arch. Samples were taken from both plaster and paint, and from all of the figural and ornamental representations. The basic research consisted of an analysis of the surface of painting in visible and ultraviolet light, which was followed by specialized tests and research. X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (XRF) was employed to establish the elemental composition of the samples. Other samples were assigned for the preparation of cross-sections, which were necessary to determine the stratigraphy of the painted decoration. This was followed by a number of physical, chemical and micro-biological analyses, performed using a microscope at a magnification of 40-500x (on samples of paint layers and cross-sections).
9The painting in the church in Marianka consists of three main layers: substructure (support) of red, evenly fired, brick. The next layer comprises a sand-and-lime mortar, which was applied to make a relatively level wall surface to paint on. The plaster, of very varied thickness, had been applied in a relatively thin layer quite freely, resulting in an uneven surface (fig.5).
Fig. 5. The irregular surface of plaster
North wall, Scene with the Ecstasy of Mary Magdalene.
Credits © S. Kudła
10The next layer over the plaster is a lime whitewash, which shows different texture and thickness, often with the characteristic surface texture made by brushes strokes and splashes. A preliminary drawing was executed on the limewash. In one case (the Intercession scene), the drawing was made with some pointed tool like, for example, the tail end of a brush or stick, in wet plaster. The artist marked the most important features of the composition with this type of preliminary drawing. Another type of preliminary drawing was a kind of ‘calligraphic drawing’, made with a thin brush and a black paint This kind of drawing can be seen, for example, on the head of St Barbara. The third type of sketch was made using a thick brush and iron oxide red pigment. On a substrate prepared in this manner the artist painted the main figural decoration. The artists used pigments typical for the Gothic period:
11Iron oxide red, which in most representations was used to make a monochrome sketch.
- 6 CENNINO CENNINI, Rzecz o malarstwie, Florencja, 1933, s. 26
- 7 KOTULANOVÁ E. and others, op. cit., p. 368.
12Red lead – currently blackened but originally was an orange-red colour. Cennino Cennini, warned against the use of this pigment in the wall techniques6, already in the early 15th century however, it was relatively cheap and widely available, so it was often used anyway 7.
13Malachite is another pigment used in the murals in Marianka’s church that is not resistant to an alkaline environment. Also in this case there are some blackened areas in green parts of decoration. Microscopic imaging (fig. 6) demonstrates an example of a cross-section of a green part of one of the robes.
Fig. 6. Cross section of a sample from green robes
1. Plaster 2. One layer of whitewash, 3. Green layer – malachite, 4. Iron oxide red layer
Credit © Z. Rozłucka
14Yellow ochre and probably massicot were used for the yellow colours, the latter also had changed into black. Calcium carbonate (lime) was used for the white colour, and the black colour was made with bone black.
15As a result of the research, which was based on literature and the results of the analysis, a conclusion could be made regarding the execution of the mural paintings Three phases of execution could be distinguished and the input of four artists could be identified in the floral decoration. This division was based on differences in technology and stylistic features of particular parts. The first phase comprised the painting on the east wall, south of the chancel arch - Intercession - and the image of the Virgin and Child located in the first window splay on the south wall. These scenes had been executed in the same technology and style. Here, the human figures in each scene are presented against the background of similar floral decoration with green sprouts and red-and-green leaves. Decorative runners with pointed, relatively small leaves forming fantastic meanders wind around the figures. The ornament is additionally enriched with floral elements, trefoils and bells(Fig.7 B). It is the decorative element that distinguishes images from those depicting the Annunciation and the Apostles Peter and Paul(Fig.7 B).
Fig. 7. Floral decoration
A. Floral ornament around the scene of the Intercession and in the background of Virgin and Child; B. Floral ornament around the scene of the Annunciation and St Peter and St Paul.
Credit © J.M. Arszyńska
16These two images - Intercession and the Virgin and Child – are stylistically related, in particular the representations of the women. The technique of these scenes is different from the remaining scenes. Here, the preliminary drawing was either made with a sharp tool in wet plaster (fig.8) or calligraphically drawn with a thin brush (fig.9).
Fig. 8. Preliminary drawing with a sharp tool
East wall of the nave, right of the chancel arch the Intercession scene, hand of God the Father.
Credit © S. Kudła
Fig. 9. East wall of the nave, right of the chancel archthe Intercession scene
Head of St Barbara with barely visible calligraphic drawing
Credit © J.M. Arszyńska
17The next chronological phase consists of the scene of the Annunciation and the representations of the first two Apostles on the south wall – St Peter and St Paul. A common element of these two areas is an ornament in the form of a green sprout with green and red leaves. In comparison to the aforementioned ornament above the Intercession scene, and the image of the Virgin and Child, this form is more fluid, curving gently around the human figures. In this part, the ornament above the scenes does not have additional elements, such as flowers etc. (fig.7B). The technique of drawing is different from the scenes described above. It was probably made with a thin brush and black pigment, and the drawing of the halo over the heads of the saints was made by using a kind of drawing implement, such as a compass. Another feature shared by the scene of Annunciation and first two Apostles is the colour of halos., which are now black because of the altered red lead and/or massicot. Additionally, what these scenes have in common are bands with traces of inscriptions. Characterised by slenderness of form, the delicacy of gestures, both in the Intercession, Virgin with the Child as well as the Annunciation and the Apostles Peter and Paul, and the iconographic features allow the classification of these works to a beautiful style and date them to the first quarter of the 15th century.
18The last phase of the execution includes the representation of the other Apostles on the south and north wall and the scene of the Ecstasy of Mary Magdalene (Fig.2 and 4). Elements that connect the murals of this phase are monochromatic ornamental, and stylistic features, as well as technique. The scene with Mary Magdalene seems to differ slightly because it is presented on a higher part of the wall and is set in a rectangular frame filled with red (like in the scene of Intercession). It is difficult to define exactly how it was made, because this scene is preserved only in the form of drawing (fig.4). However, in view of the present study, it can be assigned to the same phase as the most of the Apostolic cycle. The technique of these scenes with the Apostles and Mary Magdalene is as follows: The substrate and the whitewash applied like in other parts of wall decoration in the nave but in this phase the drawing was made in differently. Here, a thick brush and iron oxide red were used.
19The preliminary drawing of the composition gave an opportunity to carry out further modelling. The figures’ robes were modelled with red lead, which in many parts has now turned black. The folds of robes were marked with a thick brush and with iron oxide red – especially evident in green parts of the robes (fig.6).
20Around the scenes with saints, monochromatic ornaments were painted with iron oxide red, applied alla prima. In some places traces of brush-strokes are marked clearly as well as splashes of red paint. The ornament around the apostles and Mary Magdalene can be divided into two types, made by two artisans. The first used only iron oxide red and he painted the red ornament with relatively thick sprouts and with leaves winding decoratively (fig.10A). The other artist painted the ornament using iron oxide red, and underlining the sprout with lighter red paint. The runners are stiffer and painted with a thinner sprout (fig.10B).
Fig. 10. Monochromatic floral decoration
A.Monochromatic floral decoration with thick sprouts and with leaves winding decoratively; B. Floral decoration with thinner sprout underlined with light red.
Credit © S. Kudła
21Apart from these two types of floral ornaments, a red ornamental band is painted about 1/3 of the height of the wall. All of the characteristic aspects described here, such as the technique, stylistic features and coats of arms of the families Reuss von Plauen and von Stegelitz, allow the mural painting to be dated to the second quarter of the 15th century.
- 8 The available research methods did not allow for a precise identification of the two pigments, b (...)
- 9 Methods of restoring the original colour are discussed further in the text.
22During the study, it was observed that the black areas in the figural images could hardly be intended by the artists – black halos and some black parts of robes are most probably the result of changes in colour of the pigments. As it was mentioned before, it is a common feature on lime-based Gothic wall paintings. The altered pigments in Marianka wall paintings are red lead and probably 8 massicot. Lead pigments were identified in laboratory tests and through in situ experiments carried out to restore the previous colour of red lead.9
- 10 FITZHUGH W.E. Read Lead and Minium, [in:] FELLER R., Artist’s Pigments, A Handbook of their Histo (...)
23The colour of the lead pigment changes vary depending on the part of decoration, mixing with other pigments and also on the technique of painting (the phase). The black product of reaction can be lead sulphide or lead oxide (IV).10 Taking into account the state of preservation and degrading factors, the latter seems to be the most probable product of corrosion of lead pigments in the church in Marianka. It is impossible to specify one factor affecting the changes in the colour of the decoration in the church. The following factors are the most probable:
Lime technique – lead pigments are not resistant to an alkaline environment.
Increased humidity – related with rising damp in walls and rainwater seeping through the leaking roof
Salts dissolved in water, which together with water can migrate through the church walls to the painted surface.
24The most likely cause is that the mural paintings had been repeatedly overpainted with whitewash.
- 11 GETTENS R. J., FITZHUGH W. F., WEST E., Malachite and Green Verditer, Studies in Conservation, 19, (...)
25Another pigment with a problem of blackening was malachite. This green pigment had not changed as much as it had distorted the aesthetic perception. On the largest areas, a wide range of changes were observed on the north wall exposed to the adverse effects of moisture. This wall was the most exposed to rainwater seeping through the roof and to rising damp. Main factors causing the corrosion of malachite are the influence of water and salts dissolved in water.11
- 12 KOLLER M., LEITNER H., PASCHINGER H., Reconversion of altered lead pigments in Alpine mural paint (...)
- 13 KARASZKIEWICZ P., Utlenione pigmenty ołowiowe w malowidłach ściennych i przywracanie ich pierwotn (...)
- 14 GIOVANNI S., MATTEINI M., MOLES A., Studies and developments concerning the problem of altered lea (...)
- 15 KARASZKIEWICZ P., op. cit.,pp. 240-241.
- 16 HARKAWY A., Zmiany fizyko – chemiczne pigmentów stosowanych w malarstwie ściennym i próby przywróce (...)
26During the study of the colour changes of pigments, it was decided to carry out an experiment aiming for restitution of the original colour of red lead pigment. Some previous attempts to restore the original colour of white lead were successful 12, as was one known attempt to restore the colour of read led 13. In those experiments hydrogen peroxide was used, which acts as a reducing agent in the acidic environment of acetic acid.14 This reaction consists of changing black lead oxide(IV) into lead acetate, which is then transformed into hydroxycarbonate under the influence of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The concentration of hydrogen peroxide is chosen individually for each object. The established 1% concentration of an acetic acid solution is safe for lime techniques. The concentration of hydrogen peroxide is chosen in such a way that the solution can be applied to the surface of wall decoration only for a short amount of time. According to the literature, the concentration of this solution can be in the range of 0,5 – 6%15. The solution can be applied directly to the surface through Japanese tissue paper or can be used by means of a poultice16.
27At Marianka it was decided to use Japanese tissue paper as a carrier and a solution of 1-3% hydrogen peroxide with 0.5 - 1% acetic acid. After the test, it was found out that the altered red lead is very sensitive and the change of the colour is far advanced. Therefore, the solution had to act as quickly as possible with a higher concentration of hydrogen peroxide. The best results were noticed with a 3% solution of hydrogen peroxide and with 1% acetic acid, acting for about 5 min. The experiment proved that to some extent it is possible to restore the original colour of altered red lead. The reinstated colour was orange- grey (fig.11).
Fig. 11 Experiment of restoring the colour of red lead
On the left side a part of restituted red lead which has an orange-grey colour.
Credit © S. Kudła
28However, it seems that the areas where the tests were performed show some damage to the paint layer. After analysing the process of recovery of the original lead pigment colour and its results, it was decided not to propose the recovery of the previous colour in all parts of the church’s wall decoration. The process seemed to be too risky for sensitive paint layers, especially parts of changed red lead adjacent to green parts of malachite, which is very sensitive to acid. Currently, the places with changed black red lead do not disturb the legibility of the figurative decoration.
29After examination and analyses, such as XRF testing, microscope examination of cross sections and attempts to restore the original colour of changed pigments, a virtual reconstruction of the original appearance of mural decoration could be made. After the analysis of the results of the examinations, tests and experiments, a hypothetical, virtual reconstruction of the original colour-scheme of the Gothic mural painting was made by the means of computer image processing, as presented below on a selected example (fig.12).
Fig. 12. Virtual reconstruction of the original colouring, St Thomas
On the left side current state of preservation and on the right side an attempt of virtual reconstruction of colours.
Credit © S. Kudła