One last look at the marbles

Just before the holidays, Mark the marble guy dropped by the NCMA to take one last look at the classical marble sculptures before he could hand over his reports and catalogue entries. Again we had to work in the dark galleries of the museum, but luckily we didn’t have to start as late as before… the sun sets much sooner in winter!

Assisted by Caroline “the Younger” (who was my intern in the spring), we reexamined the troublesome Hercules and just a few other sculptures with Mark’s nifty and very powerful flashlight, his new portable microscope and under ultraviolet lights. We also took photographs (UV and VIL/IRR) of details based on our earlier “night at the museum” sessions.  This should be the last examination of the marbles and the research on these works of art is pretty much completed… but the project continues with the study of other ancient objects from different Classical cultures and made from different materials.

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South Italy and Sicily: the research continues

The research on the NCMA’s classical collection continues and that is making me really, really happy. It might not be related to ancient Egypt or Nubia, but at least it’s ancient! Very late in November, our intellectual travels took us to South Italy and Sicily, where the ancient Greeks established colonies. Keely H, who is an expert on this material, took a look at the small collection from the art historical and archaeological standpoint; she was assisted by yours truly as well as Stacey, NCMA conservation technician. Objects conservator Corey was examining the collection from the conservation perspective.

The collection consists of various ceramic vessels, some of which are wonderfully coloured… but are all these pigments actually ancient?  That is the question!  We are trying to find the answer by looking at the objects under UV lights, by X-ray fluorescence (which was done by NCMA paintings conservator Noelle who is not on the photos), and hopefully even by sampling for further testing in later months.  Stay tuned for that!

Black light on Bacchus

The recent work on the NCMA’s statue of a Bacchus was featured in my post on August 11; however, there appeared yesterday on Circa, the Museum blog, a fabulous post (if I may say so myself) that delves into the actual UV examination and the Bacchus Conservation Project like never before. Check out the very awesome video on Circa: Black Light on Bacchus: Inside a UV Exam.

I have to thank Luke for the video editing, sound editing and film footage, Karen M. and Chris for the stills and UV photos, Karen K. for the post storyboard and editing, Stacey and Corey for their conservation eye, Maggie and the guys for moving Bacchus around, Noelle for poking her head in the studio once in a while to check if we needed anything and Emily for mentioning our UV session on social media (which actually attracted the attention of journalists). 

Bacchus in one day

This week, I had planned a three or four day photography session of the statue of Bacchus… the statue that is soon to be object of a special conservation project. The session included regular photography, documentary photography and videography as well as UV examination and photography. Basically, Bacchus got the treatment he did not receive last summer during our nights at the museum.

The statue was brought to the museum’s photo studio and we spent the whole day examining every surface and every break under ultraviolet and regular light.  Below are some pictures I took with my BlackBerry (and one is courtesy of Corey and her iPhone–that would be the one of me on the ladder with Chris).

We were so efficient and everything went so smoothly that we were done by 3pm today!  Bacchus was done in one day! All of us working on this project were rather pleased because it means we have the rest of the week to catch up on stuff.  In my case, I’ll work on a conference presentation… and, if I can get that done quickly, get back to my revisions of an article slated for publication. I’m so glad we finished early!

UVF: Night at the Museum

I thought I would start my series of posts about the scientific methods we used for the study of the marbles with Ultraviolet Fluorescence Imaging (UVF imaging). Works of art are regularly examined under ultraviolet light because it reveals restorations, retouches, varnishes as well as some colour pigments, which have characteristic fluorescence under UV. (Ultraviolet light is often called ‘black light,’ something you’ll be familiar with if you’ve ever set foot in a night club.)

UVF examination and imaging needs to be done in the dark, so we worked in the small x-ray suite in the conservation lab. There are no windows there, and by closing the door, we had all the darkness we needed to look at the small marble objects (they were taken out of the galleries for the study). However, for the large sculptures (which could not be moved), we had to be in the museum galleries at night! That was a little strange…

Simple UV examination can be done with a hand-held UV lamp, which you shine on the work of art as you look at it closely (wearing protective goggles). UVF imaging necessitates a digital SLR camera equipped with UV filters set up on a tripod. The camera is controlled by a computer and photos are taken when UV light is shone on it (either with large lamps, as in the case of Hercules, or hand-held flash with a UV filter). With the photographs, you then have a record of the fluorescence of the pigments and other surface treatments and their location.

Doing UVF was like travelling back to the 80s: the ultraviolet lights, the neon colours, the bright white, and the music playing from my iPod. We had a blast! As I have had this incredible urge to watch Blade Runner since we looked at Hercules under UV on June 22, I put it on my Netflix list… and the DVD arrived today. Enjoy the post and pictures while I watch Harrison Ford and Sean Young in this 1982 sci-fi movie.