Stories from the Conservators

Conservation stories

Restoring delicate and precious artworks requires deft and steady hands.

Read more about how the museum conservators restore works on paper, wood, plaster, bronze, wax, and plastic.

Sponsors The Royal Collection of Graphic Art.

Open Studio: Dürer under the knife!

5 September - 19 December 2014


A huge masterpiece by the Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer had been tucked away in storage for years. In 2014 was restored to its former splendour – and you could watch as the deft hands of the SMK conservators repaired tears, bumps, and discolorations.


A delicate, valuable work

Having a steady hand is extremely important when restoring art. Particularly when the work in question is a staggering 3 by 3.5 metres in size, 500 years old, extremely delicate – and very valuable. All these factors apply to The Arch of Honour of Maximilian I by the world-famous German Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528).


Join us in the engine room

Over time the work has been exposed to harmful light and changing climate conditions.In the spring of 2015 Dürer’s huge, composite picture will once again see the light of day in an exhibition arranged by The Royal Collection of Graphic Art.

In order to prepare the work for display it was treated by the SMK conservators in an open workshop where all visitors could watch the work being done and keep tabs on the entire restoration process.


Symbols of power, ornaments, and great battles
The work was commissioned by Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor, and is a veritable cornucopia of symbols of power, beautiful ornaments, fabulous beasts, and narratives about the emperor’s great battles – all of it carefully orchestrated to celebrate and exalt the emperor. 

Zoom in on the artwork to study its details


From 36 separate parts to a single work of art
The artwork comprises 36 large sheets of paper onto which the motif was printed using 195 carved wooden blocks. The work was originally stored in binders as 36 loose sheets, but in the mid-19th century the sheets were all glued up onto a canvas so that they constituted a single artwork – exactly as Dürer intended.


In order to prepare the work for exhibition the SMK conservators spent the entire autumn season treating it, brandishing scalpels, spatulas, brushes, water, enzymes, ethanol, Japanese repair paper, glues, and adhesives in their endeavours to separate the many sheets of paper, clean them, mend tiny tears and abrasions, and restored the work to good overall condition.


What the paper hid
Prior to the actual restoration, the artwork was analysed by means of photographic studies under various forms of light – including UV light, raking light (light emitted from the side) and transmitted light.


For example, photographs taken while transmitting light through the artwork revealed that the paper has a watermark showing a double-headed eagle wearing an imperial crown. This is the coat of arms of the Holy Roman Emperor. The watermark demonstrates the artwork’s close links to Maximilian I.

The conservators use enzymes
The conservators had to be very patient when they separated the many sheets of paper. This was because preliminary tests of the adhesives used to mount the leaves showned that the task of loosening and separating the leaves would be very difficult. The conservators had to use enzymes for the task, proceeding very slowly and with great care.


Great art on paper
Dürer’s masterpiece is part of the Royal Collection of Graphic Art – the museum’s collection of art on paper. The collection encompasses more than 240,000 artworks. These artworks vary greatly in nature, from 15th century prints and drawings to works by leading modernists and cutting-edge contemporary art.

Read about the Royal Collection of Graphic Art

Zoom in on the Details

Zoom in on the artwork

Discover magnificent symbols of power, ornaments, and a wealth of fabulous beasts in this highly detailed work.


Ask the conservator

We are happy to share our knowledge and to offer advice insofar as we can.