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Flowers | 8.mar.2013

Treating the Lords-and-Ladies

I have pulled on my soft cotton gloves in order to seize hold of a fold in the piece of parchment bearing a painting of the plant lords-and-ladies, also known as wild arum. Arum maculatum is the Latin name given to the plant in 1835 by the botanist L. A. Schouw.

I wonder if the root is edible? No inventories of plants or other descriptions accompanied the 17th century Gottorfer Codex with its many paintings of flowers, so at times our curiosity is piqued enough to pull us a little further into the realm of plants: We allow ourselves to spend a little extra time on a painting by looking up the plant depicted on the internet or in a book on gardening. Entering Arum maculatum in a Google search made me a little wiser, for even though the plant is known as "spotted ginger" in Danish it is in fact poisonous – leaves, berries, and roots – and nothing like the ginger we buy in shops today.

The plant has entries in Den store Danske Encyclopædi and on Danish Wikipedia

Given its poisonous qualities the wild arum would not, then, have served a utilitarian purpose for the 17th century gardeners and duke at Gottorf Castle, but perhaps it was of scientific value to the duke and his many contacts on the cultural scene? When the flower exhibition opens in March 2013 we can find answers to many such questions, provided by present-day scholars: botanists and art historians.

The fold must be straightened to reveal the entire painting

But let us go back to the folded painting. Paul Winter was the name of the bookbinder commissioned to bind the 365 paintings inside book covers in 1690. Some of the paintings are larger than the book format would allow, prompting him to fold those paintings and insert them amongst the other paintings. He did so in the second volume out of the total of four. The leaf showing lords-and-ladies was 6cm too wide and has been folded in along the right-hand edge.

Now the leaf has been taken out of the binding. We must straighten out the fold to reveal the entire painting and to allow me to repair the cracked and missing green paint. When this is done the painting will be placed in a passepartout of acid-free cardboard.

When handling paper and parchment leaves with major buckling or folds we first try to straighten out the leaves under light pressure over the course of days or weeks. If this does not work we must add a little moisture in the form of steam, either by placing the entire leaf in a humidity-controlled chamber or by moistening the afflicted area. 

That is why I will now embark on moistening the fold very carefully so that I can access and repair the paint on the petal in the fold. The paint inside the fold has cracked and is at risk of coming off, just as it has on the left petal where the damage was caused by buckling.I carefully try to open up the part of the painting that has been folded back and hidden from view. Parchment can be more or less pliable, and this specimen is one of the more unyielding ones. Sometimes the parchment gives in. Sometimes it does not. Lords-and-ladies does not budge, even after two weeks of rest with a long sandbag on the fold. But then again we are up against a 300-year old fold.

Very useful sandbags

A simple sandbag is a brilliant tool when carrying out conservation work, and we use them every day: they offer a soft and gentle way of weighing down the pieces we work on. We have sown our sandbags ourselves in order to get the sizes and weights we require; we cannot buy them from shops. The structure of the fabric and the structure of the sand are both important! Finely woven satin allows moisture to pass into the sand while also preventing the sand from escaping. Tray sand of a special grain size and composition is excellent at absorbing moisture from paper and parchment that is undergoing treatment. The smallest bags measure just 5 x 5cm while the longest are up to 1 metre long.

Sandbags in action at the workshop: the silk plant is in its passepartout with the front (the glass pane) open. The painting is hinged on the back with small paper hinges along all four edges. The hinges are glued in place with Tylose glue (in the clear plastic container on the desk) and the edges held in place with sand bags until we are certain the glue holds. Thin pieces of paper are inserted between the sandbags and the painting’s surfaces.

The finished painting

See the fully restored painting

  • By: Anja Scocozza
  • 8.mar.2013
Updated: 15.oct.2014
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