The pages creak, and the colour peels away
Over the course of four years the paper conservators Anja Scocozza, Christian Balleby Jensen, and Niels Borring have worked on restoring four volumes of precious flower paintings: the Gottorfer Codex.
Of course, we did not spend four years working exclusively on the Gottorfer Codex. The Gallery throws up many other tasks that we must also attend to. On the whole, though, nearly every day has seen us moving amongst flowers, herbs, and fruits from the splendid 17th century garden at Gottorp Castle.
About the garden at Gottorp Castle
The picture above shows volumes 3 and 4 of the Gottorfer Codex on the desk – one volumes is open and rests in a book cradle. The easel and the tabletop carry a small selection of paintings (pages) removed from the two first volumes. All pages with paintings on them have been removed from volumes 1 and 2 to create a total of 178 individual paintings.
Taken out of storage
When we were first assigned the task of restoring the books some four years ago they had been lying around in storage for many, many decades. The books were rarely taken out, for each page was so bumpy and uneven that turning a page made a creaking noise. This was very harmful to the pigment, causing it to crack. In some cases small flakes of pigment would fall off; a fate that had already befallen quite a lot of the paintings.
How can these fantastic paintings be put on display?
We faced a task that required careful thought: How could the beautiful paintings in this book receive the attention they deserved? When they were originally created back in the 17th century they were intended as precious books that the aristocrats at Gottorp Castle could take out and be informed and impressed by. Of course, this applied to castle visitors as well.
In our present day we are still keen to show the flower paintings to visitors. But the scenario is very different now. Now the paintings are public property. If we simply put the books out so that people could leaf through them at will we would probably have very few flowers left on their pages after just a few years. Many more people would have access to the books today compared to their original audience at Gottorp Castle, and this would entail too much wear to the pages.
We could certainly take a photograph of each page of the book and present them on our website or in new books, but we were keen to show the originals. How could we do that? How could we make sure that the books could be taken out of storage and made accessible to all without sustaining further damage?The restoration task presented us with a dilemma: A conservator’s task is essentially to keep a work of art intact and as close to its original state as possible; if it has come apart, it must be repaired.
Here, however, we reached a rather different decision: After extensive deliberation we chose to remove a number of pages from the book, enabling them to be hung and displayed as paintings. They will be presented in this manner for the first time on 22 March 2013 with the opening of the exhibition Flowers and World Views. Other pages have been allowed to remain inside the books. It was not an easy decision, but it was the right one.
- Af: Anja Scocozza