Müncheni Manuela

My name is Manuela Hörmann. I am a conservation student from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) in Germany. There I have specialized in the field of Conservation of Paintings and Polychrome Sculptures. As part of my studies and to gain some more practical experience I’ve been working in the Conservation Department of Polychrome Sculpture at the Art Museum of Estonia for the last seven months.

During my time here I was involved in the ongoing project “Rode Altarpiece in Close­-Up”. This large medieval altarpiece from Hermen Rode’s workshop, as well as our temporary conservation studio, is situated in the Niguliste Museum, in the old town of Tallinn. Throughout my internship I was mainly carrying out the conservation of architectural decorations, that are framing the sculptures of the saints shown in the core of the altarpiece.  My tasks included the whole conservation process of each object I was working on – starting with the documentation of its condition, the consolidation of flaking paint layers, up to the removal of varnish and over paintings. A huge part was the removal of an old varnish layer which has turned brown over time and therefore disturbed the aesthetic appearance (see figure 1). The challenge was to take off the very hard varnish layer without damaging the fragile original structure with its thin gold layer. An appropriate method was to work with a mixture of solvents that are bound in a solid gel. This prevents the solvents from evaporating too quickly and helps to get a better interaction with the surface, so that it’s possible to remove the softened varnish avoiding to touch the original surface as good as possible.  Even though this technique is very effective, due to the very fine crafted ornaments, it’s a very time consuming work step. It has to be done very carefully and in many cases with aid of a microscope, to make sure, that the golden surface stays intact.

As shown in figure 2, another part was to uncover the original paint layer of the flesh tones, which is still in a good condition and appears in quite fine colour shades compared to their over paintings. For the purpose of removing the overpaintings, I needed a sharp scalpel, a microscope and a steady hand. It’s a work where you need some breaks in between. Therefore it was a welcomed variation to have groups of students, who were visiting our conservation studio, every now and then.

After these seven months I just can say: I am happy that I have done my internship here at the Art Museum of Estonia. From the first day on I was really welcomed in the team of conservators. It was an interesting experience to work in an actual exhibition room, where you always have the visitors around you. Sometimes it can be quite challenging to maintain the concentration while working. On the other hand it is great chance to popularize the conservators’ work, which is in many cases not that transparent and evident to a broader public.  Furthermore I am grateful that I was given the chance to get an insight in such a large-scale project, to see how many people from different professions are involved. I also got to know some new materials and techniques which may be useful for my future works. All in all it was an enriching experience for me – both professionally and personally.