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The Conservation of Medieval Polychrome Wood Sculpture: History, Theory, Practice

Michele D. Marincola and Lucretia Kargère

Medieval polychrome wood sculptures are highly complex objects, bearers of histories that begin with their original carving and adornment and continue through long centuries of repainting, deterioration, restoration, and conservation. Abundantly illustrated, this book is the first in English to offer a comprehensive overview of the conservation of medieval painted wood sculptures for conservators, curators, and others charged with their care. Beginning with an illuminating discussion of the history, techniques, and meanings of these works, it continues with their examination and documentation, including chapters on the identification of both the wooden support and the polychromy itself—the paint layers, metal leaf, and other materials used for these sculptures. The volume also covers the many aspects of treatment: the process of determining the best approach; consolidation and adhesion of paint, ground, and support; overpaint removal and surface cleaning; and compensation. Four case studies on artworks in the collection of The Cloisters in New York, a comprehensive bibliography, and a checklist to aid in documentation complement the text.

Michele D. Marincola is Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor of Conservation, Conservation Center, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, and is also a Fellow of the International Institute for Conservation. She has published widely in professional journals and is the editor of Polychrome Sculpture: Meaning, Form, Conservation (Getty Publications, 2015). Lucretia Kargère is senior conservator for The Cloisters, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. She has published widely in professional journals.

"Very much to be hoped that this book will be read and digested not just by conservators but by all those charged with responsibility for such fragile works of art. . . . It complements admirably (and follows the format and appearance of) the standard work on the subject, written in German by Johannes Taubert and issued posthumously in 1978. This was translated by Carola Schulman, edited by Michele Marincola and published by the Getty as Polychrome Sculpture: Meaning, Form, Conservation (2015). Together these two seminal texts now provide a firm foundation—both ethical and practical—for conservators and curators. They should be on the shelves of everybody concerned with polychrome wood sculpture.”
—Paul Williamson, The Burlington Magazine

“It will definitely appeal to anyone who appreciates this kind of artwork. . . . Thorough and thought provoking.”
—Jenny Mathiasson, The C Word

“A comprehensive, profound survey of various important aspects of sculpture preservation, including materials, carving and painting techniques, methods of examination, documentation, conservation, and restoration. Abundant illustrations feature many remarkable objects in American collections. The book concludes with several informative case studies. An absolute must-have.”
—Michael Rief, conservator, head of collections and deputy director of the Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum Aachen

“Impressively researched, elegantly written by two experts in the field, and accessible to a wide audience, this book on European medieval and Renaissance polychrome wood sculpture makes an important methodological contribution to art history and studies of materiality. It brings together the history of technical analysis, conservation, and maintenance with an overview of materials and techniques, display, and rituals of use to convincingly demonstrate how the present appearance of a wooden sculpture cannot be divorced from its history over time. Alongside Taubert’s Farbige Skulpturen (1978), this will become a classic study of polychrome wooden sculpture.”
—Christina Neilson, Associate Professor of Renaissance and Baroque Art History, Oberlin College

“Drawing from decades working with medieval polychrome sculpture at The Cloisters, one of the world’s foremost collections, Michele Marincola and Lucretia Kargère map out the physical structure of these objects, describe how their appearance has changed over time, and review treatment options available to conservators. In a remarkably frank tone, they elucidate the ethical underpinnings of the myriad choices made during a restoration. A compendium of knowledge and wisdom, this book will for decades be the reference work for those responsible for the care of these magnificent works of art. It is also a must-read for anyone else interested in these sculptures and their history.”
—Prof. Julien Chapuis, Deputy Director, Gemäldegalerie, Skulpturensammlung und Museum für Byzantinische Kunst, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

296 pages
8 1/2 x 10 1/4 inches
175 color and 30 b/w illustrations
ISBN 978-1-60606-655-3

Getty Publications
Imprint: Getty Conservation Institute