Judgement, resolution & treatment

Active treatment & passive prevention

Surface cleaning of a Royal Arms in actionThe questions surrounding the treatment of Royal Arms are also applied to other paintings found in churches.

The frequency of alterations and a tendency towards wholesale repainting in later centuries, raise specific questions as to which version should be exposed.  

Detail of deterioration of the Royal Arms at All Saints church, Aldwinkle before conservationRemoving a later version, no matter how crude, destroys a historical paint layer and exposes a potentially damaged image beneath.  Unless the upper layers can be shown to be damaging the underlying original paint, uncovering is not usually attempted on ethical, as well as technical grounds.  

The critical question for a conservator dealing with Royal ArmsClose up of the Royal Arms at All Saints church, Aldwinkle after conservation in churches is ‘should long-term stability be prioritised over originality and authenticity?’ The dilemmas faced include:

  • Framing unframed paintings to allow it to be hung safely
  • Providing a stretcher to create correct tension, even if it was not the original method
  • Whether or not to re-touch missing paint and if so, should it be invisible or made obvious?
  • Varnishing an unvarnished painting to offer protection against an active bat colony

Structural, cosmetic & preventive conservation

An example of a Royal Arms in need of structural treatmentConservation treatment can be divided into three main areas:  

  • Structural: necessary to stabilise the structure of the painting
  • Cosmetic: to improve the appearance of the painting
  • Preventive: to prevent further damage from occurring

Cosmetic treatment in action - removing dirt and varnish from a Royal ArmsStructural treatment reinforces the original material through consolidating flaking paint and repairing tears in canvases. It also reinforces the reverse of a canvas by lining, treating worm-damaged wood and removing dirt and mould where they have the potential to cause structural damage.  

Cosmetic treatment is surface cleaning, varnish removal, filling and retouching losses to the paint layer and revarnishing the surface.  

Preventitive treatment of a Royal Arms - improvements to the framing with a framing strip. Preventive conservation often has little influence on the painting’s appearance and may involve making improvements to framing and hanging fittings, isolating a painting from the wall behind it, installing temporary covers for bat protection and, if necessary, relocating the painting away from a damp wall, bat roost, heater or unsuitable light fitting. 

An example of preventitive treatment of a Royal Arms - improvements to the hanging fittings with a secured key.Although the actual treatment is minimal and unobtrusive, preventive conservation will often be the most effective way of promoting the long-term stability of Royal Arms.

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