Russian Icon of Bozhey Materi Znamenie (Our Lady of the Sign)

  • Artist unknown; 19th century (?)
  • Tempera/oil on wood panel |Private Collection, Brooklyn, NYC

Icon Restoration:
Treatment of Structural Damage and Multiple Previous Repairs

    • Fowey Castle - Before
    • 1. Before icon restoration. The icon’s condition indicates a long and turbulent history with a variety of damages which were repaired numerous times.

    • Fowey Castle - Before
    • 2.Before icon restoration. Under reflected light, the icon’s distorted surface and the damaged paint and ground layers are clearly visible.

    • Fowey Castle - Process (Detail)
    • 3. Before icon restoration. The side view of the icon’s panel shows that it was made of three wooden boards. The joints between the boards had separated and vertical gaps between them are visible.

    • Fowey Castle - Process (Detail)
    • 4. Before icon restoration. The central area of the icon under raking light shows tenting and flaking of the paint.

    • Fowey Castle - After (Detail)
    • 5.Before icon restoration. Detail of Mother of God’s hand. The paint layer is cracked and flaking. Moreover, the ring and little fingers, located along one of the vertical joints in the panel, are later retouching.

    • Fowey Castle - After (Detail)
    • 6. Before icon restoration. Detail of Mother of God’s right eye. Closer inspection of the icon’s surface, especially where the paint was missing, revealed the existence of another, older paint layer underneath. It might be hard to know what exactly lead to such a radical overpainting of the entire icon but in this photo, a finer network of drying cracks is clearly visible under the top paint layer.

    • Fowey Castle - Process (Detail)
    • 7. During icon restoration. Since the work on the icon could not proceed without the repair of the panel, the conservator collaborated with the panel paintings specialist. In order for the specialist to safely handle the icon while working on its structural problems, the conservator had to protect the icon beforehand. This phase is called “facing”: overlapping squares of fine paper tissues were attached to the icon’s surface with liquid sturgeon’s glue. The tightening of drying paper and the penetration of glue accompanied by light pressure of a heat iron, contributed also to relaxing and consolidation of the paint and ground layers.

    • Fowey Castle - Process (Detail)
    • 8. During icon restoration. After the structural work on the panel was done, the icon was returned to the conservator. The facing paper was removed. White gesso fillings were applied where the ground layer was missing. The retouching phase could start.

    • Fowey Castle - Process (Detail)
    • 9.After icon restoration. During the retouching phase, the conservator had to acknowledge the numerous (mostly irreversible) changes that occurred in the icon during its history. The discolored and roughly-matched old retouching, the pronounced cracks as well as the stains have all become equally important parts in re-establishing the icon’s aesthetic unity.