De Rijp whaling scene – Restoration of a Delft tile picture (part 2)

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Ceramics Conservator Tiago Oliveira and Preventive Conservator Liesa Brierley have joined efforts to prepare a beautiful 17th Century Delft tile picture for display in the Queen's House.

In our last blog on the De Rijp Tile Picture conservation process we discussed what we managed to find out about how the picture was made and what it has been through over the centuries. This time, we will focus on what happened after the tile panel was taken apart and how we have put it back together.
 
Tile conservation at the National Maritime Museum
Process of reattaching the tile sections and one tile after bonding.
 
With all the tiles and broken pieces cleaned and thoroughly dried we could start planning how to reinstate the panel again. The broken tiles were put together with a durable and compatible adhesive commonly used for conserving this kind of object, which can be easily reversed if desired in the future. As we noted in the previous blog post, in the past some tiles had been attached to the plaster bedding in their broken pieces; in our treatment we wanted to be able to fix each tile individually to the backing so that we could treat each tile as a separate object.
 
Tile conservation at the National Maritime Museum
Detail of tiles with filled losses. All fills were cut to shape and polished to a smooth finish.
 
 
Large losses on the reverse of each tile were filled to add extra support where the original pieces had lost their sharp key. All losses to the glazed surface were also filled for later retouching. We have however left fabrication defects and marks to stand on their own, i.e. stilt marks and glaze ripples, as a testimony of their original making process.
 
De Rijp whaling scene conservation at the National Maritime Museum
Stilt marks and glaze ripples.
 
The chosen filling material is softer than the ceramic and inert. These main characteristics assured that over time the new material would not alter the original tiles and that at any time it could easily be reversed. Furthermore, before fills were inserted, a barrier layer was applied. 
 
Often ceramic conservators are asked if they need to fire the pieces after fills are made. Re-firing these objects can propel more damage and thus irreversibly damage or alter the original, which is against our core aims. By using water-based or cold-setting materials as such we avoid such risks such impact.
 
With tiles securely held together, we began the re-mounting process.  The tiles were attached with a museum-tested silicone adhesive to a honeycomb aluminium board (Hexlite®) used in the spacecraft industry and adopted by conservators for their objects’ light travelling through time. The board is lightweight but sturdy. We have followed a combination of two tested mounting methods used for similar tile panels in museum environments at the Rijksmuseum and the V&A. 
 
Conserving tiles at the National Maritime Museum
Reverse of tiles with barrier layer where silicon adhesive was applied.
 
Museum conservation
Mounting process
 
Mounting tiles at the National Maritime Museum
A space was left between the tiles and board to ease reversibility
 
For safety and maintenance purposes the panel was grouted and it regained its wholeness once more. 
 
To complete the intervention, all fills were retouched with acrylic mediums colours to a point where the new fills become unnoticeable but still discernable, thus easily identified as different from what is original. 
 
We would like to thank Margot van Schinkel (Rijksmuseum) and Fi Jordan (V&A) for their professional advice.
 
Conserving tiles at the National Maritime Museum
Before and after retouching (details)
 
Conservation at the National Maritime Museum
The final result
 
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