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Conservation of sculpture and decorative arts

Video transcript
- Conservation is an overarching term which refers to all of the activities that we do, including the preventive work, the analysis, the authentication, the study of conditions of display, and the control of those conditions, and it also includes restoration. Restoration is really the piece of conservation that involves actual physical changes to an object. One of the most interesting restoration projects that we have undertaken here at the Getty in the past few years has been the restoration of the Neoclassical French "Lit à la Polonaise." I first saw this bed in 1981, and I had gone to Paris to find a gilding conservation workshop in which I could learn their techniques. In the workshop of Monsieur Goujon, I stumbled across this bed, which was actually sent there at the time for restoration, and I was immediately enraptured by the quality and the refinement of it. and it wasn't until 1994 that we acquired it here at the Getty. Beds of this type were made for the high nobility, people of extravagant wealth, and with a sumptuous taste for luxurious living. And so we knew that we had to restore it to a very high level. In the space of two and a half years, we did extensive treatments on it involving over 10 different specialists who restored the carving of the bed, the gilding, the painting, replaced some of the hardware on it, we had silk lampas woven, we had tassels and trimmings made, and then we finally had it upholstered. In the 18th century, the upholstery of a bed like this was of paramount importance. Fabrics had an extremely prestigious place in the hierarchy of interior architecture. People invested huge sums of money in their textiles. We knew about the original upholstery of the bed, and we had an estimate done for the reweaving of that fabric. In the end, the cost far exceeded what we thought we could justify spending on the project, and so we decided to de-emphasize the upholstery, and choose an appropriate lampas, but one that was really not approaching a recreation of what had originally been on the bed. We had engaged Prelle in Lyons to reweave the lampas, and we engaged a firm called La Passementerie Nouvelle to recreate the fringes and tassels and trimmings of the bed. The making of passementerie is really fascinating. It is basically the term applied to all of the garnishings on an upholstery, such as fringe, tassels, trimmings, rosettes, buttons. They are all basically made by wrapping very fine silk thread around core foundations, which in the eighteenth century were made of catgut. The silk threads around the foundation are then wrapped around each other, twisted in various ways. It's a fascinating process, and one that is done almost entirely by hand. The restoration of the carving and gilding was a process of moving the bed back and forth between the carver's and the gilder's workshops. Each piece went to the carver's studio, where he glued any loose pieces of wood, replaced most, but not all, of the lost details from the carving, and he waited until the end of the project to replace the central trophy and one of the side trophies. We were tremendously aided in this process by the discovery of early 20th-century photographs of the bed. I don't know that we would have endeavored to replace the lost trophy on the top of the bed had we not had this photograph, because we really didn't know what it was, so that was really the biggest challenge of the entire project. When I show this bed to people who are not familiar with French 18th-century decorative arts, it really is like a textbook in the whole subject. It certainly says a great deal about the importance of the decorative arts in their standing in society. These, after all, were status symbols. These weren't just about having a good night's sleep.