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Conserving bronze: "The Lamp with Erotes from Vani"

Video transcript

- The survival of this spectacular bronze lamp required both its safekeeping in antiquity, and favorable burial conditions thereafter. It was found in the site of Vani in Colchis, an ancient region known for metalwork in what is today the Republic of Georgia. In 2007, archeologists discovered a remarkable hoard of metal objects buried in a rock-cut pit just outside the city walls of ancient Vani. The lamp was one of four found in the pit, beside a mask of rusted iron spearheads. There it had survived for more than 2,000 years. The bronze was encrusted with burial deposits and rust from the adjacent spearheads. The J. Paul Getty Museum collaborated with the Georgia National Museum to study and conserve the lamp which was originally adorned with four figurines of Erotes, the child god of love. A Georgian conservator inspects the lamp to determine the nature and degree of corrosion. An x-ray's examined by a Getty conservator. Radiography reveals the high quality of the bronze casting. A Getty scientist identifies the lamp's composition as an alloy of copper, tin and lead. This information helps determine the types of corrosion. A test cleaning reveals how well-preserved the surface of the lamp is. The thin, blue-green layer, or patina, formed from contact with soil over a long period. As conservators remove corrosion, the object's shape and details are clarified. They clean with wooden sticks, brushes, cotton swabs and scalpels. In a method called Abrasion, the lamp is wrapped in plastic, with holes left for areas to be cleaned. The object is then exposed to abrasives which remove the rust caused by the iron spearheads. A scalpel is used to pick up the large, hard pieces of corrosion that remain. Entire spearheads encrusted on to parts of the lamp are eventually removed. The lamp's lid was stuck open. It's loosened by removing corrosion around the hinge. The Erotes figurines, two musicians, a dancer, and a torchbearer, are placed on the lamp according to the archeologist's field notes and photographs. Using a range of techniques to clean and restore the lamp, the conservation process provides us with a clearer sense of the mastery of ancient bronze workers.