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"Statue of an Emperor:" A conservation partnership

Video transcript

Narrator: The first step was to disassemble the statue while still in Berlin and get it crated properly for shipping. Working as a team, the conservators from the Pergamon are removing the head. We didn't take it apart completely, just broke it down into several large fragments. Some of these pieces weighed around 300 pounds, so lifting equipment is crucial to moving the pieces safely. The straps are called slings, they help us prepare the torso for crating. We used a fine saw to cut through the interior iron pins put there by a previous restorer. We only had to cut one of the two pins to be able to easily remove the leg. In our conservation lab we begin the process known as fuming. We placed the torso in a plastic bag called the tent where it stayed for two to three months. Sealed with the torso were six glass beakers holding a mixture of alcohol and acetone. Fumes from this mixture soften the shellac used by previous restorers. Jerry Podany, the Getty's head conservator is using a wooden tongue depressor to gently scrap off the soft shellac that oozed from the joints. Any remaining bits of shellac are cleaned with acetone. Complete disassemble was necessary to clean and conserve the statue properly. Here I am removing the right shoulder. The mask protects me from residual fumes. We discovered that some of the interior support pins had been secured with molten lead. This sort of procedure has fallen out of favor because it's difficult to reverse. When we finish taking it apart, the statue was in many fragments. To extract surface stains we packed almost all of the fragments in paper pulp mixed with alcohol and distilled water. The head was encased and left to dry for three or four days as the solvent pulled the stains from the surface into the pulp. Cotton swabs dipped in alcohol are used for spot cleaning remaining stains. We roll the swab so it isn't abrasive to the stone. We applied hot steam delivered at high pressure to the really tough stains. The methods we use are not destructive. Restorers used to use an acid wash to clean the stone, which left it starkly white. Current methods are far less severe. Our goal is to preserve the light stains and variations in the bailable patina. We used a lifting device and a wooden frame to align the fragments. Conservation intern, Erik Risser, carefully guides the two halves of the torso together. The segments are secured with a special aluminum assembly device redesigned to fit inside an already existing cavity. Everything we do is reversible. The statue can be taken apart again simply by unlocking the concealed joining mechanism. The chain hoist caries the weight of the right shoulder. Erik lets out the chains and together we guide the piece to fit securely on the torso. The left side was more complicated, it was made up of multiple fragments and proved to be difficult to position. The exterior fragments were the last to go on, each one had been fitted with stainless steel pins that slide into sleeves mounted into previously drilled restoration holes. Seams and joints were filled. The goal is to make the fills noticeable at close inspection, but never distracting to the eye. The fill is textured. The end painting with a small brush helps make the bright white fill blend with the grey stone. The head is ancient but not original to the rest of the statue. A restorer, sometime in the past, probably put the head and body together. Its conservation treatment now finished, Erik and I work together to slide the head onto its stabilizing pin and reattach it safely to the body. (shows completed statue)