Carved wood, gesso, paint and sometimes gold leaf and other metals have long been used to transform sculptures into embellished polychrome objects. Early Greek stone figures had brightly painted hair and clothing, with the carved stone skin left unpainted. In medieval times, polychrome included decorated statues, altarpieces and interiors of churches painted with colourful patterns and designs. Polychrome on carved wood was widely used for sculpture in Europe and South America.
Polychrome is more than a decorative style, whether its used on an object or figure and whether its materials include precious or exotic pigments such as lapis lazuli or carmine red made from insects: it always tells a story. These stories illustrate times of religious and social history, economic development and regional influences, specialized materials and techniques and changing artistic styles and designs.
Many things may damage an artwork water or fire exposure, poor storage conditions or the aging of materials. After an accidental fall, the damage to this approximately 350-year-old, nearly metre-and-a-half-tall polychrome sculpture included the partially crushed nose, bent thorns on the metal crown and partly separated shoulder and leg joints that wobbled when touched. Layers of thick dust, soot, ingrained dirt and accretions also covered this polychrome crucifixs surface. As well, investigation of the figures joints revealed pre-existing, non-active worm damage that had resulted in numerous wormholes, structurally weakened areas and, from prior repairs, remains of old adhesive.
With the repairs completed, the crucifix has a new
lease on life
The figures arms were detached to receive treatment. Injections of adhesive were used to strengthen, re-join and secure the arms and legs to the torso.
The fractured nose had wormhole damage, signs of wear, small broken pieces and detaching gesso and paint layers. These areas were treated and carefully repositioned, and some losses were minimally inpainted, achieving partial reconstruction of the nose. The crowns few bent metal thorns proved to be stable, although too delicate to be bent back to their original positions, and were left alone.