Purveyor of Bollocks to the Crowned Heads of Europe
Tuesday, 17 July 2012
Now that - theoretically - I don't have to think about automobiles for a while, I can get back to work, but I am afraid I am going to have to mention the weather again. Bloody awful, and the only things that are flourishing in the vicinity of my rural workshop are nettles, brambles, slugs and snails.
It is a rare thing to see a bee out there right now, let alone a flower on which they could feed. It is a rare thing to see any insect actually - the bats must be having a hard time as well. This is going to put a massive dent in the wildlife which will become apparent next year, and the winter is still yet to come. The worst of the financial crisis is still yet to come too. The FUCKING OLYMPICS are yet to come as well. I've just had a text message from stepdaughter who has just stepped off a plane in Santorini for a week's holiday - 'OMG it's hot!' Right now, I could do with some of that heat. Anyway, Scagliola.
I think I mentioned before that I have embarked on a restoration project of s series of recently discovered, rare Georgian friezes depicting the Four Seasons, which are made of scagliola and painted on their polished surfaces with a series of cherubs, either basking in sunshine and flowers, bringing in a harvest, picking fruit or huddled around small fires with the wind blowing their flimsy cloaks. The cherubs are executed in white and tinted white, thinly applied paint to give a 3D marble-relief effect, and look very similar to the figures on Wedgewood pottery.
Over the last 3 weeks, I have been gently cleaning the broken pieces with de-ionised water - all the while making plans on how to go about putting them back together with a backing which will be sympathetic to the materials (mainly plaster - all plaster, in fact) at the same time as keeping them together during handling.
Scagliola is a new material for me (but old enough to have been invented by the Romans) and although it perfectly simulates all kinds of marble, it really has nothing to do with the world of stone sculpture, so I am learning about it as I go along.
This particular scagliola is giving a perfect impression of Porphyry, and the general background colour is a complex hue of blueish maroon, just like the real thing. A quick glance at it's surface shows that it is flecked with little white, irregularly shaped chips, but when you look closer you notice a smaller amount of little black chips as well. These chips are made from a tinted hard plaster which has been crushed and graded, then mixed with the red backing so that they are evenly interspersed, then the surface has been polished to a high sheen before the cherubs were painted on by - probably - a different artist when it had all set. I have to match the missing pieces - right up to the edges - and only then can I begin retouching the cherubs in white. It would be a damn sight easier to start all over again from scratch, but I have always liked a challenge...
If you thought that the world of masonry was arcane and secretive, try talking to a scagliola expert. Most of them are Italian, but one the limited amount of studios which specialise in it also runs training courses, so were quite happy to give me a few hints on how to go about it. I really don't think that they believe I can do it. They all signed off by saying, "Good luck!" I'll show 'em.
The thing is that my background training covered all sorts of things, including the use of plasters as well as fine-art painting and colour in general, so - if anything - I am probably better qualified to carry out this restoration/conservation than many others, but they don't know that, do they? I've just left it for about 40 years before I have learned about scagliola, that's all.
I'll keep you informed, as I seem to do with most things.