Longthorpe Tower: Wall Painting Conservation

The entire room here at Longthorpe is covered with wall paintings and the imagery is amazing. There are religious scenes and
there are scenes referencing royalty. There’s an amazing survival of a wheel of the five senses. The paintings were made around 1330 by a man called Robert Thorpe and this was a private space in his house that he used to impress his clients and his friends. Due to the age of the paintings there are places where there is complete loss but overall the survival of this scheme in this space is an incredible thing. We’re undertaking an amazing project with the Courtauld Institute of Art to examine and treat the fantastic survival of wall paintings in this amazing space. Since the paintings were revealed in the 1940s they have been treated on numerous occasions If you look across the walls there are multiple types of different repairs. Before we can treat a painting like this we need to understand from the structure upwards how the paintings were made. We need to understand the fabric,
how that was constructed, what materials were used, how the stones were bonded together because the impact of those materials follow through into the wall painting itself. And we need to be aware of how those layers interact with each other in order to conserve them properly. We have a whole range of new scientific techniques that we can use, which allow us to investigate the paintings without being invasive. In other words we don’t need to take physical samples. Imaging techniques such as multispectral imaging allow us to visualise things that we can’t see with the naked eye. We can use a portable microscope on site for looking at and characterising the original materials of the painting. When we’re making our new repairs we want those materials to be of similar strength properties. We look at their grain size, grain shape, grain distribution, so we’re very careful in our selection
process of those materials. These paintings are painted on to a lime plaster and on to a lime wash ground, so we are also using lime based products. Conservators and restorers in the past used materials that were available to them at the time, and they were working to the best of their ability at the time. But sometimes some of those materials are inappropriate for the paintings and they can cause potential harm to them. In this scheme, we have a wax
layer that’s been put on it. That distorts their appearance, the wax has taken in dirt, it’s discoloured itself, so that’s one of the things
we want to address in this work phase. We have to be extra careful because in taking those materials out we could potentially destabilise the original materials. We use specifically reformulated repairs to help stabilise vulnerable edges of painting as we are gradually and slowly
removing the previous fills. When we’re investigating these paintings we find out so much about them. We might find thumbprints from the person who was putting that plaster in all that time ago. We find paint splashes and mistakes in the painting. It gives you a glimpse of the people who made these paintings seven hundred years ago and gradually, before your eyes,
they start coming back to life again. By the end of this exciting project we will have stabilised the vulnerable areas. We will have also improved the legibility of this amazing scheme. We’re asking for public support to help us preserve these beautiful wall
paintings for future generations.

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