“The Lute Player” — Starting Point


For the past many months I have been working off and on to conserve a group of three artifacts including a mid-19th century Italian sculpture and this post will present my starting point so you can have a reference for subsequent accounts of the progress.  I will follow this over the next coupe of weeks or so with several posts about the objects’ conservation, including detailed descriptions and recitations of my rationale and approach for the processes I used.  I’d hoped to get this wrapped up last fall, but being out of commission for six months certainly messed up life’s schedule.  I recommend you not inflict a major injury on yourself as it is a major nuisance and fairly unpleasant to boot.  I am still busier than ever and do not expect I will be accepting any new conservation projects until next summer.

This sculpture was a new addition to my client’s collection, and he acquired it with some extant damage.   His request for a referral was passed on to me by a former colleague at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and he requested me to work on his artifacts which I agreed.

This nearly life-sized sculpture was some pretty amazing work by the renowned artist Valentino Besarel, given that most of it was carved out of a single hunk of softwood log.  The base and lute body were carved separately then integrated to the composition as a whole  Not too surprisingly the century-and-a-half of wood movement lefts its mark and there were many areas of concern and need for my attentions, and some additional ones which were left for another time.

cIMG_8207 cIMG_8201 cIMG_8192


The most serious structural issues revolved around the level of damage between the left elbow and the right elbow of the figure, with the lute in between.  None of this was surprising given that it was all tangential and short grain wood.  The head of the lute had been snapped off (many, many times it turned out, and repaired less than elegantly) but remained with the object, the index finger of the left hand and the pinky of the right hand were gone altogether, and the neck of the lute had been broken perhaps a dozen times in the past.


cIMG_8209 cIMG_8190

Ruffles on both cuffs had been broken off, and the left forearm had been broken and repaired repeatedly and was loose.


The belt, carved continuously to be separated from the body of the figure by about an inch or so, had been broken and repaired several times and the broken element was now simply nailed in place.


It wasn’t exactly plumber’s crack but there was a pretty noticeable split running for over two feet up the back of the figure.


Finally, the surface was heavily abraded, with accretions of grime and a fair bit of light damage throughout.

I’ve blogged about isolated aspects of this over the life of the project but now you will get a beginning-to-end account.