The Figurative Terracotta Figurines of the Egyptian Gregorian Museum

Final Restoration Report

The restoration work involved a group of figurative terracotta figurines, preserved in the Gregorian Egyptian Museum of the Vatican Museums, and dated from the Ptolemaic and Coptic periods (III B.C. – VI A.D.) (figs. 1, 2, and 14).

The state of preservation of these artifacts was very diverse, mainly due to the presence or absence of polychrome decorations and the inadequate reconstructions from recent times. For every specimen, even those that appear without color traces, the restoration intervention included a monitoring of the operations by observation under an optical microscope. The principal objective was to remove the materials of previous conservative interventions such as works of modern damaging materials (pins, adhesives, and stuccos) (figs. 3-6), to treat the forms of alteration of the colors and earthenware mixtures (figs. 7-9), to clean and consolidate the traces of decoration, and to document and study the construction technique and painting technique together with the identification of the pigments (fig. 10).

Fig. 1 Statuettes during the restoration

Fig. 2 Some of the statuettes after the restoration

Fig. 3 The small head inv. 37546 during the restoration: removal of the modern iron pin

Fig. 4 The figurine inv. 37593 before the restoration: There were modern additions made with stucco and fragments in terracotta not pertinent to the object.

Fig. 5 Inv. 37593 during the restoration: Treatment for the removal of the old adhesives applied for the adhesion of the lost adhesive.

Fig. 6. Inv. 55399 after the restoration

Fig. 7 Statuette inv. 55399 before and after the restoration

Fig.8. Statuette inv.55399 during restoration operations: Treatment of the alteration forms caused by manganese oxides.

Fig. 9 The examples of a small grape vase jar, inv. 55407 during one of the restoration operations.

Fig. 10 The scientific investigations and optic binocular microscopic observations that consented the identification of the color traces: specifically in the Egyptian blue.

Among the peculiarities of this collection, a great number of examples belonging to the category of the “Grottesche” revealed the use of colors including lacquer-based colors, used mostly for the preparation of the pink tonality in the complexions. In addition, there are numerous figurines with traces of white for preparing the terracotta surfaces for pictorial decoration, which have been lost in many specimens (fig. 11).

Fig. 11. The two grotesques invv. 37540 and 37558: Scientific investigations carried out during the restoration that revealed the presence of pigments such as lacquer (pink in color) and Egyptian blue (bright white).

In collaboration with the Laboratory for the Diagnostics and the Restoration of the Museums, restorers analyzed the pigments used for the pictorial decoration. They detected most of the colors, although present in traces and imperceptible to the naked eye, have been documented and analyzed for their recognition (fig. 11-13).

Fig.12. The female statuette inv. 55407: Scientific investigations from a scientific image analysis was also found to be painted with a lacquer-based color (pink in color).

Fig.13. The female statuette inv. 55407: After the restoration, restorers observed the details under a binocular optic microscope in which it is possible to examine the layering of colors such as red and green, on the opaque white pictorial preparation.

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