By Carrie Willis, Conservation Technician
The cast of Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child has been made by a firm of modellers and sculptors founded by Lewis Brucciani and joined c.1852 by Domenico Brucciani (1815-80). Domenico Brucciani was born in Lucca, Italy and migrated to England in the first half of the 19th century. After establishing a business producing casts he created a showroom near Covent Garden where he sold works to the British Museum and the South Kensington Museum. By 1857 D. Brucciani and Co. were working for the British Museum making moulds and casts of their classical sculptures, bronzes and other pieces, to be sold commercially.
Following his death, D.Brucciani’s company was purchased by another Italian, Joseph Caproni who retained the name D.Brucciani and Co. The business continued to manufacture casts. I believe it is from this period that our cast of the Madonna and Child was made. The accession register has Ipswich Museum purchasing this cast in 1898 from D.Brucciani and Co.
The Madonna and Child cast weighs just under 150kg and is cast from plaster. My first job was to get the cast over to the Lab from Christchurch Mansion and then up numerous flights of steps. At times we needed 5 members of staff to move the cast. Once in the Lab we could use a genie lift to manoeuvre the cast up and down, to aid easier working levels.
Before any work could begin lots of ‘before’ photographs were taken. This helps create a condition report for the object and aid in the creation of a conservation report. Before any work can begin a plan was put in place of what works need to be carried out. It was decided that the cast would need a surface clean, replacement of essential missing parts, repainting and then waxing.
My first job was the clean the cast. Using melamine sponges, warm distilled water and conservation grade mild detergent, the cast was cleaned within a day. As you can see from the images below there was a lot of surface dirt which was ultimately hiding intrinsic detailing of the cast.
Numerous areas of the cast have been broken and lost over time, the worst area being the veil. Ensuring all open edges were sealed with a PVA/Water solution, I could then start to remodel areas of the veil. Using dental wax, I was able to control the plaster fills. Each fill required a day to dry before any work could be done to shaping it in place. Using coarse sand paper, I could model the plaster fills, and using flexi grit paper, I could smooth the fills. Further applications of Polyfilla ensured a smooth finish.
Once I was happy with the fills I was able to give the whole cast a coat of PVA/Water solution. This would create a barrier between the plaster and the final paint needed to make the cast look presentable for exhibition.
Using chalk paint, the whole cast was painted. Chalk paint allows the plaster cast to breathe, meaning it can release excess water if it was to ever get damp. Painting was done over two days and once dried I was able to add a final coat of wax to protect the paint from handling. You can see the final result of the conservation below.