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St Julian statue returns to its former glory

Restorer Maria Grazia Zenzani applies the finishing touches to the statue of St Julian as the 10-month restoration project comes to an end in time for the feast next week. Photo: Marc Aaron Orchard

Restorer Maria Grazia Zenzani applies the finishing touches to the statue of St Julian as the 10-month restoration project comes to an end in time for the feast next week. Photo: Marc Aaron Orchard

The titular statue of St Julian, now back to its former glory after a 10-month restoration project, on Monday was returned to the original parish church exactly 125 years to the day since it was first delivered in 1893.

The six-foot statue, a work of the famous sculptor Carlo Darmanin, was commissioned by benefactor Sir Salvatore Mattei, from Valletta, just two years after the locality of St Julian’s became a parish.

In April 2017, Atelier del Restauro Ltd was approached by the parish priest, Fr Claude Portelli, to restore the statue, especially in view of visible structural damages.

Atelier del Restauro Ltd is a joint venture between Maltese and Italian conservators who specialise in the field of the conservation of works of art.

The restoration was carried out by Valentina Lupo and Maria Grazia Zenzani.

Ms Lupo told Times of Malta that the statue was in a stable state of conservation despite structural cracks in its support, particularly one under the neck, which called for immediate attention.

Another crack was observed over the right eyelid, where the support applied by the artist to mould the eye was detaching.

The base of the statue also needed particular attention, since more cracks were observed after an initial study. They were most probably caused by a loss of cohesion resulting from internal physical stresses to the papier-mâché due to its shrinking and swelling caused by fluctuations in temperature and humidity.

Some of the damage to the statue was attributed to wear and tear during processions

There was also other damage to the statue, which was attributed to wear and tear during processions.

Ms Lupo said the statue had undergone a restoration in 1950 and again for its 100th anniversary in 1993, when damage was infilled and covered with fresh paint.

The original colours of the St Julian statue were uncovered during a 10-month restoration process.The original colours of the St Julian statue were uncovered during a 10-month restoration process.

She explained that the varnish had altered with time giving a yellowish, darker hue to the surface and making the skin tones of the statue much darker.

Dr Zenzani said that the biggest “nightmare” was removing the layer of varnish, which included dust particles and grime that had accumulated over the years.

In fact, the laborious job took up most of the project’s timeline.

Ms Lupo said removing this layer revealed the lighter skin tone and the deer’s original light brown colour, probably overpainted during the 1950 restoration. The deer’s antlers were damaged, fixed and repainted during earlier interventions.

The removal of a layer of grey paint on the inner mantle of the statue, applied during the 1993 intervention, revealed the original blue and a linear, gold pattern.

The gilded areas were redone with the original technique of water gilding using 23.75 carat gold leaf, brought purposely for the project from Florence, Italy.

The pedestal, made of gilded solid wood, was also restored.

During a recent restoration intervention on the pedestal, losses and abrasions were covered using an oil-gilding technique, rather than water gilding as was originally used. The varnish applied over the entire pedestal had oxidized with time, giving it a dull and opaque look.

As a final step, the statue and the pedestal were covered in a varnish, using a synthetic resin with a high resistance to ageing and warm temperatures, including UV protection. A satin surface finish was applied to protect the gilded and painted layers and to saturate the colours.

Restoration work on the head of the statueRestoration work on the head of the statue

The removal of grey paint on the inner mantle (above) revealed the original blue and a linear, gold pattern.The removal of grey paint on the inner mantle (above) revealed the original blue and a linear, gold pattern.

The deer, originally light brown, was probably overpainted during a restoration in 1950.The deer, originally light brown, was probably overpainted during a restoration in 1950.

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