Conserving an early 18th-century print

A large, eighteenth-century European print, The Triumph of the Phallus had been in storage for a number of years until it was conserved in order to be sent out on loan for display at another museum.

It was in three separate sections, which had been stored tightly rolled. The print’s backing papers had become very brittle, so conservators had to unroll it very carefully to avoid cracking. A thick layer of surface dirt had built up around the edges, which had to be removed.

There were several areas of water-staining and a hand-written inscription in brown ink at the lower right had been partially washed away. To find out what it said, Museum scientists used a technique called ultraviolet-induced luminescence to show the writing more clearly. This also increased the visibility of the staining around it.

The print was then washed to clean it and remove the old backing papers. This reduced the discolouration that had occurred and also softened the adhesive layer between the print and the backing paper so that, after a while, the backing could be carefully peeled away.

Tears, creases and losses of paper were then repaired. For Western works on paper, Japanese tissue and wheat starch paste are used for repairs, while losses are in-filled with Western paper to match the original.

After repair the print sections were gently ‘relaxed’ using humidification and then pressed, using a blotting paper template to preserve the mark left by the original printer’s plate. To make the print look as good as possible for display, damaged areas were retouched where necessary and it was mounted between two pieces of high quality acid-free board, one a backboard and the other a window. The print was attached to the backboard using Japanese paper hinges. A frame will be specially-made for display.

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