Conserving a statue of Hermes
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This statue of Hermes is a white marble, first century AD Roman sculpture, on long term loan at the British Museum from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.
It first came to the Museum in 1959 in over 50 fragments, some from a previous restoration while others were breaks in the marble.
Large iron dowels and cramps were holding most of these pieces loosely together, although the statue was no longer structurally sound. While the cause of this damage is not known we understand from the history of the sculpture that it was possibly displayed outside. In addition the ferrous fixings, combined with being exposed to an external environment, resulted in further damage.
The figure of Hermes after conservation
Cleaning the fragments
On its arrival at the Stone Wall paintings and Mosaics Conservation Studio in 2009, the statue was in over 18 fragments. Although many of the ferrous cramps had been removed during the 1970s restoration some remained and required removing. During this same restoration some of the marble fragments had also been re-adhered.
The work began on the sculpture by first assessing the condition of each fragment. The figure’s left arm and left thigh were still attached but, as the iron dowels securing them had corroded, they were no longer structurally sound and therefore needed to be detached and re-set along with the other fragments.
Once the pieces of the sculpture were found to be sound they were each cleaned using low pressure steam.
Putting the pieces back together
As previous restorations and later damage had adjusted the shape of the marble fragments, it was necessary to first build the whole figure without any adhesive in order to calculate the best position for each section of the sculpture.
A wooden frame was built to facilitate the re-assembly by holding each piece in place to allow the next fragment to be added. In this way the sculpture was assembled and disassembled many times, with slight adjustments made each time.
Once the final positions of each section had been decided, the fragments were repaired with internal stainless steel dowels, which offer additional strength and support, and bonded with epoxy resin.
Finishing the job
Any exposed resin was cut back so that it was recessed from the surface of the stone, before it had fully cured.
The gaps between the fragments were filled with a reversible, white paste, which were then painted using acrylic paints to match the surrounding stone.
The fully conserved and restored statue of Hermes is now on display in Room 23: Greek and Roman sculpture.