Conservation Treatment of a Monumental Print

A monumental 17th-century etching/engraving by the artist Jacques Callot is currently on view in the Jacqueline and Peter Hoefer Print Study Room at the Legion of Honor. In addition to a dramatic naval battle scene, the print depicts many fascinating details of daily life, which are visible upon close inspection. Although the print was acquired by the museums in 1968, it had never been exhibited due to condition issues. The most noticeable of these condition issues was the fact that until recently, the sixteen panels comprising the print were separate pieces!

Jacques Callot (French, 1592-1635). Siege de la Rochelle, 1629-1630. Printed second half of 17th century. Museum Purchase, Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts Endowment Fund. 1968.13.32

Conservation of the print was undertaken by Adam Novak, a Fellow in the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in art conservation, who spent the final year of his graduate studies interning in the Museums' paper conservation lab.

After a thorough assessment and photo documentation of the individual pieces, the sixteen panels were bathed in water to reduce discoloration typical in paper of this age. The water baths also loosened old adhesive residues that had been used previously to attach the panels.

A special starch-specific enzyme gel was constructed to further aid in the removal of the old embedded starch adhesive.

Large panels of the print were treated with this enzyme gel.

The print panels were rinsed in water to reduce any remaining adhesive and enzymes. While wet, the delicate paper panels were supported by strong, flexible and porous polyester sheets.

Losses in the print were filled with wet paper pulp. The pulp distribution was adjusted to match the density of the surrounding paper.

Print panels were sprayed with water to moisten them prior to flattening. As part of the process, the prints were smoothed flat by brushing them between two sheets of Japanese paper.

Prior to the retouching process, watercolor paints were mixed to attain the right shade of black to match the ink in the prints. Inpainting in the fill areas is a precision process carried out with a tiny sable brush. The color on the fill was built up slowly to achieve a perfect match.

The sixteen panels were joined with Japanese tissue strips prepared with a starch adhesive.

The conserved print can be viewed on Saturdays, when the study room is open to the public. Volunteers are on hand to explain the details of this spectacular print, one of the many treasures of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts.