Problems Associated with the Cleaning of "Unvarnished" Paintings

Author: Barbara Dragan, acad. restorer
Mentor: Lucija Močnik Ramovš, MA, Associate Professor

Department of Conservation and Restoration of Works of Art, Academy of Fine Arts and Design, University of Ljubljana (Slovenia)
Study programme: Second-Cycle Master's Programme of Study in Conservation and Restoration of Works of Art
Specialization: Paintings and Polychrome Plastic (2nd year of study)

DRAGAN BarbaraAbstract

The article is focused on the problems associated with the removal of dirt from the surface of paintings. The three chosen paintings of the Stations of the Cross are attributed to Leopold Layer and were made in the late Baroque period. The surface of the paintings appeared matt and an assumption was made that they were unvarnished. However, the examination with UV light revealed that some residues of varnish remained on the surface. It was suspected that all three paintings had already undergone a conservation-restoration treatment in the past, when most of the varnish had been thinned out. The paint layers were sampled and analysed, and the results confirmed that a strong adhesion between the dirt and the varnish had been established. Water-based cleaning systems were used to remove the surface dirt, which also caused some problems, as not all the surface behaved hydrophobically. Even though we wanted to avoid more polar solvents, their use was necessary because the water solutions left a cloudy veil behind and did not remove the varnish residues.

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Short biography

BARBARA DRAGAN was born in 1993. She is a student of the MA Programme of the Conservation and Restoration of Works of Art at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design of the University of Ljubljana. In 2016 she defended her bachelors’ thesis entitled "Consolidation of Stone Sculptures Using the Biomineralization Method" She is now specializing in conservation and restoration of easel paintings and polychrome wooden objects. Her Master’s Thesis is focused on the effects of water-based cleaning systems on unvarnished oil paintings.