Journal of
Conservation & Museum Studies
No. 1, May 1996

Second Postgraduate Conservation Research Seminar
Science Museum, London SW7 2DD, UK
8-9 February 1996



Helen Howard

Leverhulme Research Fellow, The Courtauld Institute, Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 0RN, United Kingdom

The technical sophistication of English medieval wall paintings has been fully established during the first four years of a research project which set out to systematically study all aspects of technique. The main finding, which is particularly relevant to conservation treatments, is that wall paintings are generally more complex than previously supposed and that mixed media are frequently employed. Although a high degree of sophistication might be expected in Gothic paintings -- such as those in the feretory of St. Albans Cathedral which have a complex layer structure, fragile lakes and glazes, and appear, not unexpectedly, to have been executed in an oil medium -- similar technical refinements have also been found in earlier paintings of the Romanesque period. The scheme of c. 1440 in St. Gabriel's Chapel, Canterbury Cathedral -- always presumed to have been painted in true fresco -- has been shown to have a complex layer structure with lead white grounds and vermillion glazes and most significantly, to be painted with mixed media. It is increasingly clear that wall paintings such as these, which undergo conservation relatively frequently, are -- unless the nature of the technique is fully understood -- extremely vulnerable to inappropriate conservation treatments. This paper will report on recent technical discoveries and their implications for conservation.


The methods, techniques, and conclusions found in individual papers are the work and responsibility of the author of the paper, and should in no way be thought to represent the opinion or endorsement of either the Journal of Conservation & Museum Studies, the Institute of Archaeology, or University College London. No liability or contract is accepted or implied by the publication of these data.


Copyright © Helen Howard, 1996. All rights reserved.