From the Bench: Preservation of Art Objects Help Restore Historic Halls to Past Splendor

This post is part of the “From the Bench” series celebrating the work of conservators. Part scientist, part detective, part artisan, part caretaker, a conservator works to preserve the past for the future. This series features the voices of conservators who are working on IMLS-supported projects in museums across the United States. For more information about IMLS funding for museums see

 Valentine Talland, Senior Conservator, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum received a Conservation Project Support grant from IMLS in 2009 to conserve objects that were the highest priorities for preservation in two important galleries: the Titian Room and the Tapestry Room. The Gardner was engaged in a major capital preservation project, concluded in 2012, with two objectives: first, the systematic preservation of whole galleries, including the conservation of art objects and the restoration of architectural finishes; and second, the construction of an addition to the building to relieve wear and tear on the museum’s historic interiors and to house expanding museum programs. The Titian and Tapestry rooms were central to these goals as well as to enhancing the visitor experience and education programs at the Gardner. Generous support from IMLS provided for the following conservation treatments:

  1. Ten side chairs upholstered in 18th-century painted and gilded leather. Six of these chairs are positioned in the center of the Tapestry Room where visitor traffic is relatively high. These chairs were reupholstered with handmade leather, reproducing the original colors and design (called Corfus). The de-upholstered original leather coverings were stabilized, cleaned, and safely housed for study and storage. Four of these chairs are exhibited out of visitor traffic; their original upholstery was cleaned, conserved, and retained on the chairs.
  2. Bust of a Venetian Senator. This monumental marble sculpture was cleaned using the Gardner’s laser cleaner. It was remounted on a structural stainless steel pin. Prior to its reinstallation in the Titian Room, its gallery mount was re-engineered to safely support the sculpture’s weight.
  3. King Philip IV of Spain, by Velázquez, and frame. A complete conservation treatment and investigative analysis of the painting was carried out. This included X-radiography and comparative study with versions in the Prado and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The frame, originally from a suite at Kingston Lacey, was consolidated, cleaned and retouched.
  4. Namban Chest. This rare early Japanese lacquer chest was stabilized and cleaned. Treatment revealed original graphite scribe lines and brilliant mother-of pearl inlays. X-ray fluorescence analysis confirmed gilding on the silver mounts.

For more information on the Renzo Piano-designed addition to the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum and restoration of the Tapestry Room visit: