Practical evaluation and application of cleaning techniques for marble sculpture

Raina Chao


Cleaning marble is an involved process that can require complex decision-making along with multiple tests and treatment steps to arrive at the desired outcome. The type of object, source of soiling, desired appearance, manner of carving and finishing, and even the properties of the stone itself are factors affecting treatment choices and results. There are many treatment options for cleaning marble that can be tailored to the specific needs of an object, including vinyl erasers, aqueous solutions, chelators, surfactants, poultices, solvents, and lasers. This article will explore the advantages and limitations of these techniques, which were investigated in preparation for the treatment of La Première Pose (1873–1876) by Howard Roberts, a life-size marble figure in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. This case study will be contextualized by a literature review of published cleaning techniques. While the treatment of La Première Pose necessitated a combination of cleaning methods executed in sequence, additional treatment examples that used different methodologies will also be discussed, highlighting the complex nature of the decision-making process.

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2017 | Chicago | Volume 24