The “conservation story” of Nefrina’s Funerary Mask, Part 1: Condition

Now that Nefrina is on display, I thought it might be helpful to discuss the condition of the mask as well as the treatment it underwent in 2011. Just as a bit of background, the mask has been in the Penn Museum’s collection since 1893 and was recently on display at the Reading Public Museum in Reading, PA.  Below you can see the mask before treatment.

nefrina image 1When the mask arrived to the conservation lab in 2011, it was a return visit. In 1993, the mask was stabilized for in-house photography, but this treatment did not address the many structural and surface issues that really needed to be taken care of before the mask could travel to Reading or be displayed.

As was mentioned in the previous posting about Nefrina’s funerary mask, it is made of cartonnage which is a composite material consisting of layers of linen and papyrus impregnated with glue that has been covered with plaster and painted. This type of material is prone to damage because of the differences in properties of the layers: the linen is flexible and the paint and gesso layers are rigid and brittle. As a result, when the mask is moved or stored unsupported the textile will bend causing damage to the gesso and paint layers.

The damage that the mask had sustained is highlighted in these condition maps, prepared during examination prior to the 2011 conservation treatment:

nefrina image 2nefrina image 3As you can see the cracking and loss to the paint is worse on the sides; this is likely because prior to 1993 the mask had no storage mount and probably rested flat on its back with the face pointing up. This position would have allowed the linen to flex and bend on the sides causing the paint to crack and detach from the surface. Areas on the front and back of the mask were also distorted and dented, also likely as a result of lack of proper support.

In addition to these surface issues, the mask also had tears and losses to the linen support. The tears and losses were temporarily stabilized in 1993 with the addition of internal patches made of spun bonded polyester lightly tacked in place with an adhesive. Again, these details are highlighted in the condition map below:

nefrina image 4The goals of the treatment in 2011 were to stabilize and realign the tears, compensate structural losses, and stabilize cracks, which will be discussed in an upcoming post.

- posted by Tessa De Alarcon