More on Madame Rubinstein

Helena Rubinstein built her life and her wealth on beauty, so it should come as no surprise that she was attracted to this stunning Ptolemaic cartonnage funerary mask and it’s related pieces, which we are working on in the Artifact Lab.

Rubinstein was known as a great art collector (she bought pieces by the truckload, according to this article in the New Yorker) and she decorated her many homes with modern art, as well as artwork and antiquities from all over the world (she amassed an especially large collection of African art). When I found out that these cartonnage pieces in our collection had once been in the possession of the Madame, as she preferred to be called, I was hoping that I’d be able to find a photo of them on display in one of her homes.

Rubinstein, photographed in 1951, with some selections from her Africa and Oceania collection on display

Rubinstein, photographed in 1951, with some pieces from her Africa and Oceania collection. Image from “Over the Top: Helena Rubinstein: Extraordinary style, beauty, art, fashion” by Suzanne Slesin, 2003.

While I found many photos showing the interior of her homes, I didn’t catch a glimpse of the funerary mask in any of them. And it’s possible that she never had it, or the rest of the cartonnage, on display at all.

Based on letters found in our Archives, I found out that we ended up receiving these pieces as a gift from Mme. Rubinstein through the Carlebach Gallery in New York. The gallery owner, Julius Carlebach, acted as the intermediary for the donation, which was given to the museum while Dr. Rudolf Anthes was Curator of the Egyptian Section, under the directorship of Froelich Rainey. In his letter offering the cartonnage pieces to the museum, Carlebach noted that he was sorry that Madame Rubinstein had no further information about them.

But I did find something interesting in Froelich Rainey’s thank you note to Mme. Rubinstein.

UPMAA_Rainey_Page_2The letter is a little confusing because he refers to the mask as a mummy portrait, but I’m sure he’s talking about the cartonnage. As you can see, he mentions that the lower section would be included in the museum’s television program “What in the World”. “What in the World” was a Peabody Award-winning television program, where Rainey moderated a panel of experts trying to identity artifacts, while viewers were given clues to the answer (it ran for 14 years and by the early 1960s it was one of the oldest programs on television!). The episode featuring the cartonnage aired on May 23, 1953.

Unfortunately, as far as we know, only a few episodes of this show have survived, not including this 1953 episode. Those that we do have are now digitized and on the museum’s YouTube channel (follow this link to view them). Is there any way we might be able to find the one featuring Mme. Rubinstein’s gift? It seems unlikely, but I’d love to think that it is possible.

In the meantime, we’ll be doing our own investigations on these pieces right here in the Artifact Lab, and we’ll report on the blog as we learn more and make decisions on treatment.

Special thanks to Alex Pezzati, our Senior Archivist, for his help in locating these documents.

 

A gift from a late, great, beauty magnate

Some of the newest objects to come into the Artifact Lab are pieces of cartonnage which are related to this beautiful funerary mask, currently on exhibit in our Upper Egyptian gallery:

53-20-1A A funerary mask made of gilded cartonnage, currently on display in our Upper Egyptian gallery.

53-20-1A A funerary mask made of gilded cartonnage, currently on display in our Upper Egyptian gallery

Here are the pieces of cartonnage currently in the lab:

53.20.1bt01_compAnd here is a detail of the chest covering, adhered to fine linen with a black resinous material:

53.20.1bt03_chestcoveringAll of the pieces are unfortunately nailed down to the painted wooden (contemporary) support below. I’ve been working on documenting the cartonnage and getting the nails out, so that I can better evaluate the condition of these pieces.

I also have been doing some background research on these pieces, and found that, unlike most of the objects that I work on in the lab which are from excavations or which were collected early on in the museum’s history, this cartonnage assemblage was donated to us by cosmetics magnate Helena Rubinstein. Rubinstein, who is known for her wildly successful brand of cosmetics, and who, when she died, was one of the world’s richest women, was also an art collector. I’m not sure exactly how she wound up buying these pieces and then how they ended up here at the museum, but I’m heading over to the Archives now to see what I might learn there. More on this soon!

 

 

The “conservation story” of Nefrina’s Funerary Mask, Part 3: Stabilization of the Exterior

This is the final installment of the conservation treatment of Nefrina’s Funerary mask.  The condition and stabilization of the interior have been discussed in previous posts.  In this post, I will be talking about building the storage and display mount as well as stabilizing the exterior of the mask.

1.  New mount construction:  Once the interior structural issues were addressed, I made a new mount for the object. I carved Ethafoam, an inert polyethylene foam, to create a support for the top of the head, and used epoxy putty (the black material in the images below) to create a form-fitting rigid support. The clear plastic in the image below is cling film, which I used to keep the epoxy from bonding to the mask while it cured.

The mount is in three separate detachable parts. Part 1 supports the top of the head and the face, part 2 supports the front and back panels of the mask, and part 3 is a stand to hold parts 1 and 2 during travel and storage. Parts 1 and 2 of the mount are supporting the mask at this moment while it is on display (along with a pole mount that has taken the place of part 3).

Left: During treatment photo showing the construction of the top portion of the mount. Right: The completed mount.

Left: During treatment photo showing the construction of the top portion of the mount. Right: The completed mount.

2.  Facing removal: Once I completed the mount and put it in place, I flipped the mask over again and started to remove the temporary facing of Japanese tissue. I removed the facing in sections and stabilized the exposed areas before moving on to a new area. I did this by brushing an area of facing with acetone, which solubilized the adhesive that had been used to place the facing, and then gently pulling the Japanese tissue back.

Facing removal

Carefully removing the Japanese tissue facing

3.  Re-shaping before tear repair: Some of the tears did not go through all of the linen layers, and so could not be treated from the interior. These tears had to be realigned and repaired from the front. As with the inside, I often had to humidify and re-shape an area before carrying out the repair. The images below show the tear in the forehead of the mask during reshaping. I used Teflon tape to bring the edges of the tear together.

During reshaping of the tear in the forehead

During reshaping of the tear in the forehead

4.  Tear repair: I repaired the tears using paper pulp combined with methyl cellulose and powdered pigments. Before applying the wet pulp, I lined part of the areas with a thin sheet of dried paper pulp mixture to achieve an even fill.

Left: lining the area with dried paper pulp and methyl cellulose. Right: After filling tear repair with additional paper pulp mixed with methyl cellulose.

Left: Lining the area with dried paper pulp and methyl cellulose. Right: After filling with additional paper pulp/methyl cellulose mixture.

5.  Edging: Many areas of the paint were adjacent to areas of loss and were cracked and cupped. I stabilized these areas by edging the paint with paper pulp combined with methyl cellulose and powdered pigments.

Side of the mask after edging the areas of unstable paint

Details of the side of the mask after edging the areas of unstable paint

6.  Loss Compensation: Large areas of loss on the edges of the mask also had to be filled for the mask to be structurally stable. I filled the areas of loss by applying pigmented paper pulp mixed with methyl cellulose across the areas of loss using a backing support of silicone-coated Mylar. The coating on the Mylar allows it to be removed once the paper pulp mixture had dried.

Left: During loss compensation.  The square rare earth magnet at the bottom of the image was being used to keep the Mylar in tight with the shape of the mask. Right: After the fill was done and had dried.

Left: Detail during loss compensation. The square rare earth magnet at the bottom of the image was used to align the Mylar along the contours of the mask. Right: After the fill was complete and had dried.

7.  In-painting: Although I had pre-toned the fill material, the fills still needed just a bit of in-painting to adjust the color so that it would blend in better with the mask.

Left: Tear on the head after treatment. Right: Area of loss on the side of the mask after treatment.

Left: Tear on the head after treatment. Right: Area of loss on the side of the mask after treatment.

All of this work allowed Nefrina’s Funerary mask to travel for exhibition in the Reading Public Museum, and to be exhibited here at the museum, In the Artifact Lab – visit us to take a closer look at the mask for yourself, and to see several other objects that have recently been conserved.

- posted by Tessa de Alarcon