As part of the 400 year anniversary events to mark Shakespeare’s death, a major conservation and restoration project has been on going in the 15th century Guildhall in Stratford on Avon, with the restored building to open as a public attraction to coincide with the anniversary. More about the building and project is available here: Shakespeare’s School Room.
Part of the project involved conservation work to a severely damaged 15th century Trinity wall painting, in the Hall of the building, and to decorative schemes in the upstairs Council Chamber. The Trinity painting was painted over the plaster and timber frame of the wall. Due to later interventions the majority of the painting on the plaster part was lost, but it survived on wooden beams, under a later over-paint. During the conservation work, undertaken by the Perry Lithgow Partnership, the paintings were consolidated, and original detail was able to be revealed by uncovering under magnification. The most remarkable discovery was a beautifully painted figure of John the Baptist. The discovery of the figure created some press coverage: Restoration Uncovers 600 Year Old Painting; BBC Shakepeare’s Classroom.
Once the building is open to the public the painting will be on display with a projected reconstruction which will overlay the original – this will help to aid interpretation due to the extremely fragmentary condition of the painting. I have written a little more about projections and reconstructions and their use as a tool in conservation here: Virtual Restoration, Bamyian Buddhas Projection.
I worked for the Partnership on this Guildhall project, in the Council Chamber, where there were surviving areas of a decorative scheme of fictive tapestry, and two Tudor Roses. The fictive tapestry scheme had been partially covered over with later shelving, as well as modern emulsion paint, and required uncovering, cleaning, stabilisation, final repairs as well as some reintegration. The design appears to be a scheme of branches, likely to be associated to the ‘ragged staff’ symbol of Warwickshire, and foliate sprigs. It would originally have continued over the wooden beams, as well as on the plaster panels – it was possible, with the use of raking and UV light to find evidence of this, and a small area was uncovered, as an example for viewers. Interpretative drawings of the original appearances of both the foliate scheme and the Tudor roses will be displayed next to the originals when the building is open to the public.
Below are some photos from the project. The graphics showing the paintings before and after conservation and the reconstructions, are produced by Richard Lithgow.