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Making the Invisible Visible: Conservation and Islamic Art

April 2–August 4, 2013

Panel with Cusped Arches, Morocco, 14th century

Beth Edelstein
Associate Conservator
The Sherman Fairchild Center for Objects Conservation


Courtyard and fountain, 'Attarin Madrasa, Fez, Morocco, 1323–25

Panel with Cusped Arches, 14th century. Morocco. Wood (cedar); carved and painted; H. 19 in. (48.3 cm) W. 121 in. (307.3 cm) D. 2 3/4 in. (7cm) Wt. including crate 247 lbs. (112 kg) crate maybe half of this weight. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Mr. and Mrs. Isaac D. Fletcher Collection, Bequest of Isaac D. Fletcher and Rogers Fund, by exchange, 1985 (1985.241)

This frieze was likely part of the decoration of an outdoor courtyard, and shows the remains of mortise and tenon joints as well as large hand-wrought iron nails used to attach it to adjacent panels. The carved decoration, which includes the word yumn, meaning "good luck," has been repainted at least once with a bright red, yellow, blue and white color scheme. These later paint layers were not well adhered to the surface, and the colors were obscured by a haze of dust and grime.

Before treatment(left), After treatment (right)

Detail of surface before treatment

Humidifying the thick curled paint layer with an ultrasonic mister allowed the paint to be flattened and readhered to the underlying surface. A layer of thin mulberry-fiber tissue was temporarily laid over the surface to keep the paint flat as it dried.

The original design, evident in some areas beneath the later flaking paint layer, included black and white outlines and dots on a red (shown here) and blue background. Other areas have a yellow underlayer with an orange-toned glaze.


Additional Reading

Terrasse, Charles, Médersas du Maroc. Paris: A. Morancé, 1928.

Paccard, Andre. Traditional Islamic craft in Moroccan architecture; translated from the French by Mary Guggenheim. Saint-Jorioz, France : Éditions Atelier 74, 1980.