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Making the Invisible Visible: Conservation and Islamic Art

April 2–August 4, 2013

Featured Object: Spanish Ceiling

Beth Edelstein
Associate Conservator
The Sherman Fairchild Center for Objects Conservation


Ceiling, 16th century. Spain. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of The Hearst Foundation, 1956 (56.234.35.2)

During the conservation of this monumental wooden ceiling, conservators discovered that it had been considerably altered before entering the collection, possibly in an early twentieth-century restoration for William Randolph Hearst. The ceiling had been enlarged by approximately sixty percent, and its original five-faceted profile was converted to the current three-faceted shape. The wooden boards added at this time were distressed to mimic the flaking paint of the original areas, and new elements of the geometric design were incorporated, resulting in a geometric configuration that is no longer mathematically sound. Conservators also discovered that the carved medallions in the blue fields were originally gilded, but had been painted red during the restoration. The conservation study also analyzed the materials, joinery, and decorative techniques of the ceiling, and found closely related examples from the Castile-Leon region of Spain, shedding new light on the ceiling's provenance. The results of the study were published in the Journal of Architectural Conservation in November 2010.

Shtrum, B., Brussat, M., Garcia, M., Hayes T., Massaux, S. "The Metropolitan Museum of Art's 'Spanish Ceiling' Project: Interpretation and Conservation." In Journal of Architectural Conservation Vol 16, No. 3 (November 2010), 29–50.