The truth about the Nishapur ceramic

Collette Khanaferov (M.A. Candidate, 2nd year) UCLA/Getty Conservation Program

During my six week summer internship at the Brooklyn Museum, I was given the opportunity to examine and treat a 10th-11th century ceramic bowl from Nishapur, Iran. The object was a color-splashed ware footed bowl with a bird-like figure in the center. Upon arrival to the lab, the ceramic was fully intact with several signs of previous repair. As my examination moved forward, I would soon learn that what seemed to be a straightforward treatment would be anything but that.

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The first step was to examine the bowl and any suspicious areas to get a better understanding of the object and its previous treatment. I soon discovered that several areas near the head of the animal seemed to have been rejoined and inpainted.

Ultraviolet illumination was used as a supplemental tool to better identify areas of repair and inpainting. Areas of the yellow/orange fluorescence that covered both the inside and the outside of the bowl appeared to be associated with the repaired areas.

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The object was also x-rayed and the results proved that the ceramic, particularly near the head of the animal, was heavily fragmented. Some fragments were not even original to the bowl!

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After gaining insight using non-destructive imaging, micro-chemical tests and solubility tests were conducted. A small sample of the adhesive was taken and tested positive for protein, most likely an animal glue. The yellow/orange fluorescence was soluble in water and ethanol while the white fluorescence was only soluble in ethanol. A solubility test of the interior of the bowl was also taken and suspected areas of inpainting/overpainting were soluble in ethanol.

Treatment:

The inpainting/overpainting on the interior of the bowl was gently removed with ethanol soaked cotton swabs. This removal revealed the mismatch of sherds and confirmed the suspected use of other ceramic sherds! Once all the inpainting and overpainting was removed, areas of white colored fill material were revealed. The fill material was gently removed with water soaked cotton swabs and a wooden dowel. After all the joins were exposed, deionized water soaked cotton poultices were placed along the break edges to reverse the joins.

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Once disassembled, fragments were examined and original fragments were sorted from later additions. It was to my surprise that many of the fragments did not belong to the bowl and instead were from a similar type of ceramic. Following the consultation with the curator, Caitlin McKenna, it was decided to only reassemble fragments original to the bowl due to the uncertainty of an accurate representation of the central figure. Unfortunately, this treatment would leave 1/3rd of the bowl missing. Even so, original sherds and extraneous were consolidated but only the original were rejoined. To stabilize several of the joins, bulked Paraloid B-72 with glass micro-balloons was used to fill three voids. Although currently fragmented and incomplete, conservators and curators now have a true representation of the Nishapur ceramic.

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