Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 6 December 2019

Louvre Abu Dhabi undertakes first artwork restoration on-site

The 17th-century tapestry will be displayed at the museum in 2020

Centimetre by centimetre, that’s how Montaine Bongrand works. The French art restorer, who specialises in tapestries and fabrics, is currently conducting the first on-site artwork restoration at Louvre Abu Dhabi.

Inside the museum’s heavily guarded conservation centre, Bongrand and her assistants are carefully restoring a large-scale tapestry that dates back more than three centuries. The aim is to preserve the structure of the stitches that make up the design, reversing damage that the material has endured. The piece is one of a series of 12 works, woven onto which are scenes from the hunting parties of Maximilian I, a member of the imperial Hapsburg family, which ruled parts of southern and northern Europe from the 13th to 17th century, and his noblemen.

Produced by Gobelins Manufactory, a tapestry factory in France, between 1665 and 1673, each large-scale piece corresponds to a month of the year. The original designs were created in Brussels by Bernard van Orley around the 16th century, and were eventually copied for royal court commissions by Jean-Baptiste Colbert, one of the main ministers of French king Louis XIV.

“These tapestries are the first series produced [in Gobelins Manufactory] with additional threads of silver and gold. When you get closer to the tapestries, you can see how important the golden thread is in adding brightness to the costumes and vegetation [shown in the design]. It’s impressive,” says Rose-Marie Mousseaux, the museum’s chief curator.

Of the dozen in the series, only four are known to still exist, all of which were acquired by Louvre Abu Dhabi last year. Two of these pieces, depicting the months of August and September, are currently on display at the museum. In line with ­preserving these works, Mousseaux has devised a timeline to ensure that their exposure to damaging elements is limited. “You are in front of a photosensitive object, so you cannot display it permanently. We can display them, but after, they need to have some rest in storage,” she says.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 2 AUGUST 2019. Details of “The Hunts of Maximillian” hanging tapestries in the Louvre. Louvre Abu Dhabi is conducting it’s first artwork restoration. The restoration work is on a French 17th century tapestry titled: “The Hunts of Maximillian”. (Photo: Reem Mohammed/The National) Reporter: Alexandra Section: AC
Details of 'The Hunts of Maximillian' hanging at Louvre Abu Dhabi. Reem Mohammed/The National

At present, Bongrand is restoring The Month of January, which depicts hunters and their hounds gathering around a bonfire, preparing their captured game. “We are just in the middle of the restoration. Each preparatory step has already been done – dusting, cleaning and consolidation of the edges,” she explains in French as her hands busily work needle and thread. “A restoration for a tapestry is above all structural; the intervention is directly on the stitches and the way the structure can be maintained.” She and her team work once a week and require 500 hours to complete each tapestry. Having started in February this year, the piece is expected to be fully restored by May 2020.

Montaine Bongrand, art restorer, working on a 17th-century tapestry at the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Reem Mohammed / The National
Montaine Bongrand, art restorer, working on a 17th-century tapestry at Louvre Abu Dhabi. Reem Mohammed / The National

Bongrand, who has 20 years of experience under her belt, was approached by Louvre Abu Dhabi’s scientific, curatorial & collections management director Souraya Noujaim to work on this project after serving as a consultant to the museum on a previous acquisition.

Noujaim’s decision to bring this restoration endeavour to the UAE hints at Louvre Abu Dhabi’s aim to expand its conservation and restoration programme, which she acknowledges as essential mandates for any museum. “We just wanted to start the regular process of work in a museum, to treat [artworks] on-site as much as we can. That’s the way it is actually. I think that’s best,” she says.

For the future, the plan is to check the status of our collection and intervene on the artworks that need restoration. We have a team of preventive conservationists that we are building right now, which is led by Maria Papadimitriou.

Souraya Noujaim

“For the future, the plan is to check the status of our collection and intervene on the artworks that need restoration. We have a team of preventive conservationists that we are building right now, which is led by Maria Papadimitriou.” The Greek artist’s expertise centres on preventative conservation, as well as the conservation of cultural heritage and archaeological artefacts.

The museum is also gearing up to launch its research and development centre, which will include a library, in November. It will serve as an educational resource for those in the field of museum studies, along with preservation, restoration and assessment of endangered collections.

Addressing the potential ­challenge of finding local talent, Noujaim outlines the introduction of training programmes for students and young professionals within the centre. “This is really the goal. I truly believe in the transfer of knowledge into generations, cultures and so on.”

Updated: August 6, 2019 03:06 PM

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