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Portable Icon of The Dormition of Theotokos

H.M. Ano Xenia| Magnesia

The portable icon of the Dormition of the Theotokos constitutes a work of exceptional artistic creativity. It is dated to the beginning of the 17th century and is held at the Monastery of Ano Xenia in Magnesia. Egg tempera was used to create the work, while the background has a gilded surface. Subsequently, a silver covering was placed over the entire surface, leaving only the faces of the figures uncovered. 

Once the silver covering was removed, the extent of the damages to the painted work was revealed. 

The silver covering, as well as the nails securing it to the icon, had oxidized and incurred significant damage both to the painted surface and the wooden panel. 

Moreover, in places the icon displayed problems relating to the fragility of the wooden panel itself, which had suffered from wood-eating insects, as well as damages to the painted surface resulting from the effects of the relative humidity and other factors. On the work itself were observed primarily varnishes corroded by oxidization, settlements of soot and other materials (wax etc.). 

Evident also was the rather advanced state of deformations and cracks on the painted surface. In places both the primer (backing support) and painted surface had peeled off and there were indications of intense surface moisture. 

​Numerous interventions subsequent to the original painting, which altered the original painting, technique and aesthetic of the work, were observed over the entire painted surface.

Finally, on the back of the icon was a velvet fabric, which was removed, revealing a wooden surface covered with oil paint. 

The effects of the above issues had incurred noticeable damage to the work and thus particular, careful treatments were necessary to effectively and successfully conserve the work. ​

The below conservation treatments were deemed necessary and conducted: ​

  • Stabilization – Reinforcing the wooden panel, stabilizing the fragile mass of wood, as well as reinforcing the technical behavior of the connective tissue of the panel. 

  • Disinfestation – Elimination of any possibility for live, wood-eating insects to remain on the panel, at any stage of their biological cycle (egg, larva, pupa, grown insect).

  • Stabilization of the primer (backing support) of the painted surface onto the panel

  • Dry cleaning and removal of surface deposits (wax etc.), layers of soot and pollutants. Removal of varnishes corroded by oxidization, shrunk, etc., as well as unveiling both the authentic painting in areas where it was covered over by newer, lower-quality overpainting and the natural wood. The overpainted areas were demarcated, and depending on the condition of the underlying authentic painting, the subsequent painting was either partially or wholly removed. 

  • During the dry cleaning, the painted surface and primer (backing support) were again selectively stabilized. 

  • Aesthetic and color restoration – the restoration phase aims to aesthetically highlight the work with respect for the authentic creation, its historicity and originality by always maintaining the basic ethical principles of conservation (reversibility, minimal intervention and readability).

  • Once the aesthetic restoration is complete, a special protective varnish is applied so that the work is insulated against changes in the area’s atmospheric conditions (temperature, moisture, brightness) and potential future settlements of foreign elements (soot, pollutants, dust, waxes, fats et. al.). 

All interventions are always conducted according to the principles of minimal intervention, compatibility and reversibility of materials. The goal is to combine the longstanding use of traditional materials with new, but scientifically proven, effective and tested materials. 

The primary goal of conserving artwork is to highlight monuments and their creators’ artistic skill as they have survived to the present, while ensuring ​that the works are preserved and their lifetimes extended into the future.  

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