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Conservation of gilded wood-carved festal icon stand

Catholicon Church of Saints Constantine and Helen | Patriarchate of Jerusalem | Jerusalem


Ecclesiastical objects, like portable icons and ecclesiastical woodcarvings, have been constructed for the liturgical needs of an Orthodox church building. These works are recognised not only for their theological symbolism but also as works of art with artistic, historic and archaeological value.

After a visit by ARTIS personnel in the Fall of 2019 to the Patriarchal Monastery of Saints Constantine and Helen, the wooden festal icon stand in the church was evaluated for damages and problems, which were then recorded. On this basis, an estimate regarding the interventions that would be necessary was made, and all of the actions needed for its conservation and restoration were carried out.

With dimensions of 237 cm (very tall) x 44 cm x 50 cm, the woodcarving is constructed from natural wood and is in the monastic style with its basic feature being the rectangular shape culminating in a sloped surface where the icon for the Saint of the day can be placed, along with a drawer on the side for storing another icon or object. Above, there is a canopy which is crowned with a domed ciborium with an image of the heavens inside, which is crowned with a cross. Its characteristics, however, were not easily discerned since the work had been altered by prior artistic interventions as well as its state of general disrepair.

During our examination, exploratory cleaning test samples were taken from various points in order to uncover the original appearance of the work its authentic ornamentation, its state of disrepair and the prior interventions to which it had been subject.

Extensive damage caused by successive coats of paint, gilding and varnish had been applied in different time periods of the work’s existence. Additional and equally significant damage was caused by the recent attempt at gilding the icon stand with a technique different from that of the initial gilding. The primer (putty oil) of this more recent gilding had damaged the icon stand’s appearance and had been applied in such a way onto the original gilded surface that its removal proved very difficult.

Damages, too, were located on the supporting base which had deteriorated because of the intense activity of woodboring insects, which created structural instability and, by extension, displacement and loss of parts of the wooden ornamentation.

During the work of conservation, the surface was cleaned of soot and grime deposits, and all of the later interventions were removed. Afterwards followed a stage of delousing and structural fortification of wood. The plaster and underlay were also subjected to a fortification process, since they were at risk of detachment.

Aesthetic renovation was undertaken in the final stage of conservation work, during which the gold leaf and paint layers on the surface were restored while also retouching the missing portions in a way that respected the original materials, with faithful adherence to the older artistic techniques.

The main aim of our conservation work is to preserve and showcase the historic and aesthetic value of each object. Each intervention carried out occurs with respect for the original materials and the authentic elements of the object. In each intervention, we begin first with a careful examination and trial cleanings on the carving to be restored in order to determine the best method of conservation.

In this case, the conservation and restoration process lasted for four months, and the official return of the newly-restored icon stand occurred in the presence of His Beatitude, Theophilos, Patriarch of Jerusalem.

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