2014 - May : Excursion to the Museum in Portimão
A group of AAA members visited the Portimão Museum where we met Andreia Romano and her team who work there behind the scenes in the conservation department. Their work includes the restoration and preservation of historical and archaeological importance - some of which are privately owned, come from excavations, objects for special exhibitions or to go on display in the museum itself.
The laboratory workshop was dominated by a huge 17th century painting of São Sebastião which is undergoing extensive and painstaking repair and conservation. This, together with a second painting of the Madonna comes from the main church in Pera, the work having been initiated and paid for by the church community. Due to their age both paintings were in poor condition, being very dirty and damaged in places. Over the years some repairs had been carried out but these were of poor quality, indeed the paints used proved to be oils in contrast to the original tempera, holes has been patched with material and over- painting had taken place. Andreia described the work she is overseeing – how layer of rabbit glue (homemade from bones and smelly to produce) was used to cover and stabilize the canvas. This was followed by the removal of the glue and surface dirt with natural soap on small cotton wool buds – a very time-consuming process. Then the surface was again cleaned with water. Once this was done the damaged places were repaired using plaster of Paris and then repainted using temperas.
On display for us to see were 2 metal ‘cannisters’ dredged from the River Arade. These came from shipwrecks and had originally contained gunpowder and were it seems an early form of handgrenade. Once they had been removed from the river and exposed to the air corrosion increased and we could see how the conservator had worked to stabilize and conserve the objects. The lab also works on items made of leather (an African sword scabbard from the Slavery Exhibition in Lagos) and ceramics eg early domestic pottery and amphorae as well as smaller paintings in oil and watercolour.
Conservation techniques have changed over the years particularly in relation to ceramics. There was a time when broken vessels were repaired to look almost perfect, but now missing portions are shown by the use of different coloured clay to the original.
At the moment the mosaics from the Roman villa of Abicada are being worked on but unfortunately we were not able to see them this time. Andreia also told us that other conservation labs at museums in the Algarve tend to specialize in certain items so the work is often shared between them. We were all very interested in all aspects of the work and there were a good number of questions put to Andreia and her co-workers!
We then moved on to the temporary exhibition which focused on the past influence of the Mediterranean countries and environment on the way of life in the Algarve. This included evidence of trade resulting in the introduction of arable crops as an example. Coins and objects recovered in the region also gave evidence of the movement of people from all around the Mediterranean. The exhibition was well presented and a good number of the items on display had come from collections in other museums although some had been through the work in the lab in Portimão. Our guide, Pedro, was there to explain and answer questions from the group. At the end of out visit some people went into the main museum and saw the section dedicated to the sinking of some redundant Portuguese naval vessels which are off the nearby coast. These were scuttled to allow for the study of marine life and also to provide sites for sports divers to investigate.
Our thanks go to everyone at the museum who made us very welcome.