All posts in “Hidden Gems”

Conservation Stories: The Lamentation over the Dead Christ

SAM’s intricate and stunning sculpture of The Lamentation over the Dead Christ by Massimiliano Soldani Benzi is currently on view in Body Language, but wouldn’t be if it weren’t for a years-long project that restored the piece to its former sheen. To make this possible, our conservators worked with a team at the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence, the original home of the sculpture. See images from the process and find out more about the conservation process from our conservators before you see this sculpture in person.

Lamentation over the Dead Christ before conservation.

Massimiliano Soldani Benzi’s bronze sculpture The Lamentation over the Dead Christ (SAM 61.178) was cast in 1714 and acquired by SAM in 1961 as part of the Samuel Kress Collection. SAM’s Head of Conservation, Nicholas Dorman, led a multi-year fundraising campaign to study and treat the sculpture. Completed in December 2018, the project encompassed three broad goals: analysis of the surface and cleaning, replacing the lost crown, and constructing a new period-appropriate base.

The sculpture was loaned to the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence in 2017, where it was featured in Making Beauty: The Ginori Porcelain Manufactory and Its Progeny of Statues. The exhibition discussed the relationship between Soldani and the Ginori Porcelain studio: after his death, Soldani’s heirs sold some of his wax models and molds to Mr. Carlo Ginori, who reproduced them in porcelain at his Florentine workshop. The bronze Lamentation over the Dead Christ was displayed next to its porcelain cousin for the first time, both having been cast from the same approximately 56 molds.

Lamentation over the Dead Christ during conservation

The Bargello exhibition was an opportunity to study and document the various layers of degraded, non-original surface coatings—a mixture of black-brown pigmented wax and oils—with Florentine conservator and metals specialist, Ludovica Nicolai. Nicolai has worked on a great number of Soldani’s works in the Bargello collection. In collaboration with Nicolai and SAM’s conservation department, scientific analysis of the coatings was executed by a team of scientists from Adarte, Pisa University and Florence University, in order to inform the cleaning approach. Over four months, solvent gels were used to soften the hardened coatings, followed by cleaning with dental tools and the flexible tips of porcupine quills to gently remove the non-original layers from the surface. 

Meanwhile, the missing crown of thorns was re-cast by the Florentine foundry Ciglia e Carrai. Two sources informed the crown’s recreation: a 1970–1990s image of the sculpture located in the Fondazione Zeri archives (housed in Bologna), and the original wax model of the sculpture located in the Palazzo Pitti collection.  

Lamentation over the Dead Christ after conservation

At the conclusion of the treatment, a stylistically appropriate wooden base was constructed—whose form echoes the porcelain version in the Bargello exhibition. This replaces the modern stone mount on which it has been previously displayed.

Lamentation over the Dead Christ conserved on pedestal

This project was a truly international collaboration. As well as the experts mentioned above, we are particularly grateful to Dr. Paola D’Agostino and Dr. Dimitrios Zikos and their colleagues at the Bargello for their abiding support and for being so generous with their knowledge. To conserve a sculpture like this in its original place of creation is a significant funding challenge, and we wish to thank the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, The Museo Nazionale del Bargello, SAM’s Plestcheeff Fund for Decorative Arts, an anonymous foundation and an anonymous individual donor. Thanks to their support, we can present and share the story of this magnificent Florentine baroque sculpture.

– Geneva Griswold, SAM Associate Conservator & Nicholas Dorman, Chief Conservator

Images: Installation view Body Language, Seattle Art Museum, 2018, photo: Natali Wiseman. Before conservation photo: Ludovica Nicolai. Installation view Museo Nazionale del Bargello, 2017, photo: Arrigo Coppitz. During installation and details photo: Ludovica Nicolai. Fondazione Federico Zeri Archive  | no. 149804Silver gelatin print, ca. 1970–1989 During treatment in the Bargello Museum galleries, photo: Geneva Griswold. After conservation photo: Ludovica Nicolai. Installed on pedestal photo: Arrigo Coppitz.

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Last Call for Color

Time is running out to bring your collection of lids in to the Olympic Sculpture Park!

In Trenton Doyle Hancock’s wildly fictitious narrative, color is the source of salvation to a race of creatures who are seeking spiritual nourishment. For his installation, A Better Promise, Hancock playfully encourages you to pour color into his work by bringing plastic tops in all colors. The plastic caps add a whole spectrum of light into the installation and, for Hancock they “are in a way the surrogates for the color salvation.” As the artist has said, this installation “has to do with hope, color, connecting with people, connecting with community.” And you all have shown that he’s definitely connected with this community. Continue Reading…

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A Better Promise

A Call to Color

If you haven’t been to the Olympic Sculpture Park lately, you should go. Not only is it summer in the park but Trenton Doyle Hancock’s, A Better Promise—an art installation in the PACCAR Pavilion—is especially mesmerizing and animated when the bright sunshine manages to peek out of the clouds and shine into the pavilion. Ironically, this is partly because of its numerous colorful raindrops but partly it’s because of the giant vitrines full of plastic lids that sit below the installation.

As part of the work, Hancock issues a “call to color” by encouraging visitors to bring their own morsels of color—in the form of plastic bottle caps—to the park and drop them into the work of art. Nine large-scale “earthbound” vitrines have been placed on the floor in front of the hand sculpture. On the face of each of these nine containers, there is a teardrop cut-out where plastic bottle caps can be deposited by color. Visitors are encouraged to bring plastic bottle caps ranging in all shapes and sizes from detergent bottles, to clear water bottles to the black and white caps from drink bottles.

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K-12 Student Responses to Calder

Nothing is more rewarding to a museum educator than seeing the positive impact of your programs on students. During the six month run of Alexander Calder: A Balancing Act more than 9,300 students visited the SAM’s galleries and experienced Calder’s work in person. Students learned about how he used geometry and math to create beautify balanced sculptures and created their own works of art out of wire and recycled materials in the museum’s art studio spaces. Here are some of our favorite thank you notes and quotes from students who visited the exhibition.

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Hidden Gems

In a collection of nearly 25,000 objects, it’s easy to overlook a hidden gem. While reading an art blog , I came across a link to a photographic portrait of George Washington, carved in snow  (I’m not joking).  Amazing, but something you might not look twice at in a gallery, or even in a database. Sometimes it takes a spotlight to recognize the brilliance, humor, history, subtlety, or whimsy in this collection. I asked some of my colleagues to share their favorite overlooked, underappreciated object—these are the objects that they wish you, the visitor, knew all about.

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