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Subject: Ivory miniatures

Ivory miniatures

From: Alan Derbyshire <aland>
Date: Thursday, June 5, 2003
The warping of ivory miniatures is a common problem and is largely
due to the artist's practice of "lining" the ivory with a piece of
paper or card, which provided both a white reflector for the
translucent ivory and a support during the painting process. Removal
of the paper/ glue layer is essential for successful flattening of
the miniature. This treatment not only improves the aesthetic
appearance of the miniature but lessens the likelihood of the ivory
cracking. Removal of the paper should be done carefully and in one
piece as this constitutes part of the object and often contains
information such as inscriptions. This removal can normally be done
dry or by carefully dampening the backing paper. However extreme
care needs to be taken as the painted surface is usually very water
sensitive. Having removed the paper and glue from the verso, I have
found the best way to relax and flatten the ivory is then to use a
Gore-Tex system of controlled humidification. This system is
explained in   "Developments in the field of portrait miniature
conservation" published in Restauratorenblatter 21, Austrian IIC. I
can let anyone interested have a copy of this paper.

The two methods mentioned by Bill Wiebold (Conservation DistList
Instance: 16:77 Wednesday, June 4, 2003 ) should not be encouraged.
(1) Breathing on the face of the miniature is too risky. Even a tiny
amount of spittle could leave marks on the paint surface and (2) the
almond oil, acetic acid, I.M.S. mixture that my predecessor and
teacher, Jim Murrell formulated is no longer recommended.

I have seen examples of damage to the ivory caused by this method
which relies on the softening effect of the acid. Further the use of
weights to flatten the warped ivory should only be used with extreme
prudence as if the ivory is not sufficiently relaxed  it can cause
the miniature to crack. Once the ivory is relaxed the flattened
miniature can be placed between silicon paper and glass plates held
with bulldog clips. The whole process may need to be repeated until
the ivory will remain flat. Again it should be pointed out that some
miniatures such as the larger thicker (usually rectangular) ones
from the C19th will not easily flatten and this should be accepted.
If possible their frame can be built out to safely accommodate the

Alan Derbyshire
Senior Conservator, Paper and Miniatures on Ivory, V&A Museum.

                  Conservation DistList Instance 17:1
                   Distributed: Monday, June 16, 2003
                        Message Id: cdl-17-1-003
Received on Thursday, 5 June, 2003

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