2019 / 2 / 21

Intervention works on four polychromed wooden sculptures from the high altar in the parish church of St Daniel in Štanjel

During the process of collecting and documenting the artworks made by the members of the Straub family in Slovenia, V. Pavlič, V. Benedik and S. Dolinšek visited the parish church of St Daniel in Štanjel. Above the stone altar, there are four polychromed wooden sculptures.  Two of them – the sculptures of St Joseph with Jesus and of St John of Nepomuk – are documented works of Joseph Straub (the sculpture of St John of Nepomuk has an inscription on its base: IOSE: STRAVP INVENTOR SCVLP: ANNO 1741). The wooden sculptures of St Augustine and St Gregory are later works of an (so far) unknown sculptor.

The wooden supports of all four sculptures, and especially the two by Joseph Straub, are badly damaged by wood pests and decay. We decided to take them to the Restoration Centre in Ljubljana to disinfest them because the wood insects were still present in the already deteriorated wood. After the disinfestation with anoxic procedure, we could not return the sculptures in this bad condition back to the church. Dr Katja Kavkler took a few samples of polychromy from each sculpture to make laboratory analyses of the paint layers and materials used. We made some probes on all four statues. The result of the first study on the polychromy was quite interesting. Under several layers of monochrome oil painting which imitated stone and white marble, we found very colourful polychromy with gilding and silvering on all four statues. But Joseph Straub´s statues had one more polychromy under this.

In June 2018, when the second general meeting of the TrArS project took place in Ljubljana, the participating experts observed the sculptures from Štanjel and discussed the question of their final presentation.

The removal of the film forming materials was the next procedure made on the sculptures. We started on the sculptures of St Joseph with Jesus by Joseph Straub and the sculpture of St Augustine by the unknown sculptor. The removal of the overpaints was a long procedure, because we had to remove several thick layers of oil paint, and the first polychromy was quite sensitive to polar solvents. In the middle of the procedure we had to consolidate the wooden support, because it was so degraded we could not continue the work. When the wood was consolidated we filled the gaps and continued with removing of the overpaints. The work on the sculptures of St John of Nepomuk (Joseph Straub) and St Gregory is continuing.

The conservation-restoration work on the four sculptures from Štanjel are proceeding in the department for wood in the Restoration Centre in Ljubljana.

Saša Dolinšek, restorer and Valentina Pavlič, art historian