Greek panels in Vienna restored to former glory
The 2,500 year-old Heroon of Trysa is reassembled seven years after shattering into 500 pieces
By Martin Bailey. Conservation, Issue 200, March 2009
Published online: 18 March 2009
VIENNA. Sculpted reliefs from one of the greatest ancient Greek architectural ensembles have been restored, following a disastrous accident. Seven years ago, in an incident that received little international attention, sculptures from the Heroon of Trysa fell while they were being installed in a loan exhibition in Berlin.
Three large limestone reliefs from around 380 BC toppled from a height of 1.5 metres onto a tiled floor, shattering into over 500 fragments. Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum, which owns the Heroon of Trysa sculptures, has finally completed the painstaking restoration.
The carved reliefs are from Trysa, in south-western Turkey, where they had decorated the Heroon, the burial site of a local ruler who was venerated as a hero. In 1881 the 165 reliefs that decorated the massive walled enclosure were removed and acquired by the Vienna museum.
Although not as significant as the Parthenon Marbles or the Pergamon Altar, the Heroon of Trysa is nevertheless among the most important Greek structures with sculptural decoration. But despite the fact that the reliefs have been in Vienna for 125 years, they have never been publicly displayed, because of a lack of space. The Heroon sculptures have therefore failed to get the scholarly and popular attention they deserve.
In 2002 fourteen of the Heroon reliefs were loaned for an important exhibition on “Greek Classics”, organised by the Berlin Museums. It opened at Berlin’s Martin-Gropius-Bau and went on to Bonn’s Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle.
The first three Heroon sculptures were being installed in the Martin-Gropius-Bau when the sloping stand on which they were being affixed toppled to the ground. Although the stand would have been stable with all 14 reliefs, it was designed with a fundamental flaw, since it was unstable when only a few of the sculptures were attached.
When the Viennese conservator who was monitoring the Berlin installers saw what was happening, he instinctively put his arm out to try to break the fall of the reliefs. He then immediately realised the danger and leapt away. The conservator narrowly escaped being crushed by the steel stand and the three heavy stones, which were together about 3.5 metres long.
The three reliefs broke into around 25 larger pieces, more than 500 smaller fragments and a quantity of what was little more than powder.
The fragments were carefully reassembled, with the aid of earlier photographs. The larger pieces were held together with the insertion of steel rods, with smaller pieces being attached with Epoxid glue. Cracks and missing areas were partly filled with Primal Acetate mixed with rock meal. “The damage would now be barely noticeable to ordinary visitors,” says Dr Kurt Gschwantler, director of Greek and Roman antiquities at the Kunsthistorisches Museum.
The restoration was funded by the insurers, and they also made a significant compensation payment which has been spent on conserving the remaining panels which had remained in Vienna. These were given a very careful light cleaning with distilled water. The sculpted reliefs had originally been painted, and traces of pigments were discovered, which have been analysed and carefully preserved.
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