White-ground lekythos in the restoration workshop during CVA research work © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Antikensammlung / Nina Zimmermann-Elseify
Care for the objects in the Antikensammlung is provided by three conservation studios that each specialize in different categories of material: stone, metal, and ceramics. Their tasks include complex, extensively documented conservation and restoration processes, technical analysis, and archaeological research. All work is conducted in close collaboration with scholars from the humanities and with scientists. In addition, the studios are given frequent assistance by professional external conservators.
As well as preparing objects for display in permanent and temporary exhibitions and overseeing their care, particularly as loans leaving and entering the museum, the Antikensammlung’s workshops also examine the effects of past restoration actions and the original production methods that went into the objects’ making. Very often members from our team of conservators accompany the artworks as couriers to exhibitions held abroad and monitor the packing, assembly, instalment, and eventual dismantling of the objects.
The conservators at the Antikensammlung pass on their knowledge to the next generation through internships and graduate programmes.
Of the approximately 27,000 stone objects held in the Antikensammlung – including sculptures, architectural elements, inscriptions and mosaics – only a fraction are ever on show at any one given moment in the exhibitions at the Pergamonmuseum, Altes Museum, and Neues Museum. The vast majority of objects are stored in various storerooms, where they also require care and monitoring. The stone conservation studio handles objects of greatly varying sizes, from the small alabaster vessel to architectural elements weighing several tons, whose materiality also vary, from marble, limestone, to basalt. Another important area of responsibility is coordinating the plans for the construction work and renovations in the Pergamonmuseum and liaising with the Federal Office for Building and Regional Planning (BBR) and with historical preservation planners and architects.
Many important works of art at the Antikensammlung consist of base metals, such as bronze, iron, and lead. In addition to preservation and restoration, investigative research into production techniques has for years formed a particular specialism of the studio. The systematic analysis of earlier conservation treatment methodologies provides interesting insight into an important branch of the collection’s activities over the past 180 years. The metal studio also offers other museums and institutions support by giving expert assessment and consultation regarding damage images, planning, and conservation.
Among the precious-metal objects in the Antikensammlung’s collection of gold (jewellery) and silver (vessels and implements) are gems and cameos, ornaments cut from precious and semi-precious stones and ring inlays. The production process in goldwork is retraced and examined to distinguish the ancient components from modern additions. When it comes to silver vessels in particular, there is much evidence of previous conservation treatments, which, in keeping with modern conservation codes of practice, are often reversed or removed, while in some instances they may be retained as an integral part of the history of the object. Due to the high reactivity of silver (tarnish) the preservation of the metallic surfaces is of particular importance.
Vases, figural and architectural terracottas, and clay lamps make up the ceramic holdings that comprise about 19,000 objects. The small artworks studio cares for objects of glass, wood, and ivory. Particular conservation specialisms are the treatments of Greek vases and fragile ancient glasses, painted mummy portraits executed in the encaustic technique, terracotta figures with extremely sensitive painting on the surfaces, as well as roof terracottas in widely varying states of preservation. Of particular importance are the investigations into former conservation actions and the development of plans to retain them as part of the history of the object.