The combined holdings of the Skulpturensammlung und Museum für Byzantinische Kunst comprise some 12,600 objects, consisting of the most diverse materials and material combinations. A fraction of the objects, some 1700 in all, are on show in the permanent exhibition at any one time. In addition to polychrome and monochrome sculptures of wood, clay, and stone, the collection also includes works of art in bronze, lead, silver, ivory, tortoiseshell, amber, cartapesta (papier-mâché), stucco, plaster, as well as textile and goldwork.
This diversity of materials requires qualified conservators with specialist knowledge and great sensitivity in handling the collection objects. Seven conservators specializing in the fields of polychrome wood, stone, plaster, and textiles are responsible for the care of the collection.
In addition to handling loaned works both to and from institutions in Germany and abroad, their primary concern is preventive conservation, which includes the aspects of climate control, light, pollutants and contaminants, storage, presentation, security, and emergency precautions. In undertaking any necessary conservation and restoration treatments, the conservators keep abreast of the latest scientific findings and apply them in the best possible way to suit the specific requirements of individual works of art. Each treatment is fully documented.
A core area of activity is ongoing research into our holdings, especially in regard to challenges in the science of conservation, detecting past restoration treatments, establishing the state of preservation, assessing the natural aging process, and any historical alterations. To this end, we work with scientists at the Rathgen-Forschungslabor and other scientific institutions, such as the Technische Universität Berlin and BAM (the Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing). For the creation of new collection catalogues, technical analysis of the works of art is performed in close collaboration with the curators. The findings brought to light by our work are presented to an interested public in publications, lectures, and guided tours.
Due to the diverse nature of the collection, current research areas cover a wide spectrum. The present focus of research for the wooden sculptures is on the sculpting and polychromy techniques in Romanesque works. For the clay sculptures, the focus of current analysis is on the production techniques and surface treatment of medieval sculptures from German-speaking countries. For the many stone sculptures damaged by fire during the Second World War, studies are currently being conducted to assess the full extent of the damage and to develop appropriate conservation and restoration treatment methodologies. Another project deals with alterations in the structure and colour of ivory objects, as caused by optical radiation (ultraviolet, visible light, and infrared). The underlying goal of these investigations is to establish concrete guidelines to optimize storage and exhibition conditions for works of art made of this material.
In addition to overseeing conservation and restoration projects conducted by external freelance conservators on collection objects, the conservation department also provides education and training opportunities in the form of internships and graduate traineeships ('Volontariat' programmes), assists students in completing their theses, and supports colleagues from various disciplines in advancing their own research projects.