Villa of Mysteries Watercolors


ArtistMaria Barosso
MediaWatercolors on Paper
DateMid 1920s
Dimensions21 oversized panels
LocationKelsey Museum of Archaeology

When the Kelsey Museum of Archeology received a donation in 2005 to build a new exhibition space, visible storage was a cornerstone of the new plan. As one of the most important yet rarely seen components of the collection, Maria Barosso's 5/6th scale renderings of the Villa of Mysteries fresco cycle, were finally slated to receive their own gallery designed to replicate the original room in Pompeii. In addition to treatment, an important component of the project was to ensure the long-term display of these watercolors would not cause lasting damage to the pigments or paper. Steps taken to protect the objects included micro-fade testing of the pigments, motion sensors on the gallery lights to reduce the cumulative light exposure, and blue wool strips installed in the gallery to help conservators gauge the effects light might be having on the objects over time.


The initial treatment was to humidify and flatten the objects in preparation for mounting. The longest set of panels (20 feet) had been made from two sections of paper keyed together. The artist used elements in the images to hide the seams, which had been joined with a thick paper and adhesive. The joints had to be separated, realigned and reattached to reduce the rippling of the paper in these areas. The cracks were then filled with paper and retouched to integrate them into the image. Because the watercolors were painted on paper backed with canvas, a multi-disciplinary conservation staff of both paper and paintings conservators worked together to formulate an appropriate mounting method. Knowing they would be visible in the final mounting, Japanese paper hinges were toned to a neutral color. The paper hinges were attached around the edges of the objects in the style of a strip lining. A flexible, heat activated adhesive was used to attach the paper hinges to the canvas backing and then to attach the hinges to the panels. Because of their size, the two largest sets had to be mounted to their panels in the unfinished gallery space. After careful alignment and placement on the walls with as minimal space between the panels as possible, Barosso's watercolors can finally be enjoyed as they were intended.

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