Monday, 16 December 2013

Henry Behind Bars

The Carved Room is perhaps one of the better known rooms at Petworth, as each of the four walls and the ceiling are covered in intricate lime wood carvings. In around 1690, the 6th Duke of Somerset commissioned Grinling Gibbons to decorate the South end of the current room and also a number of the full-length picture frames which hang either end of the long East wall.

In 1786 the 3rd Earl of Egremont began the project of doubling the size of the room, bringing in carvings from elsewhere in the house. Jonathon Ritson was charged with the task of the ceiling carvings, as well as adding drops and hangings to Gibbons’ original design – the majority of which were dismantled in 1870.
Between 2000-2, much of this carving was returned and new carving was also commissioned to replace pieces that were no longer available, most notably those around the Turner landscapes along the West wall.

A view of the East Wall in the Carved Room.

The carvings in the centre of the East Wall. The carvings for the pictures along the bottom are by Ritson. The carvings around Henry VIII were probably done by John Selden c.1689-90 and were originally in the Beauty Room before being moved to their current location by the 3rd Earl of Egremont.

Whenever we do Conservation in Action events, we are frequently asked how we clean the carvings. The simple answer is, minus a few exceptions, – we don’t. The majority of the carvings on the wall are far too fragile for us to touch – previous woodworm damage means that the insides of the carvings are like honeycomb and the outershells incredibly fragile.

The room goes through a programme of specialist cleaning whereby a machine puffs air onto the carvings – it is too fragile even for the touch of a brush. This lifts the dust off before it is sucked away into a vacuum cleaner. Specialists are called in every 5 years and it takes around 3 years for the whole room to be cleaned! A very time-consuming process and one which would do more harm than good if undertaken too frequently.

There are a few carvings which we can clean, however. Those which surround the lower paintings (the bottom row on the photos above), such as those around the Turners – which are more modern – as well as some of those by Ritson. Although they are dusted on a weekly basis, during the winter clean we can really inspect them thoroughly.
They are removed from the wall so that we can direct light onto them and see underneath and all around the carvings on the frame. This enables us to check for any pockets of dust which may have collected – if there is any dust present it can be a haven for mould, as the spaces behind the carvings can create small pockets of high relative humidity due to the lack of air flow. Removing them from the wall also means that we have greater access to the carvings to remove this dust. We gently use cotton wool buds, if necessary, to get into the detail, pony-hair brushes and vacuum cleaners.
A portrait of Jonathan Ritson by George Clint, commissioned by the 3rd Earl of Egremont. This hangs along the West wall of the carved rooms and acts as pendant to a second portrait by Clint, of Gibbons. Both hang in carved frames by Ritson. We shine the light into the side of the frame so that we can really see into the detail.

Close up of one of the Ritson carvings that we can clean!

We still get the scaffolding out and get up close to the carvings and paintings in the room. It is still important to check the condition of all the paintings.
Henry behind bars!

Conservation Assistant

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