All Change Please…

By Emma Philip, curator of Fine Art

On Monday 29th July we began work on the biggest changeover of furniture yet in the Cottonian Gallery.  The biggest bookcase in the collection, wittily christened as ‘The Big One’ to those of us on the project team, was off to conservation at Tankerdale.

‘The Big One’ contains over 300 books, from small paperback-sized ones to huge volumes of prints the size of several coffee-table books put together!  As before, every book needed to be removed before Chris and Allan could begin to dismantle the bookcase, so Neil, Jackie and I had a long day’s work.

All of the Cottonian’s 2000 books are catalogued according to their position on each shelf, and so we had to be very careful to keep the decanted books in exactly the same order at all times.

On the plus side, it did give us an opportunity to briefly check out the condition of the books whilst we handled them, and to replace some of the acid free paper shelf linings as we worked.

In addition to emptying the Big One, we also had to replace the books in cabinet 2, and our glazed front bookcase, which came back from Tankerdale at the same time.  All in all, it was a very busy three days’ work indeed!

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Say Hello and Wave Goodbye

By Emma Philip, Curator of Fine Art

This week the second batch of furniture arrived back from conservation treatment at Tankerdale; one of Charles Rogers’ bookcases, and the ‘Canterbury’ Cabinet.

Before we could dispatch the next items of furniture for conservation, we obviously had to remove all the books stored in them and take the ceramics off the top.  Here you can see Ian and Neil carefully removing the large porcelain vases from the top of one of our bookcases.

Carefully removing some ceramics!
Carefully removing some ceramics!

Chris and Allan from Tankerdale then arrived to deliver the newly conserved pieces, and collect the latest batch for treatment; William Cotton’s bookcase, the glazed-front bookcase and our rosewood pedestal table.

 Below you can see Chris and Allan carefully reassembling Charles Rogers’ bookcase on its new display plinth.

 We hope to see batch 3 back in Plymouth in August. 

Reassembling Charles Rogers' bookcase
Reassembling Charles Rogers’ bookcase

Cabinets of Curiosity

By Emma Philip, Curator of Fine Art

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On 12th June we held the second of two ‘Art Bites’ on the project.  I gave a group of our visitors a verbal update on the latest findings from project and showed them the inside of some of our newly-conserved cabinets.  Here are two of our visitors taking a closer look at the inside of our Antwerp Cabinet, which (thanks to Dr. Bowett’s research), we now know still has its original paper ceiling decoration from the 1670s.

A big thank you to those who braved the deluge in Plymouth to join us!

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Lights, Camera, Action…

By Emma Philip, Curator of Fine Art

With grant funding from the Designation Development Fund, we are commissioning professional photography of all the historic pieces of furniture after they return from conservation treatment.  This is to create a really great set of archive photographs for our catalogue, and also to ensure that we have them ready to go for interested curators and researchers in the future.

We are really grateful to Guy Channing for his work today.  Here he is in the line of duty, crawling on the Cottonian Gallery floor to get the best shot of the beautifully carved feet on Charles Rogers’ sarcophagus cabinet.

Guy gets in close to shoot the feet
Guy gets in close to shoot the feet
Closeup of the sarcophagus cabinet foot (Photograph by Guy Channing)
Closeup of the sarcophagus cabinet foot (Photograph by Guy Channing)

Guy also took shots of our Antwerp cabinet.  The cabinet holds slim drawers lined with coloured papers and silks, which were specially fitted into the original drawers in the eighteenth century.  For conservation and security reasons we can’t have the drawers out on display, so Guy’s photographs will be an important record of the cabinet’s interior.

Photographing the Antwerp cabinet
Photographing the Antwerp cabinet

If you would like to take a look inside the Antwerp cabinet, join us for an ‘Art Bite’ on Wednesday 15th January 2014 – keep your eye on our website for further details nearer the time!

From Naples to Antwerp

By Emma Philip, curator of Fine Art

For a long time the Museum had catalogued the Cottonian collector’s cabinet as being of Italian origin.  New research commissioned as part of this project now tells us that it is probably from Antwerp and made around 1670.  South American exotic woods such as snakewood, rosewood and princes wood, were used in its original construction.

Dr Bowett has found evidence that the drawers of the cabinet were remodelled in the mid Eighteenth Century to allow more space for smaller subdivided drawers.  These drawers still retain their beautiful coloured paper and silk linings.

A cabinet drawer, beautifully lined
A cabinet drawer, beautifully lined

Drawers such as these were used by collectors in the Eighteenth Century to securely and safely store small items like coins, medals, shells, fossils and minerals. When someone ordered these new smaller drawers fitted to the cabinet, locks were also installed, upgrading the security for their collection of curiosities.

We do not know which one of the Cottonian’s collectors purchased this cabinet, but there is a possibility that William Cotton III may have acquired it from the Fonthill Abbey Estate sale of 1823.  Further research may yet prove the link back to Fonthill’s famous resident William Beckford, who was well known in his day for his love of art, architecture and furniture.

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/57984/William-Beckford

A Nice Pair of Legs!

Before conservation, our tortoiseshell cabinet was displayed stacked on top of another piece of furniture with a small oak box on top of it.  Examples of similar cabinets still in existence tell us that originally the tortoiseshell cabinet would have stood alone and had its own stand.

The tortoiseshell cabinet before conservation
The tortoiseshell cabinet before conservation

 

As part of this project, the Museum took advice from the team at Tankerdale and from expert Dr Adam Bowett to commission a new stand for the cabinet.  It is made from ebonised pear wood and has the correct proportions to recreate the effect of the original stand.

Tortoiseshell cabinet back in the Cottonian Gallery post-conservation
Tortoiseshell cabinet back in the Cottonian Gallery post-conservation

 The stand and cabinet are now on display in the Cottonian Gallery.

What a difference!

Monday 8th April was a very exciting day in the Cottonian Gallery.  We accepted return delivery of our first two pieces of furniture from treatment at Tankerdale. 

As you can see from the photos, the tortoiseshell collector’s cabinet and the wave-front cabinet have been transformed. Click on the thumbnails for larger images.

Thanks to the hard work of Alan at Tankerdale, you can now see the original hardwood veneers used on the wave-front cabinet.  Research carried out during their conservation tells us that they include everything from holly, to rare tropical hardwoods such as amboyna and padouk.