THE CONSERVATION OF WALL-PAINTINGS FROM FARAS
Over hundred wall-paintings (8th—llth century A.D.) were discovered in 1962 — 64 in Faras
(Sudan) by the Polish Archaeological Expedition, directed by prof. K. Michałowski \ and
removed from the walls of the ancient cathedral2 to save them from the waters of the High
Dam in Assuan. Sixty two of these paintings became the property of the National Museum in
Warsaw. They have been transported to Warsaw and are now being restored at the Research
Laboratory in the Archaeological Department of this Museum 3.
With no close analogies at hand, new techniques of conservation have had to be developed
for this particular case. The actual work on the paintings was preceded with theoretical consi-
derations on pioblems of transferred murals in generał, and on the basie lines of the proposed
treatment. This was followed with experiments carried out in laboratory on models and samples.
Thus, a methodical sequence of operations has been worked out and, after finał corrections,
is now being systematically applied. The procedurę is conveniently versatile and can be easily
adapted to the particular characteristics of each painting.
Basic theoretical considerations
Problems of murals transferred to a new place are in many aspects very different from problems
of wall-paintings restored in situ. The most clementar technical difference is that in the first
case the treatment is carried out mostly from the reverse, whereas in the second case al! operations
are done from the face-side. But much more impertant is the fact that the transferred paintings,
just by being removed to a different place, are losing some of their original very important
features. Wall-paintings are in fact an element of the suirounding architecture, well harmonized
with it. Their aesthetic function is to fili up an empty space and to decorate. They are adjusted
to certain definite kinds of light and illumination, and their height and position on the wali
are consciously chosenby the artist to give the best effect. Ali this becomes lost when the painting
is transferred to another place. It may even happen that the changed surroundings will introduce
quite new values to the painting, alien to its original meaning and to the artist's intentions.
A very delicate problem arises here for the conservator. Is it possible to reereate in the new
surroundings some of the original atmosphere without going too far into overemphasized imi-
tation? Is it really necessary to bother about the original values of the painting as it was in
situ? Would it be perhaps better to give some new aesthetic framing to the preserved relic?
What criteria and measures can be applied here? And what can, or can not, be done to the
painting itself? These ąuestions have to be answered before any technical operations are
The attitude adopted at the Laboratory for the Faras paintings is to treat them as very precious
unique documents, and this concerns not only the original aesthetic and historical values but
1. K. Michałowski, Faras, Fouilles Polonaises 1961, Warszawa, 1962; K. Michałowski, Faras, Fouilles Polonaises 1961 —
1962, Warszawa, 1965; K. Michałowski, ,,Peintures Chretiennes du VII siecle a Faras", Bullelin du MusUe Nalional de
Varsovie, III, 1962, pp. 3 — 8; K. Michałowski, ,,Nouvelles peintures de Faras", Bulletin du Musee Nalional de Varsovie,
III, 1962, pp. 97—106; K. Michałowski, ,,Faras, Centrę artistioue de la Nubie Chrćticnne", Scholae Adriani de Buck Me-
moriae Dedicatae, Leiden, 1966.
2. ,,Faras — incomparable gallcry óf freseoes (with a story in pictures ,,A fresco is removed", by G. Gerster)", The Unesco
Courrier, December, 1964, pp. 17 — 22.
3. H. Jędrzejewska, „Konserwacja dwóch malowideł ściennych z Faras", (,,The conservatioi3 of two wall-paintings from
Faras") Rocznik Muzeum Narodowego iv Warszawie, IX, 1965, pp. 217 — 259; H. Jędrzejewska, „Zagadnienie konserwa-
cji malowideł ściennych z wykopalisk archeologicznych — na przykładzie malowideł z Faras", (,,Problems of the con-
servation of wall-paintings from archaeological excavations —on the example of the Faras paintings") Biblioteka
Muzealnictwa i Ochrony Zabytków, B XI, 1965, pp. 237 — 254 (Paper read at a Conference in Cracow, October 1964).