Our Lord in the Attic: A Case Study

Condition of the moveable collection

Condition assessment (photo: P. Ryan)In the condition assessment of August 2006, several representative objects (from both the moveable and immoveable collection) were surveyed. In order to get an understanding of the history of these objects, use was made of existing documentation, which could include acquisition information, condition reports, photographs, notes, etc.


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Video: The statues of St. Peter and St. Paul in the back of the Church

Detail of the statue of St Paul in the church (photo: P. Ryan)enlarge

Damage observed in the statue of St. Paul in the church

Detail of one of the putti (photo: P. Ryan)enlarge

Detail of the damage on one of the putti.

Detail of St. Peter in the confessional (photo: P. Ryan)enlarge

Detail of St. Peter in the confessional.

Monochrome and polychrome wooden sculptures

Statue of St Paul in the church (photo: P. Ryan)The monochrome pine wood statue of St. Paul (one of a pair with St. Peter) dates from around 1740 and has been in the museum since 1880. It found its current spot in the back of church in 1950. There are records of previous treatment in 1989 (repair of sword and extensive cleaning). The statue was also assessed by a conservator in the 1990’s, at which time several detailed photographs were taken. The damage observed consists of: extensive cracking/splitting of the wood; local paint and ground layer loss; some abrasion of protruding areas; dust deposition and discoloration due to dirt; wood chipped, areas of loss and small brown stains (caused by previous wet cleaning of floors?) at the feet of the statue; several old repairs (nails, infills); and old insect damage (inactive). A few dust cloth fibers were caught on the rough surface. Since the last condition assessment there are no new signs of damage observed, no further paint loss and no further cracking of the wood.

In the church there is a pair of polychrome lime wooden putti (1570), located on the SW wall. They have been in the collection since 1924. There are records of previous treatment in 1997 when local areas of loss were retouched with a gray color. One of the putti was temporarily removed during an evacuation in May 2005 (roof leaking incident) when it was sprayed with some water.

The putti are composed of several parts; the hollow pedestal is part of the statue. The statue is standing on a plateau, and is fixed to the wall at the back of the statue. The damage to one of the putti was described in the condition assessment as: paint layer cracked; local paint loss; local ground layer loss; dust deposition and discoloration due to dirt; few water stains; and old insect damage.


Statues of St Peter and St Paul in the confessional (photo: P. Ryan)The monochrome pine wood statues of St. Peter and St. Paul in the confessional date back to 1735/1736 and were originally located in the French church in Amsterdam, from which the collection was sold in 1912. It is unclear when exactly these statues entered the building, but they were definitely here in 1952. The two statues are moved away from their location each Christmas to make way for the nativity scene.

There are records of previous treatments: in 1989 one of the statues was cleaned and both (?) statues were treated with deltametrin. In 2003, loose paint flakes were fixed. St. Paul’s little finger was reconstructed. St. Peter's keys are missing. Recently, St. Paul’s sword was removed by the curator, in anticipation of possible loss or damage. The sword was loose and visitors were known to touch it. In the assessment St. Peter was investigated more closely; most of the damage is concentrated at the bottom part of the statue (loss of wood, cracks, etc.), the paint layer is crazed and locally paint flakes appear to be pushed upwards, but there is minor loss of paint and ground; some abrasion on protruding areas; dust deposition and discoloration due to dirt; small paint stains (from previous decorating work, possibly before entering the collection); old insect damage (inactive). Since the last condition assessment (from which there are photos) there has been some minor loss of paint on one of the cracks in the shoulder.

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Video: Church pulpit

Water damage on the communion bench (photo: P. Ryan)enlarge

water damage on the communion bench after the baptism of 11 Aug 2006.

Detail of the priest's chair (photo: F. Boersma)enlarge

Detail of the priest's chair.

Detail of a painted panel of the cabinet in the canal room (photo: P. Ryan)enlarge

Detail of the damage observed in a painted panel of the cabinet in the canal room


Pulpit and communion bench as seen from the 1st gallery (photo: F. Boersma)In the church there are several interesting pieces of furniture, first of all the mahogany pulpit, which is always stored away in the built-in ‘cupboard’ on the left side of the altar. It is swung into place in front of the altar by a two step movement, in which the difference in height between starting point and finish is ingeniously compensated for by a mechanical system of metal rails and hinges. Until 1999, the pulpit was shown twice a day and was used for every mass, but now it is only used for Christmas mass. Fro the rest of the time it is kept stored away in its cupboard.

The pulpit is in good condition and has some minor scratches. The wax coating is blooming because of the microclimatic conditions inside the cupboard. This visual effect is not harmful and can easily be polished. There is some dust deposition. The inside of the cupboard shows signs of use – mainly abrasion caused by the movement of pulpit.

The mahogany communion bench in front of the altar was placed around 1794 and was traditionally used for the communion. Nowadays it is only used in weddings, when it is decorated with drapes and fake flowers. For maintenance it is occasionally waxed. On top of the bench there are fingerprints in the wax – people stand behind the bench and rest their hands on it while looking at the altar. The cones are also often touched, and are darker in color. There are dents, scratches and abrasion on the public side of the bench, most likely related to its original use - parishioners would have knelt on the bottom part to receive the hosti. On the altar side, there are more scratches and dents, possibly caused by the more recent use of tripods during events. There is some loss of veneer. Recent water damage on the floor and the communion bench could be observed during the condition assessment, caused by a baptism on 11 Aug 2006.

Priest's chair (photo: F. Boersma)Another intriguing piece of furniture in the church is the priest’s chair, an upholstered vesper chair. This chair is occasionally used – it is the chair of Sinterklaas. However, it is observed that visitors occasionally sit on the chair, because it is in line with two other chairs that are not museum objects. This is obviously confusing to the public. There is no barrier or cord to indicate that this chair is not for normal use.

The chair was possibly reupholstered some time ago, as the color of the seat and the reverse of the back are different. There is grime built-up on the armrests and scratching, denting and some water stains on the legs. The upholstery fabric shows some abrasion and a couple of large tears on the front edge of the seat. There is severe dust deposition on the reverse side of the chair.


Cabinet in the canal room (photo: P. Ryan)In the canal room is an interesting cabinet decorated with polychrome painted panels. It has been on loan to the museum from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam since 1956. It is composed of two main parts that do not belong together originally: a 17th century top and 19th century bottom cupboard. It is free standing and is inviting to people to touch. This occurs on a regular basis and has, in the past, resulted in a theft. The painted panel of the top left hand drawer was stolen – all other drawers are now fixed in place with screws at the back and the missing panel was reconstructed.

The damage observed is: abrasion of protruding parts; locally split veneer that extends minimally
above the surface; a small crack in one of painted doors with minimal paint loss; some damage at the ball feet caused by bumping. The cabinet is dusty, even though it was dusted a few days before the condition assessment.

© J. Paul Getty Trust / Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage / Museum Ons' Lieve Heer op Solder