Museum Home Research and Conservation An In-Depth Look at Conservation Partnerships Marcus Aurelius: Conserving an Ancient Sculpture

Starting the Project

Museum Image

Evaluation in Berlin
Conservators from the J. Paul Getty Museum traveled to Berlin where they assisted the Pergamon Museum's conservators with the initial examination, evaluation, and the initial disassembly of the statue. It was determined that many of the 18th- and 19th-century restorations were in a weakened state. Adhesives between joined fragments were no longer able to securely hold the fragments together and some of the major load-bearing joints of the sculpture were failing. Fill materials--including plaster, plaster and pine resin mixtures, synthetic resins, cements, and mortar compositions used to disguise joints--had become discolored, cracked, and distracting. Many of the iron pins, which were inserted during earlier restorations to strengthen the joints, were now rusting. Since the sculpture could not be transported to California in such a fragile condition, it was decided that the largest fragments should be disconnected from the ancient torso. The restored head and arms were separated from the torso and the joints between the leg segments and the lower torso were disassembled. These major parts, themselves made up of many restorations fitted to ancient fragments, were then carefully packed and shipped to the Antiquities Conservation studios at the Getty.

Museum Image

Arrival in Los Angeles
A thorough examination of the sculpture at the Getty revealed that the Marcus Aurelius statue was a pastiche of ancient and modern carved fragments resulting from several campaigns of restoration and repair. The entire sculpture was constructed of approximately 40 individual fragments that included four different types of marble. Approximately 70 percent of the object is ancient, the remainder is marble restoration carved to replace missing parts. Through stable isotope analysis the conservators were able to determine the different stone types that comprised the complete statue. X-ray diffraction provided identification of the predominant joining materials, such as pine resin and plaster.


Documentation of the Project
The recording of both methodology and materials used is a vital aspect of any conservation treatment today. The Marcus Aurelius project was documented in a variety of ways throughout all treatment phases, including full photographic and video capture, computer-generated images, and written documentation (including the conservators' reasoning for making certain decisions during the project). All of these approaches are now part of the object's permanent record at the Pergamon Museum and will guide any future conservation of the object, as well as serve as a resource to scholars and conservators studying the sculpture and the history of restoration.