Parian Ware - A Complex Jigsaw

on Tuesday, 06 January 2015. Posted in Conservation

We recently had a number of Parian ware figurines come in for treatment. Parian ware is a type of unglazed porcelain used in the 19th century to imitate marble. It was usually used to make figurines and other decorative pieces.  

The damage on the pieces ranged from a few minor chips to items that were in a fragmentary condition. It was clear that this would be a challenging treatment. Piecing together the broken items was especially difficult as fragments from many different figures were present in each box. It was not clear until we started work which object some of the fragments belonged with. Each piece would need to be positioned precisely to allow the fragments around it to fit correctly. Some joins had to be taken down and re assembled several times before the rest of the object could be put together satisfactorily.

Porcelain can be more difficult to work with than other types of ceramic as it is usually quite thin and when it breaks it leaves a smooth surface like glass. The breaks are often very sharp with little loss of material. This means that there is very little for an adhesive to grip on to and the joins are quite tight allowing little space for the adhesive between fragments. Specialist adhesives have to be used, which are quite fluid and very strong, but have long setting times. The figurines often had to be left with the adhesive setting overnight whilst fragments where temporarily secured in position with self adhesive tape.

Inevitably there were some areas where fragments of material were missing and these needed to be filled in. In addition to strengthening the object the fills would improve the appearance of the object to the high standard expected for such decorative items. On most pottery we would just fill in these gaps and paint the fills afterwards to match the rest of the object. In this case the porcelain was slightly translucent and so the normal method of retouching would not work. The fill itself would need to be slightly translucent and have enough pigment in it to match the colour of the porcelain without needing to be painted over.

Conservators experimented with blends of various powdered ingredients mixed with an adhesive to create a fill with the right translucency and colour. At first glance the figurines all appeared to be white, but compared with a pure white fill it could be seen that the porcelain was subtly coloured and so very small amounts of powdered pigment had to be added to the mix to produce a fill that would blend. Each object had a minute difference in colouring, a graduated range of coloured samples was made to find the best match for each item.

 Sebastian Foxley, Object Conservator



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