Call for Action! Save the White Angel

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For the past few years, the BLAGO Fund team has been very active in trying to preserve and promote Serbian cultural treasures.Apart from the inherent satisfaction of such constructive efforts, there are added rewards to direct field work.In particular, while on location at the Mileseva Monastery last summer, the team was thoroughly impressed by the beauty of the church, its surroundings, and above all, its fresco paintings in their natural setting.

FRESCOES OF MONASTERY MILESEVA NEED YOUR HELP!

 

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For the past few years, the BLAGO Fund team has been very active in trying to preserve and promote Serbian cultural treasures.Apart from the inherent satisfaction of such constructive efforts, there are added rewards to direct field work. In particular, while on location at the Mileseva Monastery last summer, the team was thoroughly impressed by the beauty of the church, its surroundings, and above all, its fresco paintings in their natural setting.

 

Apart from the monastery brotherhood and the small crew of preservation professionals that accompanied the team, there were few with whom these feelings could be shared.However, the team was dismayed when they learned of the possible fate of these treasures. Their host, Miroslav Stanojlovic, M.A., the conservation expert in charge of protecting the wall art of the Mileseva church, showed them some disturbing details, normally invisible to the casual observer. Due to the efforts of Serbia's small but dedicated cultural heritage preservation community, the state of the church '9s wall paintings has been monitored since the 1950s. Through photographic comparisons and annual reviews of the actual chemicals present, the deterioration in certain frescoes, alarmingly significant in some cases, has become apparent. Serious damage over the recent decades is noticeable on many of the main frescoes, including the world-renowned White Angel that is slowly but surely chipping off. Very soon, many of the frescoes in this church could disappear, perhaps even during our lifetime.

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In response to this situation, the local expert team prepared plans for a timely conservation of many endangered Mileseva frescoes, but so far has been unable to secure funds for this effort. Some equipment, material, as well as sophisticated expertise are required to accomplish this task on a professional level. Because the BLAGO Fund team has seen the problems --and some of the solutions -- firsthand, it became apparent that the BLAGO Fund and the Serbian Unity Congress should lead the task of raising urgently-needed funds to realize this conservation project of historical proportions.

 

In this booklet we present three examples of invaluable frescoes in Mileseva that need immediate attention. Also included are details of an operational reconstruction plan. If, after reviewing the enclosed material, you find this project worthwhile, please follow the attached instructions and sign up for participation in one of the many support levels. In any case, we wish to thank you for reading and considering this proposal.

 

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FRESCO: THE WHITE ANGEL

 

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Possibly the most famous work of medieval Serbian visual arts, the White Angel is actually part of a larger composition,Myrrh-bearing women at the Holy Sepulcher,located at the southern side of the nave’s west arm at Mileseva.The fresco dates back to the 13th century,but in its present form remained unknown until modern times,when removal of a heavily damaged newer overlay fresco from the 16th century revealed the original layer. A horizontal belt of the overlay with partial inscription remains.

 

PROPOSED CORRECTIONS

 

For the several areas of the painting - including the sleeve decoration zone - that contain portions of fresco layer partially separated from the base layer and with a tendency to fall off, it is crucial to perform timely conservation work that would fix these parts, simultaneously limiting the spread of this damage and appearance of new similar one. In the areas where surface chipping and lamination has already occurred, the holes need to be restored and retouched with a paste of corresponding color and texture.

Surface sediments, particularly those that appear within paint brush grooves, should be removed by a combined physical-chemical process. Salt deposits that are found in the angel�s left wing and in parts of the lower zone of the fresco are of low adhesion and should be removed by mild conservation methods.

 

The unfinished edge of the newer fresco mortar layer (above the angel's head) should be appropriately processed, by suturing, consolidation and tonal equalization.

 

Conservation work undertaken in 1972 has noted some lamination of the base mortar layer that connects the fresco to the wall. A comparison of three surveys performed since 1988 further revealed surface separation of the old layer in certain areas during this period, including that of the angel’s left sleeve. There are several possible causes for this recent damage. Part of it is attributable to the fact this area was among the last painted in the fresco-process for this composition; as such its bonding to the mortar base is weakest, compounded by the particular sensitivity of the yellow colors in question.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other influences may come from the painting’s initial exposure to the elements prior to the addition of the top layer, some damaging processes that may have continued under the top layer, as well as partial adhesion to it. The key point, however, is that since the discovery of this fresco composition neither a full structural analysis of paint layers nor their consolidation have been performed, and there are verified multiple areas of modern-era natural damage, with a potential of exacerbation. Conservation report warnings to this effect exist since 1995.

 

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SLEEVE AREA DAMAGE

DESCRIPTION OF DAMAGES
ba95-podklobucenja.jpg FRESCO SEPARATION

blue color - new separation in year 2000
red color - old separation in year 1972




FRESCO: THE LAST SUPPER

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Located on the southern wall of the cupola base just above the choir, the Last Supper is the only suriving composition from a reconstructive painting effort that took place centuries after the original one, though its exact period is in dispute. One thesis on stylistic grounds considers this work of the renowned master Longin, whose school emanated from the restored Pec Patriarchate around 1568. The other possibility is that the work dates to shortly after the 1657 embassy of the Mileseva brotherhood to Russian czar Alexei Mikhailovich, who donated 300 rubles for a thorough monastery repainting. Multiple areas of damage reveal details of the older under painting, whose exact size and state are not exactly known, though iconographic elements clearly suggest a depiction of Christ’s descent into Hell.

 

PROPOSED CORRECTIONS

 

Urgently needed is a complete removal of the whole fresco, in maximally intact shape, for off-site processing. This is to be followed by structurally securing of its back side, the creation of a new base (for adhesion of the fresco), and final presentation for on or off site exhibit. This would simultaneously reveal the remaining portions of the older Christ’s decent into Hell composition in its original setting. This fresco will also require additional cleaning and conservation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1995 the whole fresco was placed under a glaze protective layer that fixes the fresco layer to the wall. Recent detailed examination focused on the state of painting under the gauze. The protective layer itself is in good condition, without degradation; however, its role is only partially structural and in any case temporary. The actual state of the Last Supper composition it covers can only be vaguely discerned at this point, although no recent degradation has been detected. The key problem and

 

pressing issue is the separation of the fresco layer from the base layer. The areas of damage with visible remains of the older fresco suggest its surface was picked, in a typical move used to ensure better adhesion of the new mortar layer. Sonar analysis suggests that about 80-90% of the new layer has been separated from the old base layer, leaving the real possibility of its complete separation in case of even a moderate tremor, since the preventative securing with gauze tape is limited in scope.

 

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Surface separation of the fresco required securing
it under a gauze protective layer in 1995.

DESCRIPTION OF DAMAGES
tv95-podklobucenja.jpg FRESCO SEPARATION

blue color - new separation in year 2000
red color - old separation in year 1972


 

FRESCO: ST SAVA AND NEMANJIC DINASTY

 

Saint Sava’s Mileseva portrait is the most famous rendition of the father of the Serbian Church, painted during his lifetime as part of the customary builder-dynastic painting composition. Stretched across the north and east walls of the old narthex, the composition features five Nemanjic dynasts.

 

PROPOSED CORRECTIONS

 

In the areas of the painting that contain portions of fresco layer partially separated from the base layer and with a tendency to fall off, it is crucial to perform timely conservation work that would fix these parts, simultaneously limiting the spread of this damage and appearance of new similar one. In the areas where surface chipping and lamination has already occurred, the holes need to be restored and retouched with a paste of corresponding color and texture.

Surface sediments, particularly those that appear within paint brush grooves, should be removed by a combined physical-chemical process. Salt deposits noted in parts of the lower zone of the fresco should be removed by mild conservation methods.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DESCRIPTION OF DAMAGES

 

Conservation work undertaken since the 1970s has noted some lamination of the base mortar layer that connects the fresco to the wall, as well as surface separation of the fresco layer. As with the White Angel, various aspects of the painting’s exposure to the elements may have contributed to this. Again, however, neither a full structural analysis of paint layers nor their consolidation have been performed, and there are verified multiple areas of modern-era natural damage, with a potential of exacerbation.

 

 

The fresco of St. Sava is part of a larger composition showing a procession of early 13th century Nemanjic dynasty. Founder, Stefan Nemanja, is presented on the right.

 


 

 

EFFORT TO SAVE AND PROTECT

Restoration plans for the most critical wall paintings at the Church of the Ascension at Mileseva monastery have been drawn up in June 2000 by experts from the Board of Conservation of Serbian cultural monuments, headed by Mr. Miroslav Stanojlovic and Mr. Radisa Zikic, based on a detailed assessment of the the current state of affairs. Following the Blago Fund operations in August 2000, which included conservation specialists from the Board, the plans were amended and expanded to include several other frescoes, as outlined earlier. Although preparatory initial work was performed shortly thereafter, however, the restoration plan was operationally put on hold pending the securing of necessary funds.

 

Based on its first-hand fact-finding mission and the other outlined facts, the Serbian Unity Congress and the Blago Fund have decided to spearhead an effort of raising the funds necessary to accomplish this important restoration project. The estimated cost of the project is US$ 25,000, which would include work on four key wall painting compositions - Myrrh-bearing women at the Holy Sepulcher (including the White Angel), the Church Donor composition, the Nemanjic Dynasty lineup (including St. Sava) and the Last Supper, as delineated below.

 

Work is to proceed in the following three phases:

 

Phase One. Preparatory operations for the Last Supper - scaffolding construction, removal of the protective gauze layer, and probing analysis (if needed); creation of a temporary protective transportation surface layer; detachment of the painting layer from the wall, and removal and relocation of the combined transport-painting layers to designated on-site location for further processing.

 

Phase Two. Thorough conservation and restoration work on the dislocated Last Supper composition, removal of the transportation layer and creation of a permanent reinforced support background layer, all resulting in a portable presentation of the painting, pending a final decision on its display location and setting.

 

Phase Three. Perform cleaning, conservation and restoration work on the Nemanjic Dynasty, Holy Sepulcher and Donor Presentation compositions based on procedures outlined earlier in the analyses of the respective paintings.

The project is to be performed by the experienced professional conservation team headed by Mr. Miroslav Stanojlovic, M.A.; the team has a significant portfolio of successful restoration efforts, and is also in the process of seeking international specialist consultation, including that from the restoration of Vatican frescoes. Payments (apart from the necessary advances to begin work) will be made at the completion of phases, each one

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

of which is to be accompanied by a detailed report on its accomplishments, including any possible reevaluations. The funds are to cover the labor as well as materials, with a natural focus on leveraging local resources.

 

Art conservator, Miroslav Stanojlovic, prepares fresco
The Last Super for preventive fixation with a
layer of gauze in Spring of 1995.

 

 

A large scaffold will be required for the duration
of the project. BLAGO Fund team used a smilar
one during their archiving effort.

Progress on all phases of the project will be covered by the Serbian Unity Congress’ web page, bulletin, and others. If funds permit, we will create a short documentary on the project and distribute it to all contributors of this effort.


 

 

 

IN THE NEAR FUTURE:

 

 

 

 

 

Pieces of the White Angel fresco will dettach and fall, white spots of acide will grow in time and cover much of the fresco.

 

The Last Supper fresco will fall down. Due to its serious detachment from the wall, the whole fresco is in constant danger of falling and disintegrating without a warning or any chance of proper subsequent recovery.

St. Sava’s face will deteriorate with holes getting bigger
and its original expressiveness gone forever.

 

 

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