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Rescue for Saint Ambrose silk tunic made possible
Apr '17
Courtesy: University of Bonn/Sabine Schrenk
Courtesy: University of Bonn/Sabine Schrenk
Experts led by the University of Bonn are restoring a relic, centuries-old silk tunic attributed to Saint Ambrose. Until now, a heavy glass pane weighing about 80 kilos has prevented the restoration work in Milan. With a team of restorers and art transporters, an archeologist from the university has managed to free the tunic from its heavy load. 
The project was sponsored by the Gielen-Leyendecker Foundation. 
In the early Christian church, relics were widespread. The religiously revered legacies of the saints also include textiles. Valuable silk garments in Milan are attributed to Saint Ambrose. The patron saint of the city lived in the fourth century, and his remains rest there in the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio, which bears his name. As bishop of the imperial residence of Milan, Ambrose pushed for the veneration of relics, and the Ambrosian chants also date back to his time.
"The silk garments that are venerated as relics of the saint also include an exquisitely beautiful tunic," says Prof Sabine Schrenk from the department of Christian Archeology at the University of Bonn. The ravages of time have taken a toll on the valuable textile, but it was not possible to perform preservation work because the silk tunic was stored in Milan for many years under a heavy glass pane weighing around 80 kilos. 
"The glass was intended to protect the relic. However, the silk textile created waves underneath, and the great weight of the glass pane thus damaged the centuries-old fibres," reports Schrenk. 
Preserving the garment was challenge because for it the glass had to be removed from the silk cloth without it breaking or it tearing the fibres that have adhered to it. Schrenk and Colgne-based textile restorer Ulrike Reichert made a plan with those in charge at Sant'Ambrogio, Abate Erminio de Scalzi and Monsignore Biaggio Pizzi, as well as with the curators of monuments from the diocese and city, Dr. Carlo Capponi and Dr. Antonella Ranaldi. The art transporting company APICE from Milan played an important role in this. Well accustomed to shipping heavy paintings and sculptures, its experts led by Fabiano Panzironi took on the task of transporting and lifting the glass pane installation.
The silk tunic measuring about 170 x 280 centimeters was stored in a drawer cabinet in the gallery of Sant'Ambrogio. However, this room was unsuitable for the preservation work. The transporters thus packed the glass panes with the valuable cargo between two large wooden boards, and the huge artwork was then carried vertically along the narrowest, winding corridors into the basilica's archive, which was transformed into a workshop for a month. 
"This transportation was highly risky. In some places, the art transporters had to proceed millimeter by millimeter to ensure the transit was ultimately successful," reports the restorer Ulrike Reichert. 
Once they arrived in the workshop, the six art transporters heaved the glass, silk tunic and wood sandwich onto a large table. While the art transporters lifted the glass pane very slightly using suction handles, Ulrike Reichert used a flat stick to very carefully separate adhering parts of the silk tunic from the glass pane square centimeter by square centimeter. Very carefully, the specialists then lifted the heavy pane centimeter by centimeter using the suction handles. This made the valuable fabric accessible for preservation. The fine silk fibres have been carefully freed from dust and the tunic has been protected against environmental influences with a lightweight acrylic glass. (SV)

Fibre2Fashion News Desk – India

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