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From the tiniest Renaissance jewel to monumental outdoor sculpture, sculpture and decorative arts conservators study, preserve, and conserve a broad range of works of art. Perhaps the most eclectic in terms of composition, the sculpture and decorative arts collection encompasses traditional artists’ materials such as metal, stone, ceramic, glass, plaster, and wood, as well as more esoteric ones such as wax, ivory, bone, plastic, food, and even dung. Each material requires specialized knowledge for safe handling, treatment, and display. 

To understand an artist’s materials and techniques, conservators utilize many analytical methods, including x-radiography, x-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, and close examination with visible and ultraviolet light, often aided by stereo and digital microscopes. Our research has illuminated Edgar Degas’s practices for creating his celebrated wax figures, identified the bronze alloys and their patterns of usage by Renaissance sculptors, authenticated works with unknown histories, and improved our ability to preserve an artist’s intent for painted outdoor sculpture by quantifying the color and gloss of the coatings originally applied.

Conservation Revealed: The French Sculpture Project

For the first time at the National Gallery of Art, works of art are being conserved in the galleries where they are permanently exhibited, in full view of the public rather than behind the scenes in a conservation laboratory. 

The Examination and Treatment of Edward McCartan’s Bronze Garden Sculpture, Isoult

See how analytical techniques, such as x-radiography and x-ray fluorescence spectrometry, can reveal the fabrication methods used in early 20th century bronze casting.

A Closer Look at a 15th-Century Florentine Terracotta Madonna and Child

Take an opportunity to see how the treatment of a 15th-century polychrome Madonna and Child was accomplished in the object conservation laboratory.

An Entrance to the Paris Métropolitain

The treatment of outdoor works of art requires careful though about the way an object can be safely preserved for the enjoyment of future generations. Past treatments and the environment where the object will be displayed play a role in planning a successful conservation treatment. See how An Entrance to the Paris Métropolitain was carefully cleaned and restored.