Conservation of a Nuremberg Iron Casket – What to do after ‘an incident’
By Carola Del Mese, Graduate Diploma in Conservation Studies specialising in Metalwork
This beautiful iron casket needed some attention and was brought in by Clocks tutor Tim Hughes. (Fig 1 and 2) I had seen a similar casket in the Victoria & Albert Museum¹ and discovered that these are called Iron or Nuremberg iron caskets and were produced circa 1600¹¹. Following an unfortunate event, the casket had been exposed to water, and had developed a coating of rust, so the aim was to return it to its condition before ‘the incident’. (Fig 3)
Prior to my studies on the Graduate Diploma in Conservation Studies specialising in Metalwork, I had no experience with materials science, so I found the science modules extremely interesting. They revealed a language which helps to explain treatments and materials, giving a greater understanding of processes such as corrosion, patination, embrittlement, and the daily challenges which face metal conservators. The lab at West Dean College has an XRF (X-ray fluorescence) machine and an FTIR (Fourier-transform infrared) spectrometer, which help to analyse the objects we work with. The XRF machine uses X-rays to determine the elemental composition of an object, and the FTIR spectroscopy analysis helps to identify compounds such as fillers and coatings.
So, I took this opportunity to carry out some analytical tests, which would help not only to decide on treatments, but would familiarise me with the equipment – and provide an extremely interesting and enjoyable extension of the project!