CONSERVATION AND RESTORATION OF ICONS OF ST. NIKOLA AND ST. PROKOPIJE, BY STEVAN ALEKSIĆ, FROM THE PAUNOVIĆ FAMILY CHAPEL IN VUKOVAR

The icons of St. Nikola and St. Prokopije, by Stevan Aleksić, oil on canvas, painted in 1905 from the Paunović family chapel in Vukovar, suffered badly in 1991 during the war. Evacuated during 1992 with other cultural and historic assets they were first stored in the depository of the Museum of Novi Sad and a little later in the depository of the Museum of Vojvodina, along with other evacuated material. Conservation and restoration work on the icons and decorative frames were carried out in 2007, funded by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Serbia. The condition of the icons was extremely poor. Large parts of the paint and canvas were missing from both images, the canvas was ripped and torn in many places, pierced by shrapnel and bullets, and with noticable impressions of fingerprints and combat boots. The surfaces were extremely dirty from atmospheric precipitation and oxidised varnish. There was no evidence of wormholes on the decorative frames, but they had suffered serious damage during the shelling, so that the wood fibers were torn and significant parts of the carving with its cretaceous base and gilding were missing. After the preventive protection of sensitive parts of the paint layer and the canvas carrier, the back of the painting was thoroughly cleaned and treated, because a particularly delicate phase followed: consolidation of the image and flattening and correcting the distortions of the canvas base, by controlled moisture and vapor deposition, using a vacuum table with a perforated plate. After stabilization, it was possible to perform local repairs to numerous gaps, splits and tears. Finally, both images were fixed on linen bases of appropriate design and structure. The cleaning of the paint layer was carried out on two levels, first surface impurities were removed and then the darkened varnish. The damaged areas were sealed with a reversible toned sealant in accordance with the original tones, after which the were insulated with diluted retouch varnish. Thanks to the surviving colour photographs from the archives of the Paunović family, it was possible to completely reconstruct the missing parts and touch up minor damage. Retouching was done with retouching varnish, using the trateggio technique, multi-layered, to achieve the optical effect of mixed colors. The protective coating was done with a mat varnish spray in keeping with the original character of the appearance of the surface paint layer. The badly damaged parts of the supporting frames were replaced with parts made of pine wood of appropriate quality. The decorative frames were restored according to the original technique. The original shellac was removed for the better fitting of the old and new gilded carved parts. After the work, a new shellac coating following the original tone was applied. Upon completion of conservation works, the icons were returned to the Paunović family from Vukovar. The transfer was performed according to protocol and in the presence of the Interstate Commission for Restitution of Cultural Property in Croatia.