Conservation of the so-called Cope of Cologne (15th century)
The 15th century pluviale called the Cope from Cologne, owes its revival to the grant ‘Renewing Collections’ , offered in 2008 within the framework of the Year of the Renaissance. The conservation and restoration lasting from June 2008 to the end of March 2009 was carried out by textile restorer Marianna Isa. The new exhibition case, designed specially for the display of this exhibit was finished thereafter by the spring of 2015, enabling the robe to be displayed at the permanent exhibitions of the Treasury.
Hereinafter, we will take a glimpse into some details of the restoration.
The Cope from Cologne was bought from the Schnütgen collection in Cologne by János Simor, Archbishop of Esztergom in 1884. This is the reason that this beautiful pluviale, fitted together from cherry-red velvet, originally made in Venice in the second half of the 15th century, bears the attribute ‘from Cologne’.
The motif of its basic material, assembled from the same material, but from parts of different size and shape, is a pomegranate pattern set in a lobed palmette. The decoration was placed on this as an applique around 1500. The three rectangular fields on each of the straight sides of the cope depict scenes from before the birth of Jesus, referring to the Incarnation. (Zachary and the Angel, Zachary and Elizabeth, the birth of Saint John the Baptist on one side and the Annunciation, the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth, the birth of Jesus on the other.)
The ornament of the semicircular field of the Cope is the shield, portraying the half figure of the Virgin Mary in Cyprian gold and coloured silk needle painting with an angel on either side and two other angels placing an ornate crown on her head.
The restoration started with unstitching the components, separating the three embroidered parts and the lining. A piece of a German newspaper was found pasted to the backside of the embroideries with the year 1842 appearing in one of its lines. “Presumably, the Cope was disassembled at a point in time between the two dates and the newspaper was pasted to it in several layers as support. The stitching in thick yarn on the embroideries is the proof that it was disassembled and restored in an unprofessional manner.”
(Marianna Isa, Documentation of the Restoration Process)
Upper destroyed part of the shield
“Palmette: The removal of the newspaper and the glue pasted underneath (mechanical treatment) resulted in the cherry-red silk yarns, fastening the coupled gold threads, tearing up and releasing the background embroidery. These had to be pecked out and also the faded thick red yarns, sewn in during the previous mending had to be cut and separated from the gold fibres so that three quarters of the yarns covering the background fibre became loose. I attached dyed cotton linen supporting material to the backside of the palmette. I aligned the gold threads next to each other and sewed them down with red silk thread.
Upper conservated part of the shield
I replaced the missing fabric on the faces and clothes of the two angels with cotton linen and wove over the smaller gaps. I fixed the tears on the clothes and faces of the child and the Madonna. I stitched back the supporting fabric to the hem of the palmette. I sewed the cleaned fringe to the object. Finally, I covered its backside with lining cloth.
Figure of angel before conservation
Figure of angel after conservation
The two embroidered lateral stripes: Following their cleaning, I worked supporting fabric onto the backside of the embroideries. First I aligned the gold threads of the two hems of each stripe and fixed them to the foundation fabric according to a scheme. I had to undo the unprofessional stitching on several places. The imagery of the embroideries breaks up each stripe into three parts. The gold thread pairs were fixed between the raised embroidery and the figural surface embroidery in diamond shaped and lined patterns. Both stripes were frayed and mended in untidy stitching. I unstitched two areas, tidied them up and sewed them down.
This operation could not be performed on the other embroidered parts, because the stitches were done so closely that their undoing would have led to extensive damage of the object causing the gold threads to fray, work loose and disengage from the fabric. I completed the contours (where they could be made out for certain) with cotton and silk threads. I fixed the silk threads of the embroidery with fixing stitches.
After the restoration of the velvet fabric of the cope, the embroideries will be sewn back to their original place, and so will the restoration of the Cope from Cologne be complete.”
(Marianna Isa, Documentation of Restoration Process)