Alphonse Mucha’s ecclesiastical banner

In 2018 The Mucha Foundation delivered a delapidated ecclesiastical banner to us featuring a saint being beatified in a cauldron of boiling oil to us for conservation. It came with an old black and white image showing the banner hanging in Alphonse Mucha’s studio. The banner appeared to be of 19th C construction but the beautifully detailed painted appliquéd Saint motif may well be earlier in date, possibly 18th C. It had tarnished metal braid edging and metal fringing decorating each side. There was evidence that the banner had been altered and remade at least once and because of the very poor condition of the ground fabric and lining it was agreed that we would conserve the appliquéd elements together with the fringe and braids and remount them on a new silk banner with a new lining.

The delicate Saint was very carefully surface cleaned using gentle vacuum suction together with a combination saliva swab cleaning and make-up sponge depending on the area. This had a really good visual effect with much grey soiling being lifted from the various surfaces. The painted areas responded very well and after cleaning were filled and retouched by our paintings conservator.

Next the damaged paper backed silk applique areas were conserved using a combination of paper and textile conservation techniques. After humidification each tear or hole was supported and filled with Japanese tissue patches and wheat starch paste. Areas of missing silk were then carefully inlaid using custom-dyed silk adhered onto the Japanese tissue patches using more wheat starch paste. Custom dyed nylon net overlays were also used to conserve some of the damaged textile areas.

The very tarnished dirty metal fringes and braid were solvent cleaned in hydrocarbon solvent under our fume extraction unit. This was reasonably successful in reducing both the tarnish and soiling. Meanwhile a new banner was constructed from commercially dyed silk chosen in consultation with the client to match the original remains. The conserved motifs were carefully stitched down through the new silk and a supportive interlining. Then the cleaned fringes and braids were attached following the original construction. The banner was completed with a new cotton lining and a hidden Velcro hanging mechanism. We added a pole sleeve and pole to resemble the original pole hanging mechanism. This was attached to a fabric covered display board made from Aluminium composite panel for framing by the client.